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Indie Devs and Marketing Angst

Not marketing your game is not an option, and shouting into the air that your game is done isn't Marketing. Indies need to make good games, but it is a business. Don't neglect the needed marketing to get people aware and excited about your game.

Greg Holsclaw, Blogger

October 31, 2011

5 Min Read

'Help an indie dev pay the bills, buy ____'

'___ was just approved by Apple! Buy in iTunes. Plz RT'

Seen these tweets before?

How about: 'Next time I will spend 90% of budget on marketing, and 10% on development'

Or: 'Only large publishers get looks by the app store or main review sites.'

There seems to heated feelings in the indie development community in regards to marketing. Either it is a pointless exercise, or it some genie magic that replaces quality work. It is neither. Remember nothing kills a bad product faster than good marketing.

Indie game quality versus high financed game quality it a different topic, but for this discussion, I am assuming that the indie game is truly awesome, not just in the developer's esteem. But even with a great product, Indie devs need to change how they view marketing their game. This isn't a new topic, but still is relevant (see Michael Rose 's 2009 article).

Indie devs need to think of themselves more like door to door salesmen of old. They don't have the branding and bankroll to flash TV commercials, so they need to do the legwork on the ground.

Think of the review and news sites, forums and game journalists as the doors to knock on and make a sale to. Everyone already has a huge catalogue in front of them, it is called the app store. All they need to do is turn in the order form to get the game. But there are so many to choose from. How will they ever find yours?

So what do some new indie developers do, or the guys who are sure their game is good enough not to need marketing? They shout into the air, 'Buy my game', or if a little desperate they tack on, 'I am an indie, plz!! #gamedev' But this is adding more to the noise of the neighborhood. We have all heard the clamor. Most have tuned it out long ago.

Occasionally, a few indie devs, mutter under their breath about the necessary evil of marketing a game ("why haven't people noticed my awesome on their own??"), so they half heartedly put on their salesmen shoes and knock on a few doors, and have a conversation like this:

Dev: 'I am an indie game dev, and I have a game that is awesome!. Please tell all your friends to buy it.'

Reviewer: 'Before I tell my friends, I like to check things out. Do you have a demo or trailer I could look at?'

Dev: 'No, but the game is awesome, check it out in the app store. When will you tell your friends about my game?''

Reviewer: 'Hey, you are full of passion. I like that, but I just met you. Have you written about your project anywhere? Give me a quick rundown of the game'.

Dev: 'No, I haven't really told anyone about this project until now. I am not like that fancy suited AAA game guy I just saw you talking to, but as an indie dev, my game is great. He might have had cool packaging, but I have the real goods. Check the app store, you will see.'

Reviewer: 'Hey, that AAA guy had some nice demos and a flyer with the highlights of the game. He also told me last month that he might be coming by for a chat. He always seems to be prepared when he knocks on my door. Do you have any material that summarizes how your game is great, and who might want to play it?'

Dev: 'No, I just have a business card, but you should check out the game in the app store.'

Reviewer: 'Why don't you throw your business card on the top of that stack, and I will get back to you shortly'.

Repeat a few time, and the indie dev starts wondering why his awesome game is being ignored, by everyone. He despairs to his other friends that only the big game developers or indies that have already 'made it' get a fair shake.

But I don't think this is true. I think some developers increase their luck surface with some hard, and timely, work. They create a good trailer/demo, many well framed screenshots, and a brief write up about the game. Hopefully some development diaries, and work in progress highlights as well. They try to get in front of some different game journalists and sites early, so when they approach launch, they are not cold calling anyone.

I already hear people saying, that would take a week or more to do. Just keep coding, refining art and making the game even more awesome.

Wrong! If a week's worth of 'marketing' increases your sales by just a few percentage points, it is worth it. Some simple math on a 20 week project, if you spend 1 week preparing and walking around some demos, screenshots and getting them in from of reviewers, you just need a 5% increase in sales to pay off that time. Many times, the reward can be much better than a lifetime 5% lift on sales.

Now I am not saying cut corners on the quality of your product. If your game isn't awesome, them why are you talking about it at all? But that is a different post.

On the How-To front, there are plenty of helpful posts and articles about how to create decent marketing material and how to get it into the right hands. All written by people much more knowledgable than me. Read them. Do them.

Lastly, I am also not speaking in theory. With a great product (everyone who opened the app said it was better than all competitors) and a three day push of marketing to specifically targeted blogs, I was able to get thousands of downloads same some free PR, which led to a New and Noteworthy Feature (double feature lasting over two weeks), and is consistently in the top 50-100 Travel apps for the last 18 months.

I know I am stirring the pot here, but coming from the startup environment of Silicon Valley, I don't get the animosity exhibited toward marketing in some circles. I am open to other opinions of course.

Indies need to keep making good games, but it is a business. Don't neglect the needed marketing to get people aware and excited for your game.

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