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GDC 2021 Wrapup: The Best Slides of the Event

Fore every GDC I like to recap the conference not by the best talks but by the best slides so that you can get back to making your games and not watching talks.

Chris Zukowski, Blogger

July 27, 2021

8 Min Read

The atomic unit of GDC is not talks, not speakers, it is the slide. Back when we used to do in-persons-talks there would always be this moment where an awesome slide would be shown and a dozen hands from the crowd would shoot up with cell-phone in hand to snap a picture for posterity. I like to catalog these “cell-phone slides” even when I couldn’t see everyone’s hands doing this.

A good slide is deep. It packs a ton of data into one screen. It gives you the information you need to actually change your mind, or give you the steps to take action.

Fore every GDC I like to recap the conference not by the best talks but by the best slides so that you can get back to making your games and not watching talks.

So here are the best slides of GDC 2021.

Don’t Be a Copycat: Personalized Marketing for Your Game

Speakers: Dana Trebella and Derek Lieu.

Ok ya this is technically 2 slides but the slides work together. Dana outlines every marketing activity you can do and how much time they take AND how each activity aligns with the funnel. I like it because it is a good summary of everything that can be done to market your game. Note the word COULD. 

A big point of the talk was that you can’t do everything so you should pick a few activities from each column. It is kind of like picking from a prix fixe menu: pick 1 from the salads, pick 1 from the main course, pick one dessert.

For a full writeup of the talk Don’t Be a Copy Cat, see my blog post here.

One More Run: The Making of ‘Spelunky 2’

This slide is a definition of a new gamplay adjective: “Spiky”

This talk really isn’t about marketing but Derek is a very rare designer who manages to make amazing games, write well, and can explain game design without getting too woo-woo or academic. His book about the making Spelunky is a must read. His blog posts like this one about finishing your game are a must read.

Spiky doesn’t mean “hard.” It is more subtle than that. Here are some factors that he considers emblematic of Spiky. For the record Spelunky 2 is “Softer” than Spelunky 1. He also considers Animal Crossing to have some “Spiky” elements.

For a full writeup of Derek Yu’s talk about Spelunky 2, see my blog post here

Cross Promotion: The Benefits of Collaborating with Other Developers

Speaker Philomena Schwab

This slide doesn’t have really cool graphs but in a very succinct way it lays out some really good ways you can collaborate with other indie developers to promote their game and yours.

If you are struggling to get wishlists it can be hard to think of creative ways to market your game. In this 30 minute talk Philomena had some great ideas centering around working with fellow indies. This slide was a great summary of all the ways you can work together to get more wishlists. 

Here are more details on these activities. 

  • Shout-outs = Example – Philomena created a reddit post for her friend who is making Omno  on reddit. Here is the link to the post. Her post got 80K upvotes. Title is “A friend of mine is creating this beautiful adventure game all by himself!” here is a link.

  • Knowledge share – Sometimes it is just to tell other indies what has been working and what hasn’t been. Landfall (developers behind Totally Accurate Battle Simulator) is a company she was friends with. She took them to lunch (they had tiny burgers) and they told her about how well their email list did when they offered a free demo in exchange for an email signup. She used that tactic when it was time to do a kickstarter   and it did well for her. (CZ side note YAY email)

  • Themed salesPhilomena organized the Swiss games festival on Steam (because, well, she is Swiss.) These themed sales are HUGE lots of wishlists. She organized it by getting all the developers she knew locally and recruited big popular games that sold well. Valve only lets you setup stuff like this if you have a headliner that can really make them money. She also recruited a lot of up and coming games.

  • Tool sharing: Pixel maniacs is a development studio and they made this cool tool that notifies you if your game is being played on Twitch and sends you a link so you can jump into chat. They share it freely with indies if you ask. Many indies have probably made a tool they use so be a good dev and share it with other indies.

For a full writeup of this cross promotion talk, see my blog post here.

How Great Key Art Can Lead to Doubling Marketing Numbers

Speaker Alex Van Lepp – Marketing DIrector Graffiti Games

In these 2 slides you will see how a piece of promotional art evolved over the course of development and how it positively impacted the marketing.

As you might know I am a big fan of really understanding why a capsule is or is not working. This talk dives into a series of capsule changes one publisher made to boost their traffic.

And this slide did a great job of explaining the iterative approach this team made in improving a capsule that took a game that was earning 8 wishlists per day to one that was earning 25 per day. It really is a dramatic turnaround. 

For a full writeup of how great key art can lead to doubling your marketing numbers, see my blog post here.

Cookin’ and Servin’: Making a Delicious Trilogy of Games

Speaker: David Galindo

Ok, I know I know this is another one of those talks where I picked 2 slides. But they are really important in tandem. The slides show off the development time for the 3 games David made and the second slide shows the revenue of those 3 games.  

Too often indies aspire to have that one mega-popular, game that redefines the genre and stands the test of time. They rework and rework it until it is perfect. I loved this talk because I really think David and the Cook Serve Delicious games should be the model of how indies think about success. He just patiently produces great games, that earn back more than they cost, and builds an audience over time.

Basically it is so hard to be self-sustaining with just 1 game. Really you should focus on building a catalog of titles that each earn money for you over the long term. Reuse your teach. Look at how each game has a shorter and shorter dev cycle. Build on your teach, keep releasing games, build an audience. So smart.

See how CSD3 has such a short line compared to the other 2? That is because he built the game off the tech established in CSD2.

This second chart has 3 columns (sorry GDC vod compresses like crazy).

  • Copies distributed (left side / Light blue)

  • Gross revenue (middle / Dark blue)

  • Development cost (right side / orange)

Now if you consider CSD3 to CSD2 you can see that it ALMOST has the same revenue (the middle blue line) but the development time less than half for CSD3.

Charm Your Communities

Speaker: Victoria Tran

In this slide Victoria outlines a very specific funnel: how people join your community and interact with it. It is unique from the traditional marketing funnel because “Advocates” will actually bring new people into your community. 

For a full writeup of Charm your communities, see my blog post here

Inclusive Marketing for Indies

Speaker: Melissa Chaplin

In this slide Melissa Chaplin outlines some of the best ways to run a more inclusive marketing campaign for your games.

  • Humility – you will mess up and someone will offend someone which sounds bad but if you approach this as “I don’t know everything” you will respond more appropriately and in a more humble way. 

  • Empathy – Have compassion for the people who are different than your own.

  • Inclusivity – your games don’t have to appeal to everyone because they don’t like the genre. But it is not ok if they don’t like your game because it is homophobic.

For a full writeup of Inclusive Marketing for Indies read my blog post here

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