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From AppStore Reject to AppStore Featured
Today marks the first year since Kill the Plumber was conceptualized and here are the steps I took to market the game from development to release on 3 different stores.
March 22, 2016
10 Min Read
Kill the Plumber Post Mortem: From Appstore Reject to AppStore Featured
Today marks the first year since Kill the Plumber was conceptualized. I have written many pieces of articles regarding Kill the Plumber and its origins. You can read all about it here on GameSauce. I have also made a Gamasutra post that talks about what went to the design of the game here with a click-bait title There is No Such Thing as Game Design. My good friend Khail of Moocho Brain have also written a post From Third World to World Class on about how I work which describes the process of creating Kill the Plumber and numerous awards and recognitions the game got. But we’re not gonna talk about design, or process this time.
Let’s talk about marketing. Boo!
Although I can say I may not be the best person to ask on how to properly market a game, I seem to have been able to develop an instinct and sense of timing that makes your marketing effort worth it. From the conventions I have been like Casual Connect in Singapore and GDC China, they ask me for advice. I tell them always this.
Post on TouchArcade upcoming games forum
It may be obvious but for me I have a lot of success in doing this. Others had success on TIGSource and/or IndieDB, you are not limited so try as much as you can. My post on TouchArcade forum when I was about to release the port of Pretentious Game is where I met my publisher which eventually lead to the game's success even entering Steam. I also snagged a preview article on TouchArcade itself about the Castlevania-esque game I was doing 2 years ago called Belial: Art of the Devil without my knowledge when the editors found my TouchArcade thread. Kill the Plumber's success in the early development also was due to my post on their forum. PocketGamer picked it up and soon after many players and press were following the game. This led to day one buyers on AppStore. More on that later.
Don't spam, tailor it
Great, now we will see a bunch of upcoming games thread on TouchArcade after reading this. Well it's not always the case, sometimes you really have that big game in your hand but sometimes it's just another crappy game. You need to accept that fact and learn when to move on. If you snagged interest then hold on to it and show more.
A lot of times you will be ignored, and this is when you tailor to their needs. When writing to promote the release Kill the Plumber on Steam, of course it is stupid to email mobile gaming sites right? But some of the media who follow the game already knows that the AppStore version was rejected and we have plan on resubmitting. I instead emailed them how the iOS version is gonna look like and it will be released later on iOS following the Steam release. We got the preview for Steam on their sites, and the game is being talked about again.
Tell your story
One of the most memorable statements Ryan Clark said in his talk on GDC China is how indies are very personal when media reaches out to them. The press likes the indies because they are able to talk directly to the creator of the game. I'd like to add to it that what makes more endearing is when you get to know the developer. I read that Blek was created by a writer and one who has not delve into game development which is an awesome thing to hear. In my case, in the local scene, what caught the attention of the press here is when they learn that I was never an IT person but instead an Accounting graduate and practitioner and have also worked overseas as a factory worker. More than the technology the people loves hearing story and seeing how human the developers are.
Marketing is actually about sending emails and pm's as much as you can in regular intervals.
For me it really is. I'm surprised some people get hired for the job when honestly programmers, designers and artists can do it themselves as they know their game from inside out. Last December, before the release of Kill the Plumber on Steam on January 1, I wrote on my whiteboard which ones to write to, when and how long till I write to them again. First on the list are media who already wrote about the game like PocketGamer, Kotaku etc. I learned that Youtubers have difficulty seeing messages sent via Youtube, so I just get their email from their About Me page.
Marketing is Magic
This is the most surprising part of marketing games.Sometimes you really don't need to do anything at all. Most of my game's Let's Play I have never emailed or knew about them like CinnamonToastKen's and Lonniedos among many others. I only learned about them when friends tagged me on Facebook like when Jim Sterling made a video of it. I also am very vain that I google my game everyday (use quatation marks and then set the time to past 24 hours). I also search about my games on Youtube and Twitter everyday. My game being featured on Kotaku when it was on Greenlight was also never our doing. We were very surprised we got that which lead to the game getting greenlit in 10 days.
