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Marketing Channels for Indie Devs: Final Recommendations

The time wasting tyranny of marketing is over. We hear one developer's insights into if event marketing is worth our effort (GDC and PAX) and give final marketing recommendations for game developers in the three main stages of growth.

Taylor Bair, Blogger

March 18, 2015

18 Min Read

[If you haven't yet read it, a helpful introduction to this material can be found on Gamasutra here and here or my website here.]

You came for the witty banter, didn’t you? Yep, I knew it. But all things must come to a close, and this is no exception. That’s why we turn now to the final two bits of our Marketing Mix: Personal Selling and Event & Location marketing. We then take a broad-level view of which channels are most useful at different stages in the development process. We also hear about developer Garrett Cooper, and there will probably be kittens in there somewhere. KITTENS!

Day4Let’s not waste time then. We turn to the most frightening part of being an entrepreneur in this cold hellscape we call life! Aren’t you excited!?




Time: 4~10

Capital: 0~1

Ah, the sales pitch. The thrill of the hunt, the smell of blood in the air, the tantalizing rush of victory! Or, for most of us, the worst thing imaginable.

In business school there’s a lot of talk about the “Elevator Pitch” at this stage in the game. You know, that 30 second projectile vomit of words you’re supposed to have ready just in case Mark Zuckerberg happens into an elevator with you. Ha! Like Mark Zuckerberg even condescends to use an elevator.


Oh, what’s that Mark Zuckerberg? You love kittens too? Well let me tell you about my new kitten petting simulator.

While you won’t likely stumble upon multimillionaire investors by accident, there is much to be said for personal selling, as it is certainly a requirement for face-to-face contact with people. Thankfully, there’s no charge for talking, but it does take time. Especially if you’ve never practiced summarizing what your studio and game are all about.

Here’s a little tip: great impromptu speeches are never impromptu. Whether you’re just explaining how your game operates, what the inspiration for your particular vision is, or writing Kickstarter promo copy, you’ve got to practice this stuff. Take some time to write down your central vision, and, just for kicks, rehearse explaining various things to a friend or co-developer. Is it understandable and concise? Lots of ums and pauses?

Hone your pitch to perfection because it will pay off when talking to the average Joe who can’t for the life of him understand why you went with that art style.

And don’t just leave this to your most personable team members. If you’re shy, it’s all the more necessary. I said in the article on Indie Entrepreneurship that your weaknesses end up being very costly at later stages, and there’s nothing more costly than bumbling through an important press interview.

Really, believe me, this is extremely important – I can’t stress it enough.




Time: 4~10

Capital: 3~7

Get that booty off the couch, because this sort of marketing focuses heavily on customer interaction and networking. Essentially, it requires you go somewhere and say some things. With your MOUTH. Perhaps a song and dance number if you’re really looking to please a crowd. But most often, in the world of indie development, it means conventions.


Any expo with a giant blow-up Pikachu is a winner in my book.

And did you notice the wide spread in time and capital needs? That’s because this form of marketing gives out what you put in more than any other, and it can cost a great deal of time and money to have a booth – especially if you’re attending a large, well-publicized convention.

The beauty of event marketing is it works on multiple levels. If at a customer-facing convention like PAX or different comic-cons, expect a lot of exposure with average people. There really is nothing quite as powerful as personal interaction, either.

To be there physically next to the people playing your game is advertising, bug-testing, focus-grouping and networking all in one.

For many devs, especially in later stages of business development, it can be invaluable.


Dev Spotlight: Super Duper Garrett Cooper

Garrett is no stranger to event marketing. Having attended GDC and GaymerX (Now GX) last year, he is set to show off Black Ice at both PAX South and East this year. Why the change? Market segment, largely. GDC focuses on developers, but if you want to build your brand with consumers, it requires you find a convention geared towards that target audience, hence PAX.


Black Ice is an FPS, hack & slash RPG. Sound crazy? Oh, it is. Crazy awesome.

And preparing for conventions isn’t easy, as he’ll tell you. He’s put in hours trying to get controller support so the experience is easy to pick up for visitors, there are promotional buttons to print, and time he might have spent developing the game is redirected to ensuring a demo is polished to perfection. If you think the work stops once the conventions starts, I’ll give you a hearty slap on the back and then weep with you when the 12-hour workdays, after-parties, and after-after-parties come to a close.

That’s not to mention costs, which aren’t cheap. You’ve got booth space, which can be around $1000 just for a 100 sq. ft. section tucked away somewhere in no-man’s land, and then there’s the cost of hotels, displays, tables, transport, and that life-size cardboard printout of Beyoncé you thought might spice things up a bit. And you’re right – it totally will.

But is it worth it to Garrett? You bet it is. Being at a convention not only nets you exposure to average gamers, it also says something to the press. It shows that you’re serious, which is sometimes enough to get a lot of muscle behind you. Press brings exposure, and exposure blossoms into a widening audience.




So which should you focus on? Well, don’t ever put all your eggs in one basket with marketing. It is highly inefficient. Pick at least three based on the resources you have more of: time or money, and hit those that have the greatest effect for what you want to accomplish.


First: it’s a kitten. Second: it’s in a shopping bag. This is both marketing related AND fulfills my kitten quota.

I will say, no matter who you are, you should use social media. It may grate against everything inside you, but the connections you can make are really invaluable. Promote your game, be personable, and just do what comes naturally (unless you’re a complete jerk… but then again, that might be your thing).

So, with that said, a few of my thoughts depending on where you are in the stages of development (again, article on that right here on Gamasutra). Just remember, these are only suggestions and by no means a do-or-die plan for your particular development team. And, as a general principle, you should add to your marketing mix as you grow, rather than change it. Keep the basics on autopilot while you build upon new ones.


Survive Stage


Public Relations / Personal Selling / Direct Marketing

So you have time, but maybe not much capital at this stage. Use the time-investment-heavy channels to create skills and build a network to act as a firm foundation to build on later. PR is free, personal selling will help build your preparedness when doing conventions and live interviews later on, and direct marketing will help you retain those interested in your game.


Sustain Stage

Light Event & Location / Light Advertising / Personal Selling

Eventually the time to flash a little paper will come, usually when growth is slow but steady and you want to increase the rate at which you generate new customers. Some smart event attendance and advertising (but be very careful with advertising), coupled with honing your game-specific pitches goes a long way here. Don’t over do it, and remember to maintain the earlier channels. Build slowly until you’re ready to splurge.


Grow Stage

Sales Promos / Advertising / Word of Mouth

With the steady inflow of money, it’s time to do what the big dogs do: dedicate a portion of sales to marketing. How much depends on how quickly you can grow and how well growth can be managed. About 3-4% of sales is considered average in most industries, but do what suits your style and gauge the first year’s results. Stay conservative starting out, as you don’t want to toss money around without strong experience in these channels.



And So, An Ending

If you stuck with it through this marketing overview, pat yourself on the back. Unfortunately, it is just a drop in the bucket, but hopefully an interesting and useful drop. And those buckets gotta get filled somehow, amiright!?

Leave a comment below or tweet me with any requests if you've got additional questions or have used any of these and have additional recommendations! I always love to hear about life in the trenches.

Until next time, stay classy and pet a kitten!



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