The 5 Reasons Why You Need to Build An Email List This Year

Getting fans to vote for your game on Greenlight, view your Kickstarter, or download it is incredibly difficult. In this competitive environment it is vital that you try the largely misunderstood tool of email marketing.

It was Kevin Kelly who wrote that if you have 1000 true fans you can make a sustainable living being a creative because they will always buy whatever you produce. I always wondered though, how do I know how many true fans I currently have? Am I at one true fan? A dozen? I have over 500 followers on Twitter does that mean I am half way to sustainability? I know for a fact that is not the case. 

I looked across several other industries to find out how independent creatives built their fan bases. I studied the methods of indie book publishing, and indie software development and over and over I heard that to build a true following, you need an active mailing list.

Email is so important I decided to write a series of blog posts to try and convince the indie game developers struggling to sell their games that it is the single best thing you can do for turning random internet lurkers into fans, and then turning fans into raving super-fans. If you are a small to medium size indie dev, email marketing is so powerful that it should become the center of your marketing strategy. Here are 5 reasons why.

QUICK EXPLAINER: What is email marketing? AKA “Oh I don't spam people. This isn't for me.“

Yes email marketing and spam both rely on email but they couldn't be any more different. At its core, email marketing is the process of keeping a list of people who have expressed interest in you or your product, and then you send emails to that list to tell them about new releases, sales, or general news. The people on the list are regular gamers. They are not necessarily games press, they are not my fellow indie developers, they are just regular people who played my games and liked them enough to want to hear more about other things I am working on.

Email marketing fits under what is called “permission marketing” because the people receiving the message chose to receive it and they can opt out at any time. At its core email marketing is about building trust with a group of people who can’t wait to see what you are doing next. 
It is NOT about scraping the web for random email addresses. It is NOT about buying email address from shady marketers. And it is DEFINITELY NOT about annoying people until they accidentally buy your product or tricking grandmas into sending you money because you are part of a Nigerian dynasty.

Got the distinction? Here are 5 reasons why you need to start building a email list right now:

#1 Social media actually doesn’t work that well if you are selling something

Try this, log in to twitter and go back to the last tweet you sent in which you were sharing a new trailer or announcing that your game is for sale. Click the little stats icon that looks like this:

Look at how many “link clicks” you got. Then divide that by how many followers you have. If that number is less than 20% you need to build up an email list. You see, the click through rates on most social media is terrible. This is because Twitter and Facebook have timelines that are constantly inundated by other people. If your follower doesn’t check social media every day (or possibly every hour), they just missed your post. 

On the other hand, most people are pretty good about going through their inbox and making sure they at least read the subject of every email they receive (Even if it is a few days old.) This simple fact means that email has a 50-100 times the click-through rate of most social media. In a recent analysis, marketers found that click throughs are as low as 2% on Twitter. Compare this to an average of 20% through email.

Read the analysis here


#2 You own your list and nobody can take that away from you


If you invest a lot of time building a Facebook or Twitter following, your hard work is at the mercy of some other company. What happens if that social media company becomes a ghost town like mySpace? What happens when the environment they create becomes toxic because of trolls. Or what happens when the business case doesn’t scale as well as they originally thought.

However an email list is independent of companies because everyone will always have it. There are so many companies providing it and people don’t change it very often. Email is less risky and more durable for the long term. Also, you own your list. It is not owned by another Silicon Valley company with less than a decade of experience.

#3 Email is the most personable way to connect with your fans. Do it right and your fans will love you for it


If you write meaningful emails that express your unique voice and personality, you will turn regular players into true fans who will follow your every release. Your goal with a list is to establish personal interactions with the people who are receptive to your style of game. If you pull it off right it, your emails will sound like you are writing just to them.

When I email my list I craft every email as if I am writing it to one person. My emails are not repurposed blog posts or press releases. I often ask questions to the person I am sending it to or relate personal stories about why I made the game I did. By writing them in that personal manner it is not uncommon for my fans to reply back to my mass emails. 

Here are just a few examples of what some of my own fans have raved about. Notice that they specifically call out the emails and the personal touch as a reason why they like my games:


#4 It is easier to have all your fans in one place.

There are so many social networks out there and each one has its own voice and method for posting. But, because everyone uses email (and the click-though rates are so good) you can be sure to reach everyone who follows you through your email list.

It is so important that I treat email as the hub of my marketing strategy. My ultimate goal is push everyone who comes in contact with me to join that list. Social media is useful in finding new fans, but fans are pretty much useless to me until I can get them to join the email list. If I have a booth at a conference, my number one goal is to get the folks that are interested onto the list so that I can follow up and remind them about what they saw and when my game is finally out.

#5 You can segment your list and talk to very very specific slices of people


Social media is like speaking through a bullhorn. Everyone hears your every message and you have to speak in a way that is understandable for all. 

The great thing about email marketing is you can track who opens which email, who clicks on the links, and who doesn’t look at anything you write. You can also select who you send each email to using those analytics. This is helpful because I tailor my emails to different fans. I send super super honest, inside-baseball emails to my superfans who open every single one of my emails. Then I send a totally separate email that is shorter and more to the point to my fair-weather fans who only open every other email. 

I even target subscribers based on how they joined my list. I send a special message to people who met me in person at a game expo or to people who found me through one of my older games. In the end, you have tailored your messages for the right type of person for it to be personal and effective.

If you playing the long game and trying to build up a true following of gamers who will buy your game on day one, you must start building out an email list. You need to connect with them on a personal level that just isn’t possible with social media. Email marketing is the only way to truly know if you have 1000 true fans.

Alright, so you are convinced? You are going to set up a list. How do you get started and what do I email them?

I am going to be writing more explainers on these sub-email topics such as: 

I will be posting them here on Gamasutra

However, if you want to be notified when I do post a new article, or to get a bunch of links to special resources such as which email list company I use, and what books to read about email marketing …… join my mailing list here:

Download it for free here.


If you are interested in my other articles about how to use your email list try


- people head icons courtesy of Noun Project

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