In the advertising world, it’s said that cash is king. Pay for the biggest billboard, and your game is sure to become a conversation piece. Drop a wad of cash on the top agencies, and they’ll deliver something unforgettable that people will talk about for months. Even mobile games are shelling out for Superbowl ads!
But did you ever notice that the ads we see are almost always for games we already know about? What’s an indie game developer to do?
There’s no sugar coating it: if you want the success of the big boys, you’re going to need to think outside the box.
People will buy your solo project if they like what they see, but can you get your game in front of them without spending a significant percentage of your limited resources on ineffective advertising?
Combine the physical and digital world
In 2010, Bioshock 2 got fans excited with a combination of social media hooks and physical bottles washed up on ten beaches around the world. How cool is that? Here’s what’s better: for such a large production, this unique and effective tactic cost next to nothing. Free social media promotion about the bottles, a few dollars for the bottles themselves and the contained material, and shipping costs. A drop in the bucket for any studio of that size, and honestly quite affordable for most indie studios as well.
But since this is a gimmick that gets better with scale, how can the average indie developer adopt this strategy themselves? The key takeaways are: combine the physical and digital world, and allow fans to “compete” for exclusive opportunities. At the end of the day, your fanbase is a community and they will constantly share information with one another. Give committed fans a chance to be the first to receive something exclusive.
Incorporate physical objects to raise the stakes even higher, and introduce the additional element of localizing rewards. Here’s an idea: if the size of your game is small enough, you can easily purchase a number of low-capacity flash drives to leave around your community and challenge fans to find them, like an Easter egg hunt!
Offer something ridiculous
… because why not? In 2013 Saint’s Row IV promoted a one-of-a-kind special edition of the game that cost a whopping $1 million USD. In order to show the world what kind of insanity (and luxury) their game contained, winners would not only receive a copy of the game but also two cars (including a Lamborghini), spy lessons, a stay at a luxurious hotel, and more.
While it was ultimately revealed as a joke (although financially the numbers worked out), it gained a ton of attention for being ridiculous while staying true to the theme of the game. Even after launch, people continued to speculate about who bought the special edition.
While you probably shouldn’t offer million-dollar copies of your game, it’s not a horrible idea to offer fun “bundles” to attract attention from fans and press alike. But keep it relevant. If timekeeping is central to your game, why not introduce a “Rolex Edition”?
If the game involves offroading, how about the offer of an ATV with purchase of the game?
You get the idea.
In order to make this work, however, you need to be both unexpected and extraordinary. A ten dollar trinket with purchase won’t turn any heads, but a ten thousand dollar add-on will, at the very least, raise some eyebrows.
While this strategy isn’t conversion-oriented, it’s sure to build your audience and get your foot in the door. Keep your fanbase curious to learn more and you’ll hold onto them for the long run.
So how does an indie game developer make waves like the big boys? With local creativity and outrageous, but relevant, promotion. The challenge indie games face is that their audience is limited, and many times non-existent. But that can’t stop you.
You don’t need to break the bank to get eyeballs on your work. Find out what people have done in the past and transform their successful strategies into something that works for you.