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Indie marketing – The (limited) power of Twitter

How effective Twitter really is when you're an indie dev slowly trying to crawl out of the shadow? It doesn't hurt but it really shouldn't be your main strategy.

Dave Toulouse, Blogger

October 8, 2014

6 Min Read

If you're not on Twitter then you're missing one more simple thing you can do to promote your game. That's a true statement but it probably doesn't carry as much weight as you might think. At least, not for everyone.

Yesterday I announced that you can now pre-order Human Extinction Simulator and I did so through 3 forms of communication so far: through my newsletter first, Twitter and then Facebook.

My newsletter is relatively new and small so there's not much to say about it (though that's probably the most efficient way to spread news in the long run as you get more and more people directly interested by what you do). The Facebook page of the game never received much attention even though if I post regularly on it so there's not much to say about it too so that only leaves Twitter to talk about.

I've been on Twitter for 6 years now but started to use it "seriously" maybe just 2 years ago. I have 435 followers which is really not a lot and a good percentage of these followers are probably bots or inactive accounts.

The tweet itself

The first thing you might notice is that the picture is fully visible in the timeline. The top and bottom aren't missing and that's no accident. I did my homework and checked what size a picture needed to be to be fully visible in the timeline and look good when expanded (answer: 1024x512). All my tweets with a picture are always more popular than those without so for such an announcement it was obvious I needed one.

The second thing you might notice is the #gamedev tag. Tags seem like free visibility for little efforts and they do raise the exposure of tweets but so far I can't really say that I noticed an increase of interaction with them. At most I get a few new followers from them but never really noticed any other effect. My verdict about tags? They make you feel warm and fuzzy inside from all the automated retweets but don't provide much more than this. More on this later.


It's only been one day since I posted that tweet but its life is pretty much over already. Unless they go viral that probably what happens to most tweets and a pre-order announcement has probably 0% chance of becoming viral anyway. The most interesting stats are in bold.

Impressions: 2,145

Link clicks: 15

Embedded media clicks: 10

Retweets: 9

Detail expands: 7

User profile clicks: 4

Favorites: 3

Follows: 3

With 2,145 impressions this is my most "successful" tweet ever. It's good news since beside the release of the game itself this is probably my most important tweet so far.

This was retweeted 9 times by people with a total of 28,949 followers. This means I reached about 7.5% of all accounts this could have possibly reached (considering bots and inactive accounts it's actually higher than that but still not great).

Where it gets really depressing is when you check the number of times the link was clicked. 15 clicks out of 2,145 that's only 0.7%. It's terrible. Terrible but then the tweet was designed as a pitch to sell something and not as something meant to go viral. Most people seeing this tweet probably don't know anything about me or my game so they were not waiting for this news to finally be able to pre-order my game. The fact is that I have no idea if there was actually a chance to interest the persons seeing this tweet in the first place. Again, more on that later.

The stats from Tweet Activity Analytic are telling me I got 3 new followers from this tweet but yesterday I actually got 7 new ones ... Let's move on ...

Tags and automated retweets

As I said, automated retweets popping a few seconds after you posted something might give you a warm and fuzzy feeling but that's pretty much all these retweets are doing. Why? Because most people following these accounts are other game devs that are mostly interested to use these tags themselves for promotion than to find interesting stuff they might miss otherwise. Other devs are really not the best crowd you can hope to reach as a dev yourself. You want to reach players willing to spend money and not people busy working on their own stuff.

Three bots tracking this tag retweeted my tweet to a total of 17,171 followers. That's about 60% of all the accounts that could see my tweet passing by. Unless I was extremely lucky (I'm sure I wasn't) these 17,171 followers were flooded by a hundred more tweets using the #gamedev tag a few seconds after I submitted my post.

My conclusion about tags is that they are a shot in the dark at best and a distortion of stats at worst. The number of link clicks and new followers I received from my tweet are not allowing me to say that using a tag did much good here.

Twitter isn't quite effective unless you already have many followers

It might seem obvious but I'm sure that many people are secretly hoping (like I was) that simply having your stuff retweeted was enough to generate huge interest. It might do so if you already have many people following you that are part of the demographic you wish to reach in the first place. How to achieve this as an indie game dev? Well what about releasing a successful game. Then you might become more successful at promoting your next one on Twitter ...

While I was checking the stats of my tweet every 10 minutes my pre-order announcement was posted on reddit. I really couldn't missed it when I checked Google Analytics as from this reddit post I got 345 visits to my website in a single day. That's 2,300% more visits than what my tweet provided!

Final thoughts

Using Twitter can't hurt and is free visibility for little efforts. It is not however an effective way to try to get attention "on purpose" UNLESS you already have a ton of visibility. A quick look at very popular Twitter accounts will show you that some have every single of their tweets retweeted a dozen if not hundred times. At this point the wheel is turning by itself.

The best way to use Twitter IMHO is to simply be there and post interesting stuff on a regular basis without trying "too hard" to get attention. You want people to follow you more than you want people to retweet your posts. That's when it becomes really effective.

Twitter is only a small arrow in your quiver of marketing strategies. I'm sure we all knew that one way or another but I think it was still an interesting exercise to take some time to analyze a specific example.

What about you? Are you a well established indie dev or someone slowly crawling out of obscurity? Do you have different results to share?

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