A few months before jumping fulltime into our independent game startup, my co-founder and I started a podcast. We did this largely because of the advice from other successful independent game companies like Wolfire Games, who employ guerilla marketing techniques with remarkable results. It also sounded like a fun excuse to talk shop!
Our podcast (called Lostcast) just landed its first sponsor, which I believe is a significant milestone for any show. So at this point I thought I'd share some insights about podcast production and how other independents could use podcasting to help their companies thrive.
Is it right for you?
At Lost Decade Games, we often run audits on our time to ensure it's being used effectively. A few weeks ago, we noticed that Lostcast was taking a significant chunk of my time away from game development, so we needed to take a close look at the podcast to see if it was a worthwhile time investment.
Though it's difficult to measure its exact impact, Lostcast has definitely opened some doors for us that would otherwise never have been opened. While it might not make sense for your company, I'll describe some of the reasons that we think it's proven valuable.
STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD
There are droves of independent game companies out there, spanning across hobbyists and professionals alike. Maintaining blogs and Twitter accounts is practically mandatory for any company dealing with consumers these days, but how does one not get lost in the sea of similar offerings? We receive regular comments that our podcast is a welcome break from the norm and helps people to remember us.
ESTABLISH TIGHT BONDS
The thing about works of audio is that they can be taken anywhere and played anytime. It's a drastically different medium than the text-based tools in an independent's marketing arsenal. Many listeners say they listen to Lostcast during their work commute; I personally listen to podcasts while jogging or even grocery shopping. Essentially your show becomes a part of people's lives. You're with them when they're bored or lonely, talking about things that interest them. This establishes a bond.
Not convinced? A while back we were complaining about our poor recording hardware on an episode of the show, and a listener commented that we should start a wishlist for the gear we needed. We made the wishlist and -- to our complete amazement -- he bought us everything on it. (Thanks Joe!) I believe that this remarkable occurence just wouldn't have existed in a medium where the fan couldn't hear our voices and our excitement about making games. As a similarly-minded person, he felt a connection to us and felt compelled to be very generous.
TAP INTO THE PODCAST MARKET
When independent game companies try to get news coverage from the primary outlets, they're competing against the biggest game companies in the industry. A games journalist can only write so much in any given day, so it's usually up to the indies themselves to find their own audiences.
Why not the podcast market? There are millions of podcast listeners who don't use Twitter and won't find your company there. And maybe they don't enjoy reading blogs either, so how else would they know about your games? Indies rarely have the luxuries of substantial advertising budgets or featured spots. The difference between having a podcast and not having one could be the difference between many fans knowing your company intimately versus never having heard of it at all.
OTHER OPPORTUNITIES MAY ARISE
Part of success is being able to take advantage of opportunity when it arises. By having a podcast and beginning to cultivate a niche audience, you're throwing a larger net. Lostcast began as what we thought was simply a fun, unique way to reach a gaming audience. But because we had the show, we were able have conversations about sponsorship, an opportunity that wouldn't have existed without it.
What do you need to podcast?
The bare minimum you need to podcast is simply a computer with a recording device (even a built-in laptop microphone will do). Free software such as Audacity will work fine for recording and editing the audio. The bar can be very low if you're working on a shoestring budget, but better quality equipment means better recordings. If you want to produce a high quality podcast, it's worth it to invest in great audio gear.
We already had two Shure SM58 (~$100 USD) vocal microphones I had acquired years prior for an audio class in college. These are solid microphones and I highly recommend them. It's beyond the scope of this article to talk too much about microphones, so I'll just suggest doing your homework and buying a microphone with great reviews that's well known for recording terrific vocals. On a side note: don't be fooled into buying expensive cables! As long as they're intact, they're all essentially the same, so just buy cheap cables by a decent brand.
If you'll be recording multiple podcasters at once, you'll also need to solve the problem of multiple inputs. We went with an M-Audio Fast Track Ultra (~$350) digital audio interface. This audio interface allows us to easily record ourselves and multiple guests through microphones with either XLR or TRS connectors.
Lastly, I recommend acquiring some high quality software to ease your recording and editing process. Lower-end software can certainly be used, but you'll save yourself time and headaches by using a premiere digital audio workstation.
As a hardcore Mac user, I went with Logic Pro ($200), which is Apple's own offering. I find it to be exceptionally powerful, versatile, and intuitive. Though its large feature set may be overkill if you're only wanting to record audio, I've found its niceties like compressors and gating modules extremely useful.
Offerings similar to Logic Pro (and available on other platforms) include Steinberg Cubase and Avid Pro Tools, which are both excellent choices as well. There may also be less expensive software intended solely to record and edit podcasts.
Once you've got all your gear in place, you're ready to start recording! Before you begin, you'd do well to listen to several other popular podcasts to get a vibe for what people may be expecting. But the beauty of podcasts is that they can be whatever you want them to be!
To help your show stand out in the sea of podcasts, consider picking a niche topic to talk about. For example, we feel that being the only HTML5 games podcast out there (at least to our knowledge) gives us a unique edge and helps us find listeners.
While it's beyond the scope of this article, I also highly recommend finding tutorials on editing, compression, and gating techniques to apply to your podcast after recording. A little post-production love can drastically improve the quality of your show and make your listeners much happier! I also spend a few hours editing out long pauses and filler worlds such as "uh" and "um" that nobody wants to hear.
The publishing step involves bouncing the recording to disk and making it available on the Internet. The bare minimum is probably to upload an mp3 file to a web server and link to it from a blog or Twitter account. Again, that's the beauty of podcasts: if that's all the effort you care to put in, it's adequate and listeners can still enjoy your show.
However, you really should take the extra effort to get your podcast into popular distribution outlets. It should be no surprise that iTunes is the premiere platform for podcasts. While you could simply upload your podcast to your website and link to it from there, you should seriously consider also including your podcast on iTunes. Fortunately, Apple has provided a useful Making a Podcast document that will walk you through the relatively simple submission process.
A podcast is a great way to get your company name and your games out there. They may not be a good fit for every team, but they have the ability to establish tight bonds with an audience and help get exposure for your games.
Podcasting can be a lot of work, but the prerequisites are minimal (a laptop microphone and free software will suffice!) and the payoffs can be tremendous. If you're on the fence about it, I urge you to record a rough episode, even if you do nothing with it. You might just like it!