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Indie Game Marketing: A love story - Part 2 and 3 [Getting in touch with Journalists, Fans and some Guerilla Marketing]

This post touches upon the subject of contact and communication with journalists as well as your fans. It also has a light weight discussion about guerilla marketing - low cost/high impact etc with some examples.

Johan Toresson

November 11, 2013

13 Min Read

This is the second and third part of my ongoing series about marketing for indie game developers - you can read the first part with some definitions of the words being used as well as some practical stuff you could do (and why you should do it) here: Indie Game Marketing: A love story - Part 1 [Getting a solid base]


(The image is a WIP with placeholder graphics)

Johan Toresson (@jtoresson, [email protected])

Gameport (Blekinge Business Incubator)

Gameport @ Facebook


Thanks to everyone who’ve shared their thoughts on marketing, the indie scene, post-mortems and other quality stuff freely on the web. Some extra love to Studio Total, the Wolfire team, Kieron Gillen, Brian Baglow, Rami Ismail and Simon of Pixel Prospector for continuously producing new and interesting content and thoughts. Also, thanks to Gameport and Blekinge Business Incubator for giving me the time to gather data and take my time to write this.

Part 2: How to get in touch with Journalists

”The secret is that we actually /want/ to write about you” – Kieron Gillen (Ex-RPS)
“Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does.” – Stuart Henderson Britt (Advertising Consultant)
“Be friends with them” – Phil Fish (FEZ)

First and foremost you need to know what journalists/bloggers you want to get in touch with – something you should know now since you’re following all your favourite journalists on twitter and have been having a loose discussion about the awesomeness of Ittle Dew. At some point you’ve recommended Indie Statik to take not of Mrs. Dad VS Körv’s release on the Ouya and you’ve in general been a nice, relevant person. Now might be a good time to just tweet them and ask them nicely if they’d be interested in having a beer/try out an early build of the game. Or something like it.

Aside from that you need to get a nice list of contacts. Which is what it sounds like, and does work fairly well with ye olde Excel (or any other spreadsheet app). Name, E-mail, Publication, What mediums they work with and what genres the journo usually writes about would be some of the stuff you could have included in each post. When you’ve contacted someone (and when the next contact would be) could also be a nice addition to the aforementioned.

Jane Doe          [email protected]     ComputerGamez Mag     PC                       Adventure/FPS

Try to get as large a list as possible, put them in different books depending on whether they’re English speaking or not English speaking as to make sure you’ll be able to contact them either on their native tongue or with a hello in their native tongue – they’re not robots and neither are you, greeting someone you’re looking to talk to in their native tongue could be a nice way of showing that. 150 journalists shouldn’t be an issue in quite a little time, and when was the last time you spoke to Gamer.NL, the largest gaming site in the Netherlands?

To have a big list by the time of the release is hugely important, because when those crunches start coming on hard you’d better be focusing on polishing the game rather than spending time googling for emails/twitter handles to people you’ve never talked to before. And to have talked to the people you’re e-mailing is key, people who you later on could send a warm e-mail to.

Hot/Cold e-mails

Cold e-mails is the first e-mail you’ll be sending out. Lines, hooks and some concrete info about the game/concept with some pictures, video and a question whether the journo/blogger would like to see more. You thought about this journo because you know that the journo in question wrote about game X which you yourself were inspired by when you started to create your concept. You hope that the journo will have a splendid day, and that the journo will keep up features like feature Y which the journo wrote last month/year, because you found it interesting.

If you’re getting a response; Good. You now have something of a warmer e-mail. Warm e-mails are the kind of e-mails you send people who at least know a bit about you, and who are interested in knowing more about you/what you have to say. It’s not always easy to get there, so don’t get put down if someone doesn’t get back to you in the next five minutes. Follow it up the next time you have something to show, or get back in a week or three and ask kindly if the other mail went through the spam filter and whether or not the journo has had the time to check it yet. Don’t be a doorknocking vacuum salesman though, you’re trying to connect with a real person and create a relation between you, not make sure that they have the bestest vacuumer for a dust free and happy life foreverandeverTM. Be there, but don’t be an annoying nuisance.

