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The 5 Biggest Mistakes Made by Indie Development Studios

5 critical areas where Indie video game development teams and startups can sharpen their skills prior to releasing their dream project.Avoid the mistakes still being made and stand out from the crowd.

The competitive nature of the video-game industry makes it one of the most volatile markets in business today. As technology amps up the pace to define our lifestyle needs so too does the level of expectation placed up developers and publishers to deliver truly standout forms of entertainment.

In late 2013 and early 2014 we saw more of the transitional shift in the digital games market where developers and startups, one man bands and bedroom coders were being the creative freedom to explore the direct to consumer possibilities. For the publishers who remain we also saw a dramatic shift in their product strategy as they looked to adopt a digital business model with their I.P and move more aggressively into markets they had not even discussed five years prior.

Consumers are being bombarded with all kinds of different media on a daily basis so discoverability and brand loyalty are much harder to achieve.

Marketing is now taking on broader and more diverse forms to coax consumers into the fold, transmedia marketing and social networks are now the go to tools to nurture that all important divide between passive viewer and active player.

I've worked in the games industry for over 20 years, I've primarily worked on the publishing side (Atari, Midway Games, Meteor Entertainment) but have worked closely with development teams of various sizes in helping them negotiate a route to market. Over that 20 years I'm still still seeing the same mistakes made today that teams from years ago were making. Here's 5 mistakes some development teams are still making - here's the guidance to avoid making those mistakes.

1. Lack of Positioning For The Product

There are too many instances in current development teams where staffers working on the title look at the product as a set of tasks rather than understanding the title as it should be positioned.

The bond between your marketing communications and your development team needs to be in sync, in most cases they never are and teams become alienated and fractured which invariably creates an emotional divide. Smaller development teams working their own communications tend to avoid this because they become masters of many talents, they have to work together and they absolutely have to know where the product is at and what they are creating.

Imagine how better your team would operate if everyone actually knew what they creating, where it was going to fit into the wide open gaming space and more importantly what type of person was going to buy it or experience it. Your team will gain an extra insight by being more socially and commercially aware than if you had a team focused on a list of tasks rather than a product for X & Y gamers.

2. Lack of Benchmarking for Trends and Competitors

Failure to recognize what your competitor is doing will create more work for you in the long run.

Benchmarking gives you a greater sense of understanding your own abilities to match or exceed the consumer demand on your product. By knowing how much work you need to undertake just to match expectation you are building the groundwork for a very capable product. Keep in mind that you’re not looking to be a ‘me too’ product, you’re looking for ways to exceed your consumers level of expectation in what you’re bringing to the table be it a service or a product.

What top 5 features do you have in your product compared to the top 5 features in your competitors product? - If you don't know the answer, you should, because no one's going to buy an inferior 'me too product'.

3. Underestimating the True Value of Video Content For Discoverability

It’s the single most important format for people to learn, share and connect. Video content is also the most direct way to communicate with your audience in order to convey information about your product. YouTube should be high on your list of priorities and it pays to plan a consistent drip feed of content that will build familiarity with your brand. To stand out on YouTube you need original compelling content because every man and his uncle is also uploading content because they want your audience as well. In terms of search, gamers rely on two resources, Google and YouTube so the title of your video is almost as vital as the content you are promoting.

In a recent Google report on how Gamers use YouTube it revealed the following facts.

  • 50% of overall views were for videos made by developers/publishers, while 47% were for "community" clips like "Let's Play" videos and walkthroughs.
  • A staggering 1 in 3 views for gaming clips took place on a mobile device, Google hypothesizing that much of these were "second screen" views, done while gaming on a TV or PC for things like FAQs.
  • The most popular clips on YouTube aren't announcement trailers; they're reviews.

4. Inadequate Press Kits and Media Content

Emphasis should be to provide journalists and publications with everything they need and more to talk about your product, better to go above and beyond what they need rather than under-delivering. Create a solid press kit with information, screenshots, art, trailer and press release.

Reducing the amount of time you are being pulled away from your project by constant media requests is much more beneficial than chasing down assets and delivering them, especially where man power or resources are limited. If press can't or don't get the assets they need - they'll just write about a product they do have the assets for.

In summary, prepare for trade events where journalists will be present with a comprehensive press asset offering and be sure you have some way of being able to maintain contact with the publication either directly or through a representative. If you think a dedicated PR agency might be able to help you then bring them into the fold, don't assume that PR is too expensive for your budget, you'd be surprised how flexible PR agencies can be.

5. Lack of Market Awareness and Understanding Community Buzz

Competitor activity is one of the biggest factors in marketing adjustment as well as audience awareness. Ideally you’re looking to deliver the best possible message to the largest possible segment of your target audience. It pays to really put some groundwork in here, the ability for you to tune in to your audience will make the decisions of which strategy to develop all the more clearer. Elements like Age group and gender are pretty obvious, what you really want to know is what they’re currently playing, what they spend their money on, how they spend their free time, do they use a Smart phone, how many hours a week do they spend online, when are they most active during the week and what sort of brands do they follow?. Surveys, community browsing and registration forms can all help build this picture.

Your community is your backbone, the guys who live and breathe your product in their free time are essential to the longevity of your product, value them and make them feel involved at every step of the way. Once you attracted a player to your game the next biggest challenge is keeping them longer than 6 weeks before they churn out and leave. The first 30 days are critical but the first 6 weeks will mean that only the dedicated will remain.

Sources: Front Towards Gamer: Videogame Marketing & PR for Indie, Startups and Kickstarters, Hubspot 2012, Google.

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