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Indie marketing is a fool's errand

Despite doing what every article, video, handbook of what to do for indie marketing, being a solo dev has its limits.

This was originally posted on r/gamedev on reddit. Now posted here with some new thoughts at the end.


Let me give you some context before I get ripped to shreds by the opinionated. If you're an established studio, has influence, or have a lot of money to spend then this won't apply. I'm a first time indie dev and I had a modest production budget for my indie game (~10k USD, plus marketing). I suppose most of us in this subreddit would be similar or worse than my situation…right?

Why social media don't work
Social media works if you already have followers. Who's reading my posts when I have no followers? Ooo got a retweet of my #gamedev #indiedev #indiegame post.. oh it's a bot. Facebook is somewhat better. Find a popular indie group and get a decent number of eyeballs on your post. I had a few 10k views posts, but they didn't amount to any sale. But there are people out doing it well. The successful social media accounts are not really about the product is it? It's about humor, it's about user content, it's about engaging your followers on a consistent basis. So, do I to become a social media manager or do I to make a game?

Why devlog and newsletter don't work
Who reads devlogs? Other devs and people who are SUPER into your game. The latter probably already wishlisted/pre-ordered your game. I wrote an entire series on my game. I covered things that no one covers, like multiplayer command engine, cross-platform networking, high-level module architecture. I posted it in this subreddit as well, no one cared. Ok the one Japanese developer who PM'ed me and we chatted on twitter.

Oh, every article, presentation, and vlog asks you to have a mailing list. I have it smack at the top of the game's homepage. Newsletters go out whenever there is a major update. ~15% open rate on a miniscule subscriber list. So, do I want to be a writer, or do I want to make a game?

Why exhibits don't work
I've exhibited at 3 different exhibits now. I had a great booth, turnout was great and people liked my game. The best exhibit I sold 12 copies, which paid for my meals for the day and a taxi ride home. Most exhibitors don't even bother trying to sell anything. Granted, these were small exhibits that were low cost. Maybe a flagship indie exhibit are different? Nah, can't afford them. So, do I want to be a tradeshow salesman or do I want to make a game?

Why publishers don't work
I have cold called no less than 20 publishers, and I was aggressive with few of them. Spent a lot of time writing pitches and doing presentations. Rejected by all of them. Indie publishers get hundreds of pitches but only take on a few projects a year (<10). To them it as an investment. They want low risk and high return. They want a popular genre, they want team with great pedigree. Convincing them to work with an unknown solo dev is almost impossible. So, do I want to spend time hustling or do I want to make a game?

Why PR, marketing agencies, and ads don't work
I've approached a few indie PR/Marketing agencies and talked to a few individual/freelance marketers. The ones that I can afford have the same structure, you pay them few thousand dollars (some accepted rev share) in exchange for the occasional social media post and mass mailing the press. These are the people that will take your money without consideration of any result. They don't provide any metrics to whether what they were doing were effective or not. The reputable one that do care was too expensive, and rejected my game anyways because they believe my game is too small for their time investment. Hey, at least they were sincere.

As for ads, they are not a low capital marketing solution. It needs long term investment and constant experimentation and refinement. On top of that you need a specific type of game (e.g. F2P). It's fairly well documented in this subreddit. [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

So, do I want to be a marketer, or do I want to make a game?
Your game either sells itself or you need to do marketing. You need time, people or money to do marketing well. Just pick one. I can only dedicate time, and I learned that the time investment in marketing is SIGNFICANT, on the order of more than a third of your overall time. I've spent the last month doing nothing but prepping marketing and PR material for the mobile launch of my game coming in a few days. I think it's a fool's errand. But I'm tired and I have to launch. In the end, all things considered, being an indie dev is not really just about making the game is it?

OK fine, it's not all hopeless. There is some combination of indie game and team structure, and other marketing mediums that will work. Like this guy which IndieBoost seemingly worked for him for some reason. Or you know, make one of those "I quit my job" posts :P. Being my first indie game it's a bit too late to learn all of this. It's like my first Barb in Diablo 2. I used a purple unique bow as main weapon until I reached act 4. Hey, it did good damage, ok?

TLDR; The amount of time put in to marketing a game as a solo dev really makes me wonder if gamedev is really about making a game…


Reddit aftermath

I think many readers missed the point of my article. But I'm not here to argue authorial intent.

I believe my game is good. Although few, the reviews on Steam is a good indication that it's a quality game. It doesn't mean it will sell, even with marketing. I took a chance on an original concept because I want to build something people never played before. I still believe with the right marketing the game would sell, but I don't have the time to figure it out as a solo dev. I tried hiring a marketing person. It didn't work. There is lots other stuff I tried to mixed results. I didn't write about them because the said points were compelling enough to shed light on what everyone tells you to do.

This is not an "everything is terrible, let's all die" article, to quote one of the redditor. This is an article for solo devs and teams with small resources to more carefully consider your marketing strategy, and understand what is the best use of your time during your indie journey.

Lastly I need to plug my game as it just launched today on mobile!

App Store - Google Play - Steam

Help Billy get across the room. Dodge series of traps that fire in repeating patterns that tests your memory, reaction, and sense of rhythm. Good luck, don't die, and have fun.

We used to say that alot when playing StarCraft. gl dd hf. Yes Trap Labs was inspired by bounds from StarCraft.

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