Another way to gain warmer contacts is to attend conferences, or the bars close to conferences. Who would’ve known that journalists sometimes also drink beer? (See Wolfire Games presentation when it comes to conferences: You’re not on vacation – you’re away networking. So network.)

When you’re in touch (or getting in touch) with journalists you’ll also start to notice that the state of your homepage is getting more and more important. If it’s filled with high quality content (videos, pictures, concept art, information about the game, some blog posts) you might go from a quick 50 word notice to more of a 800 word feature about the gameDevs that are, in the face of mortal peril, death in the family and programming out of a shed outside of Chernobyl, working on a game/game concept about X. Make it easy for journalists to both find you and to write about you.

Press releases

With presskit() and promoter you’ll have quite a solid ground to start off with, but just for the sake of it we’ll scurry through some quick generalizations about press releases:

  • Short e-mails. Concise information. Don’t tell them the game is unique: Show them/explain why.

  • Have news value and good copy. If the journo could copy paste some of that good copy then the journo will copy paste that good journo. Usually. (Sorry journos)

  • Images + Video = Good stuff

  • Be personal. It’s not a job interview, and you’re not a spambot.

Part 3: Getting in touch with fans and alternate channels

Journalists aren’t the only people who have an interest in games and are able to reach a huge amount of potential fans. There are a lot of other ways to get equally good coverage. The hype, for lack of a better word, of your game will in the end be the sum of “coverage from press + coverage of word of mouth”. Word of mouth will increase chances of you getting media coverage, and media coverage will increase your word of mouth – so work both ends!


Here’s some places you could try to reach out to/use that aren’t traditional journalists:

Image below: Youtube Search for Let's Plays of a obscure hipster game


TotalBiscuit (1,106,885), Two Best Friends Play (316,484) Pewdiepie (13,257,074). Try to get in touch with some youtubers and throw your game at them. They needn’t be the biggest of the bunch – but try everyone that you feel could like your game. Try them via youtube. Or twitter. Or e-mail. Or social gatherings. It could be worth your time. (Don’t sit outside their houses waiting though, that’s just creepy)

Hint: Indiestatik is active on the tubes, and indie friendly!


Enter all the contests you can find. Usually they automagically garner press coverage from some outlets, and they’ll put you in contact with other indies, journalists and fans if you work it. If you actually do win something then hey! Good stuff right there!

Hint: Read the rules (all of them). Submitting to contests with sketchy rules about distribution rules or just submitting something without the essential logo in the essential place in the essential intro-video that got you disqualified in the end just sucks.

Game jams

Participate in them! Host your own! Good for creativity, for increasing your social circles and for drinking beer with new people who are also into making games. Might also be a good way to get a quick break from the daily nitty-gritty of the game you’re working on, and let you focus on a completely different concept for 48-72 hours.  This might be a pause in development, but it’s not a pause in your networking! (S-O-C-I-A-L-I-Z-E! It’ll stick, soon. )

Hint: Can’t afford to go? There’s probably some web based jam going on somewhere.

Be an active and content creating part of the indie sphere in general

Indies tend to help out other (nice) indies by spreading news or interesting blog posts in their own channels. By being active, creating content and help other indies out by spreading their stuff in your channels you’ll be finding yourself engaged with a group of creative and active people. And usually it’s quid pro quo.

Hint: Help each other out. If someone is working on something that you find interesting, tell people about it, why you think it’s cool or how it influenced a recent design choice you’ve made when developing your own game. 

Guerilla Marketing: What in the world just happened

”when the public can’t tell what’s advertising and what’s not” – Gavin Lucas

Guerilla Marketing is a strategy that, in general, is defined by a high impact-low cost formula. It’s based on taking on marketing in a creative and unconventional way, which fits well with the budget of an indie developer. Main ingredients here are time, fantasy and energy – not cash.

