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Indie Marketing and the Early Preview

A look into the popular strategy of early previews for smaller indie games, and why I think you need to be careful if you expect to struggle for press coverage.

Cory Spooner

August 6, 2015

4 Min Read

If you’re an indie developer, you’ve probably read quite a few indie marketing guides. They are full of useful advice and are good to generally get an idea of what to expect when you release.


There is one recommendation that I was not so sure about, myself - that is, previewing your game early to gain followers and have an audience for day 1 downloads.


It sounds good in theory... but I have my reservations about this strategy for small indie devs (specifically, on small mobile-only games) and am wondering whether others feel the same way, or have experiences to share.


The thing is, if you’re only expecting to get a small handful of reviews or mentions (like most indie mobile-only games), then you may be better off saving most of the good stuff until your game is available for download? My theory is, it goes like this (note this is just speculation on my part, not actual stats):


  • You post a link to information about your new upcoming game

  • 50% of people are like “meh”

  • 20% of people are like “kewl I’ll buy it! Oh wait... it’s not available. Whatever”

  • 25% of people are like “not bad, might grab it if I remember”

  • The remaining 5% of people might try to follow the game, if you’re lucky


With those completely made-up numbers in mind, we can calculate some more made-up numbers: I reckon that’d give you maybe 15% of people getting your game with the early preview strategy, and maybe 35% of people without. If that’s 10,000 people seeing you links, that’s a difference of 2000 people!


Am I simplifying it too much ? Is there another aspect to the early preview that I’m overlooking? Or is this obvious and I should learn that marketing guides shouldn’t be taken literally for everyone’s case?


...perhaps my assumptions don’t apply, if you do an early preview push (or "reveal") and then leave a big break until you next push it (i.e. on release)? So, you still might get that 5% following and (if you’re clear enough) you don’t piss off the 45% that were “interested” i.e. they *do* see your posting on release because they haven’t been desensitized by seeing other previews while it wasn’t available.


When I first wrote this article I'd concluded that my next strategy would be (for a mobile-only game that is not mind blowing):


  • Do a single, very early preview push, with multiple preview sources

  • Make it really impressive

  • Make it really clear that it is a preview

  • Make it really clear and easy to follow the game


...but perhaps a single preview won't gain any following at all? Perhaps I have no faith in humanity and am assuming too many people will ignore repeated previews.


After writing this, some dev friends added some points:


  • The early preview can be a good boost for morale

  • There's a concensus that many people will only click through to see your game once they have seen it several times

  • If your early previews are frequent and interesting (like a dev stream?), that should improve things, but it's a heavy time investment

  • The cumulative effect of a few followers potentially attracting more followers shouldn't be underestimated


So I guess after some feedback I've been convinced, to an extent, that the early preview strategy should be attempted. I still think if you've got a small game that's not really going to excite people no matter what you do, it might be better to just save it til launch. But there are enough good points to properly-done early previews to give it your best shot.


I'd still really like to see some stats from someone... Not like "we got 50k hits from having an early preview!" (because how many of those might you have missed out on due to the game not being available? how do you know?). Some stats like "number of hits vs number of follows generated" would be good.


Feel free to share your thoughts or experiences!

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