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PSA: Indie Games Are Not Cucumbers

No matter how good you think your game is, in a market as saturated as the modern indie gaming market, you NEED a marketing plan in order to succeed.

Raghav Mathur, Blogger

January 5, 2016

6 Min Read

"The product is so good, it’ll sell itself. That’s 'organic growth.'"

Reality check: Your product––be it a game, an app or a book––is not a human with strategic thinking capabilities and data by their side. Your product is not backed by years of research and demographic analysis, and it doesn’t have some of technology’s greatest tools to help it get noticed. Your product––however good it may be––needs marketing plan.

A terrifying amount of game developers I speak to claim that their game is so good and so polished, fans will come to it on their own. They refuse to allocate a cent to an advertising budget or devote an hour of their time to building a social media presence, simply based on the notion that “organic” growth will carry them to the Top Seller charts. This is not how any industry works, especially indie gaming. It’s now easier than ever to make a game, and anybody with a laptop, an internet connection and half a brain can throw something together in Clickteam or RPG Maker. The market is saturated with tens of thousands of games and every single developer has tens of thousands of ideas lined up for their next project. The “Recently Added” section of Steam Greenlight has 1,928 games in it as of the last time I refreshed the page. How are people going to find your game out of two thousand titles, let alone tens of thousands?


Dramatic angle of the infinite cucumber slice circle.

Dramatic angle of the infinite cucumber slice circle.


The answer is simple, and yet many developers have not been able to accept it: A marketing plan. I’m not even talking about hiring a studio like Black Shell Media or onboarding a Wharton M.B.A. to draft up ten pages of wordy marketing-babble and analyze a hundred thousand data points. If you are a game developer who’s made a Twitter profile and you send out one Tweet a day about your progress, you are miles ahead of so many of your peers. The more crowded the room, the louder you’ll have to speak, and developers really need to raise their voices if they want their game to make a splash. I’m not denying that organic growth does happen, and services like Steam, Greenlight, itch.io and more give developers fantastic opportunities to get noticed. But that is not something you can rely on in the long run. Indie gaming is very saturated and even those lucky few developers who land a front-page feature are only in the limelight for a few days or weeks at most before the only thing decreasing faster than their game’s popularity is their income. Developers need to break out of the mass of games and differentiate themselves using smart marketing.


This is a cucumber I chopped up and took a picture of. I don't need to market this, as it is organic.

This is a cucumber I chopped up and took a picture of. I don’t need to market this, as it is organic.


Let me give you an example of this principle in action. If you need to oil up a creaky hinge, what product do you turn to? WD-40. Can you name me three alternatives to WD-40? … I bet most people, myself included, can’tWD-40 is basically the only product in its field, and it dominates. Have you ever seen a TV commercial for WD-40? A Facebook ad? An email marketing push? A billboard? I haven’t. In the early days of video games, when a game was created and solid, all the developer had to do was show the public that it existed and it would get traction organically because it was one of theonly products in its niche. But individual games are no longer as unique as WD-40.

Now let’s look at something else: buying a car. If you want to buy a car, there are countless options for you––BMW, Peugot, Saturn, Mazda, Toyota, Honda…the list goes on and on and on. How many times in the past twenty four hours have you seen or heard a commercial for a car dealership? Probably at least a few. The automotive industry is highly saturated, and that’s why car companies market so aggressively––they have to in order to get noticed. You think if Tesla didn’t start reaching out to the press and running ads in their early days they would have ever gotten noticed? Someone could have invented a nuclear fusion-powered car that’s 100% efficient in their basement somewhere, and we just wouldn’t know. Why? Because they didn’t run a marketing campaign for it. (Also, it’s scientifically impossible. But let’s focus on the point here.) Think of the games industry as the car manufacturing industry––heavily saturated with a lot of options for your target demographic to go with. You have to figure out a way to get them to choose your game instead of your peers’ games.


This is the cucumber before I chopped it up, in case you were curious.

This is the cucumber before I chopped it up, in case you were curious.


Here is a simple business and marketing principle: The more saturated your market is, the harder you will have to push in order to get noticed. When we released SanctuaryRPG, we didn’t have to run as intense a marketing campaign––there were hardly any ASCII games in the market and so it was easy for a strong Reddit push to hit the front page and gain a ton of traction. But when we released Overture, we had to work for hours and hours on end to break into the market because there are so many games like Overture. Roguelike dungeon crawlers are very popular (and fun!) Hence, we worked our butts off doing marketing and managed to run a successful Kickstarter campaign, get Greenlit in just a few days, launch on Steam and get covered by Destructoid with glowing praise soon afterwards. Do you think that would have happened if we just launched our Kickstarter and Greenlight pages and sat there waiting for stuff to happen? No way.


Another view of the same complete cucumber.

Another view of the same complete cucumber.


Unless your game literally has zero inspirations or similarities to other games and is sparking a genre of its own, you needa marketing plan. And since games like that are so very rare, chances are yours isn’t one of them. So stop trying to push the anti-GMO agenda and forget about organic growth. Get a marketing plan.

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