In this article, I’ll cover the steps that my team, Blue Drop Games, and I took to get our indie game, B.C.E., some publicity. For us, that meant becoming a part of the local scene, leveraging local connections made, and taking a risk. This isn’t a “one size fits all” tutorial on how to cleverly and successfully market your indie game. Rather, my hope in writing this is to document what worked, share our experience with the community, and potentially inspire other indie game developers to come up with their own tailor-fit marketing strategy.
The core team of Blue Drop Games consists of three members, who, at the time of writing this are just about to graduate with our BS in Computer Science and Game Design from Northeastern University. We have 5 other collaborators who’ve helped along the way with modeling, animation, concept art, graphic design, and music composition, but we have no full-time members other than we three developers.
Being soon-to-be-graduates, another thing to note is that we have no money. The only money we have was what we saved up from previous jobs, help from supportive parents, and a long-gone $1000 grant from the university that we used on software and registering Blue Drop Games, LLC.
Lastly, none of us have any kind of fame or pull that could boost us, so we’re left with the task of Indie Dev Marketing which, as we know, isn’t as easy as simply running Facebook ads. Thus begins the story of our (unfinished) quest to market our indie game.
Building a game
Being game developers, we started by doing just that. We hardly know the first thing about marketing so why start there? So we got to work on Project Ice, which would later become B.C.E. As of today, we’ve been developing B.C.E. for 14 months, 6 of which we’ve been able to work full-time on the game. I’m not really going to talk about development so I’ll just say our biggest problem along the way has (obviously) been art and leave it at that.
Branding and Social Media
We started branding Blue Drop Games and beginning our social media presence pretty early on. I would say that not even a month into development we had Facebook, Twitter, and bluedropgames.com as a development blog. Our reasoning there was to get started on building some kind of a community and following as early as possible. We weren’t worried about people seeing the game at its earliest, most crude stages, so we didn’t see any possible harm from being transparent throughout development.
It wasn’t until about 4 months in that we settled on the name B.C.E., which marked the beginning of the the game’s branding. We just recently started @BCEgame and bcegame.com. In hindsight, that was a mistake. I’m happy with how the following has grown for @BlueDropGames over time, and we could have benefitted from starting @BCEgame and bcegame.com the moment we chose B.C.E. as a name.
Getting others to play
At 6 months in, we launched our Steam Greenlight campaign. I won’t go into detail on that because there are 100 other articles on how to run a Greenlight campaign and we’re here to talk about marketing. Judging by our short 9-day stint on Greenlight, it appeared to us that we people wanted to play the game. We continued to develop, playtesting with friends and peers. The problem there is that friends and peers tend not to give the best feedback and can generally be considered biased. We needed to get B.C.E. out into the wild to see how others reacted.
In our case, objective feedback came from a couple of different sources. The first was going to the local Boston Unreal Engine meetups. Gatherings like that are great because you’re bound to know fewer of the people there which instantly makes their feedback more valuable. Once you do get to know those people, they become part of your network. That’s something that ended up helping us a great deal. Around this time we started submitting our game to exhibition venues such as IndieMegabooth and Taco Bell’s Feed The Beta. Despite not getting selected for those, we did learn a lot. The biggest takeaway was that we weren’t ready just yet. If B.C.E.’s artstyle was capable of marketing itself, then we would have been selected. But we weren’t, which meant there was still work to be done before any major headway was to be made on marketing.
Knowing our game and how to pitch it
The final source of feedback was a thing called the MassDigi Game Challenge. There are other similar events out there, but the Game Challenge was a pitch contest/festival for college students and indies. This event forced us to really tighten up our pitch and prepare for difficult questions about our game design, marketing plan, and overall business plan. All of the judges and attendees who played B.C.E. loved it, which was great! That particular event gave us the confidence we needed to start pushing our marketing.
I know I said that this isn’t a “how to market your indie game” template, but all of the previous steps are likely a good call for any indie game. The takeaways there are 1. Get as much objective feedback as possible 2. Become a part of your local game development community 3. Think about marketing from day one. If you cover those bases, you’re already off to a better start than most independent developers. Marketing your no-budget indie game requires some creativity, here’s what we did...
There are easily thousands of indie games in development right now. Many of those games are great, and your game is probably great too. It sucks, but it’s not enough to make a great game. There’s no such thing as a successful game that wasn’t marketed in some way. For indies like us with absolutely no money, it’s important to stand out in a memorable way.
With our tentative Summer release window, the time to start seriously marketing was now. We had practically no money, no exhibitor space at PAX, and no time to waste. Being Boston locals, however, we couldn’t afford to miss bringing our game to PAX East. As our friend Rich Gallup from Disruptor Beam suggested, maybe we should “just go for it”. None of us really knew how that would work though, because you can’t just set up a table on the floor of the BCEC and hope nobody cares. A mobile solution was required to evade Enforcers and avoid fire code violations. Thankfully cosplay is huge at PAX East, so that would provide the cover. That’s the short version of how the BCEmachine came to be.
The complete cost of building the BCEmachine and the 5 PAX tickets we bought (thanks Tim Leow for donating Saturday passes!!) was about $750. If you’re curious about how I built the BCEmachine, I go into great detail on that in this blog post.
We spent the weekend wandering around the PAX East show floor, having unsuspecting attendees play B.C.E., drawing crowds, having pictures taken, and of course evading the Enforcers. Here are some estimates that I’ve come up with about the kind of impressions that we made:
200+ played B.C.E. or actively engaged in conversation with us about it
1000+ photos/video taken of us
7000+ heads turned
Now I’m going to attempt to deduce the actual marketing value of the BCEmachine at PAX. I am in no way a marketing authority, but these numbers can give us a broad idea of the value we got (with a very wide margin of error). According to WordStream on 2/29/16, the average Cost Per Click (CPC) for the Tech industry was $1.78. To be safe, I’ll round that down to $1 because video games are more entertainment than tech. I use $1/click to avoid using the average $2.32 CPC across all industries, which would likely inflate these figures. That means that even though these numbers are certainly off by quite a bit, they’re probably off by being too low.
|Engagement ($1/click)||~Amount low||~Amount med (base)||~Amount high|
|Plays/Conversation about game (3 clicks)||100||200||300|
|Photos/video taken (1.5 clicks)||500||1000||1500|
|Heads turned (.5 click)||3500||7000||10500|
|Total CPC value||$2,800||$5,600||$8,400|
Of course it’s impossible to know the exact value of our guerrilla marketing experiment, but we know what people have told us. The entire weekend people were saying things like “this is really fun,” “coolest thing at PAX this year” or “highlight of my weekend.” In the end, the BCEmachine was a marketing play that is one of the many steps we’re taking to set our indie game apart from the hundreds of other indie games that are just as deserving of attention. We know our game is fun, but we’re not naive enough to think that that alone will sell it.
I hope you enjoyed this long-winded tale of our foray into indie game marketing. After reading this, you should see that it takes a lot more than a good game and Facebook advertising to market your indie-est of indie games. Even after all of this we still have such a long way to go. This isn’t me telling you that the key to a successfully marketed indie game is to smuggle it into a game convention. I do think, however, that others can learn from the successes that we’ve seen in certain aspects of our marketing strategy and improve on them. After all, indies need to make money too!
- Arjun (Blue Drop Games)