Many good guerilla campaigns gain lots of attention because of the simple fact that they’re really good at using ordinary objects and putting them in an unusual context. Ikea did this with their book shelves at Bondi Beach, Studio Total placed an Opera in the blogosphere and while they were at it killed a high school student (google their black ascot campaign) and Acclaim did it when they announced that they’d offer families of the newly deceased cash in exchange for putting up ads on the newly deceased’s headstones to promote Shadow Man 2 (something that they just as quickly announced was a joke, but not until the news hit the press like a wrecking ball and garnered an awful lot of attention).

As a game developer you can try to show the essence of the game in a unusual context, or just take a stand/hold a position which will be bringing attention to you by the automagical ways of the web. When Jonathan Blow released Braid to PC the price was $5 more than what you’d pay for Braid on XBLA. This obviously made half of the PC-using part of the intenet to go into full batshit rage mode. On forums, in the press and in the comments of articles regarding Braid unt so weiter there was a constant whine about what a rude prick of a price point Braid were set at and how awfully mean it was. 5 days later Blow returned with a “oh, oh well. I’ll fix that then” and lowered the price. In the wake of the almighty price reduction there was a wave of redemption where press and comments where all down with Blow, this nice and generous and humble and wonderful man who listened to us plebeians in our time of strife and need. In essence it was “Bad press -> change -> redemption and love + good press”. Whether or not this was a planned move from Blow or not I can’t say, but the reaction on his choices were essentially the same as the ones Acclaim got.

Other good examples of interesting marketing here could be the weird Dustball commercials for PSP, Metal Gear Solid 3’s Japanese commercial (where an office worker drinks beer and swim around in a crocodile suit) or Pandemic and their Mercenaries teasers (“Oh no you didn’t”, “Blow it up again”).

One of the best examples of how to present your game in an unusual context is Visceral/EA’s campaign “Your Mom Hates Dead Space”. Here you’re treated not only to the basics (game sequences showing off the DS-goreviolence formula) but also mothers and their reactions to the game. This is still the basic stuff we talked about earlier (Mothers being the unusual object, violent horror game showed for a focus group the ordinary context) and the execution was good enough to make these trailers go viral. All the videos in this series have over 100 00 viewings, and the Behind the Scenes-video has garnered almost a million views (990 120). Low cost – high impact.

Some people decided to go the other way though, and Epic was one of them. When they released Gears of War 2 they decided to contrast their universe of death, war and ungodly large chainsawgunny-gunz by making Gary Jules cover of Mad World their trailer-soundtrack. The basic principles remain the same – a video game commercial showing war, death and large guns being the ordinary context, with a sad, minimalistic song being the unusual object. Low cost – High impact. Keep in mind though that this was back in 2006, so when you’re reading this it might seem like something everyone is doing (and have been doing for a long time). Visceral did the same thing again with their Dante’s Inferno trailer (although with “Ain’t No Sunshine” instead of “Mad World”), but when the GoW2 trailer hit the internets this was considered kinda groundbreaking as there was extremely few trailers that even decided to move away from the noisy techno wubwub explosions motherfucker-soundtrack and actually went for a more somber, emotional angle. Especially in the “dudebro violence and masculinity shown by wielding chainsaw imbued phallic objects and pointing them at things that need to be dead now”-genre.

If you’re looking for inspiration for some brainstorming around guerilla marketing I’d recommend checking out Studio Total and their campaigns “Burning for Equality”, “Room for Art” and the aforementioned “Black Ascot”, as well as Saatch and Saatchi Stockholm and their Ariel campaign (which indeed did cost a tidy sum, but hey – dat attention). We also have Tool and their video “Take this lollipop” BBDO Toronto with more or less everything they’ve released since Skittles Touch and Portuguese Torke (Nowadays Torke+CC) who did the blood urinary/fake murder campaigns before the premiere of Dexter Season 2.

The next part will go into some practical stuff you could do to widen your audience or manage your facebook page, I hope you're enjoying everything so far - and that you've already put the first part to good use! 

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