The Best Marketing is a Feature on the Store Frontpage
Or you can also forget everything you read above and try to get a feature instead. Really. I have read and seen a pie chart where a game's story and word of mouth has the largest piece of influence in game’s sales but I guess you have never released a game and got featured yet. It's dramatically different. You can see upsurge of sales when your game gets featured even if it's just for a week like in the case of Pretentious Game during Valentines Season and even if it's just a collection of games shown at the bottom of the store page. As long as it's frontpaged, although it helps if you are in the 1st to the 4th spot but up until the last game featured it is very much worth it.
Great, now all we have to do is pray for a feature which is gonna happen like never. No! You can actually reach out to Google Play and Apple. Actually they also reach out to developers. I know some devs may want to kill me for telling this, and some are probably not sharing this, but I learned about an Apple representative during a convention. I never met the lady but when I was introduced to her via email, she already knew about me and the game. The person on Google Play was also in a convention I attended to sometime but nobody introduced me to him. I'm glad he found my email and asked me if I have games that need featuring.
Here’s how to contact Apple and Google Play feature editors but then I will have to kill you
Ok what's their email you ask? It's funny since it's actually in forums and news sites when you try to search for it. The emails are also basic don't be surprised if you get copy-pasted replies when you email them. One thing you need to know though that in Google Play your game must have at least a bunch of downloads already and a rating of 4.5 or above or someting. It means the game has already generated interest before they get to consider to feature it. Then there’s additional work. If your game gets nominated, you will be asked to modify your game to abide their rules regarding the use of Android devices' back button, Google Play Games achievements and/or leaderboard and a bunch more technical stuff. When you've done all of it? It's still a waiting game. I have had my game Kill the Plumber scheduled for featuring only to be rejected a week after the confirmation.
In Apple's case, you just need to write to them using a format depicting the 3 main features of your game. I believe it's a bullet point on why they should consider your game for featuring. Here's what I wrote in Kill the Plumber.
Feature #1 A unique puzzle platformer where you play as the enemies instead of the hero.
Feature #2 Pay once and play! From the creator of Pretentious Game comes a new premium game with no iAP.
Feature #3 Now with Game Center achievements and leaderboards!
What happens then
So I have done all of the above before releasing the game on Steam in January and iOS in February. I got previews on press and interests from players. We received 3,000 favorites on Steam upcoming games and we're set to launch. Only one problem, we released January 1 when Steam Winter Sale is still on. Though I can never say what happened otherwise we did enjoy some popularity due to its release date. Since it is technically the first game released in 2016 we enjoyed the title best game of 2016 and the previews including Jim Sterling's video was because of this fact. The bad news is, our numbers even though we got a lot of day 1 buyers we were never featured in the Best New Games section on Steam when normal sales happened in January 5. Lesson learned, be aware of the Steam Sale and read the developers forum.
With Apple's release it was much more exciting. First I was very happy when it got approved at last by Apple on its resubmission. I changed the character completely along with other new assets. Now I was set to release the game on Wednesday night February 3. I learned about the feature rotation that happens on Friday morning from my other game Pretentious Game. This is for sites and the AppStore editors to look for the best games to be released around those days. I also did email Apple about the game but they don't write to you if it's confirmed for featuring. You only get to have some hope when they ask for banner assets which I did for Pretentious Game.
I was out for an interview on a national TV station here in the Philippines to promote Kill the Plumber. I thought it was going to be live, so I hit the release button that day. The interview was a success and as I search for my game, I was happy to see it on TouchArcade's Hot New Games on 2nd place. Somebody made a thread about the game's release and many players seem to enjoy it and express their happiness seeing the game's release after its banning last year.
Numbers, numbers, numbers
All those hardwork marketing your game must benefit back right? Well the day one buyers are very promising and I suggest you also engage your community and have them aware of your game's release. The featuring as I said contributes a lot as well so be aggressive on it. We have made sold more than 12,000 sales combined in iOS, Steam and Google Play with the latter generating the least sales. Kill the Plumber was featured on 20 countries including the US which contributes a lot to the number of units.
So there you have it. In short, I market my game during development. I show it to the world on conventions and contests. I email, pm and spam the press but tailor each of them to their audience in intervals. I use my story to share an engaging experience when telling about my game. I try to get that coveted Featuring but remember it's not the end game. There are magical forces around us that can also get our game marketed like Youtubers!
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