One of the biggest differences between an indie developer and a large AAA game company, in my opinion, is the marketing budget. Most indie developers cannot afford to distribute ads the way Blizzard or Riot can. So how do indies get the word out about their up-coming releases?
While talking to a fellow developer recently, I asked him how he promoted his game and he said "I didn't. We didn't run any ads or anything." This was an interesting lapse in communication for me, because in my mind if you don't promote your game at all you get 0 downloads...to me, promoting a game doesn't just mean running ads, it means all of the little things you do to make your game known to the world. Every Facebook or Twitter post, every friend you tell, every developer forum you post in for help or advice, and ESPECIALLY everyone you ask to beta test your game - all of those things are how you promote a game without penny in your marketing budget.
So what can you do to maximize your promotion without investing in marketing? That seems to be the big question these days. I can't go more than a few days without seeing a Twitter post about "HERE IS THE KEY YOU NEED SO YOU CAN DO SELF PROMOTION RIGHT" followed by a link to buy some book or online course. Well I'm here to tell you there is no "key" to self promotion.
I heard someone say recently that the reason big AAA games are sometimes "canned" right at the end of 3 years of a development cycle is because the cost of marketing is equal to or greater than the cost of development. That's pretty crazy. So if you are making a game by yourself, your development has no cost except the time you are investing in it, and you obviously don't have a AAA budget for marketing, what is there to do? If we compare to the AAA model where the marketing budget is equal to the development budget, it makes sense then that the correlation for indie dev is a time investment. You invest an equal amount of time in promotion that you invest in development. That may seem like a staggering amount of time, but think of all the things you can do with that time.
Some self-promotion strategies:
- Start a dev log describing your development process, challenges you overcome, advice for new-comers
- Start a dev stream where you record your development sessions to share with the world
- Become active on Social Media - leverage Twitter and Facebook to get a following of people interested in your ideas and your progress, a support system that is prepared to give you feedback and cheer on your success
- Connect with streamers and reviewers and try to find some that may be interested in reviewing your game
- Become active on a relevant subreddit (in the reddit community, self-promotion is frowned upon unless you are an active contributor who is genuinely interested in the conversation)
- Run a beta test - there is probably no better way to get people interested in your game before release than to ask them to play it before it is available