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The Importance Pre-Release Community Building And Early Organic Marketing​ For Indies

Communities, the life blood your game. They're a measure of whether what you've created is actually any good. Right? So why do so many developers wait until after launch before starting to grow theirs?

Justin French, Blogger

January 29, 2018

29 Min Read


Communities, the life blood of each and every game. They're a measure of whether what you've created is actually any good. Right?

A big community that talks and shares information about your games far and wide across the internet and among their friends and beyond are what can make or break your game. So why do so many developers wait until after launch before starting to grow theirs?

The following guide came out of a number of conversations I had with other developers that had either failed to build a community for their games pre-launch.

They wanted tips on how to go about doing so and is based on our own experiences of growing a community.

We are developing a competitive online cyberpunk real time strategy game, Failure: NeuroSlicers and we started building our community pre-release and before we had anything playable.

We were / are an unknown studio, developing our first game, as a studio, though we've all worked on a mixture of AAA and Indie projects outside of this studio.

The Importance of Gathering Feedback Early and Often 

Gathering feedback from other developers as well as normal players is super important and should be done as early as possible. The moment you have a playable build you should be seeking to get feedback from people. 

Organic marketing should be happening as early as possible too, especially if this is your first title from your studios. I'm talking at minimum a year or more before launch you should be building your communities through all forms of social media and especially Discord, twitch, YouTube and elsewhere. 

Get talking with influencers that play your type of game (they don't need to be massive ones, sometimes it's better to partner with smaller / medium sized ones who can grow their audience at the same time as you and they're more likely to give special treatment to your title. 


What Are You Building A Community Around If Your Game Isn't Ready To Play? 

The anticipation of playing the game!

By sharing exclusive looks at in development elements of your game, bugs, concept art and more you can help build that anticipation. 

Its also important to get the community involved in the decision making; this helps build consumer trust and get's them to "buy in" to the concept even before they've had a chance to play the game. though, you'll likely see your biggest surges of new community members come from when you take your game to events and get people to sign up to your discord or newsletter on the spot after getting hands on with something playable. 

But the main point is that its about building a community around the journey to final release and getting this community involved isn as many ways as possible - you want to be creating "Ambassadors" for your brand that will help spread information about your games. 

Its a slow process that takes a lot of time and effort to do but has been proven to be worthwhile and, dare I say it, essential to the success of indie games in the current climate. It needs to be started early and you need to commit a considerable amount of time to it.

I'm Sold, I Want To Build A Community In Preparation For Launch.....But Where Do I Start?

Here are a few things to get started, in no particular order:

  1. Discord
    I've mentioned plenty in regards to Discord already, but it really should be your main community hub where you interact with your fans on a daily basis and share timed exclusive content (before tweeting this content or including it in a newsletter); ultimately you want people to be funneled here from all other places.

  2. Twitter
    You should be tweeting on a daily basis and preferably with images, gifs and videos. Always make use of hashtags, but never more than 2 or 3 max and one of them should be a custom one for your game, ie for us we have #FailureNeuroSlicers.

    The other hashtag should be either #gamedev, #indiedev or on Wednesday at 6PM BST #indiedevhour, on Friday's (if your using Unity) #madewithunity and on Saturday's #screenshotsaturday.

    Always try to link to your Discord and / or Newsletter within every tweet to push people to your main community hub. Track engagement on the Twitter analytics page and work out why certain tweets maybe work better than others (time, visual content, word content, hashtag use, etc). Also. make sure you get other team members, or your other accounts to retweet using a different set of 2 hashtags and try to retweet your own posts every 3 - 4 hours in order to hit other timezones with your content.

  3. Blog
    This can be hosted directly on your site or somewhere like Tumblr if your doing it in a written form, however we've personally started doing video dev blogs instead as they're faster to produce and allows you to put a face to the game that I believe people appreciate.

    Blogs should be done on a monthly or bi-weekly basis as well as part of your newsletter send outs. Repost these blogs across other sites such as IndieDB, Brightlocker, Facebook and also be sure to tweet about them.

    Try to find a single topic to cover in a blog in detail while also giving a general update on the progress of development. Once again, always remember to include a link to your Discord, funnel readers there by saying something like "If you'd like to discuss any of the topics covered in this months blog then head over to blah blah blah......"

  4. Newsletter
    This should be a bi-weekly / monthly thing where you summarize all the marketing content you've created that month and where you link to this content.

    Keep newsletters short and sweet with interesting headlines and a paragraph or two for each section before linking to the bulk of the content held on your Blog, YouTube, Twitch, etc - once again, push people to your Discord so they can discuss the topics.

    Mailchimp is a good product for this and has pretty good analytics that allow you to track opens, location of people opening your newsletter and more including A/B testing Newsletter headers, splitting send outs with different content to check for the responses, etc.

  5. YouTube
    On your YouTube channel you should be posting your video dev blogs, gameplay snippets, trailers, interviews with your team where they discuss their role on the project, videos of your time at events, recordings of livestreams, game feature deep dives and anything else you can think of.

    Make sure you organize your YouTube channel into categories so it's easy for people to find the content they're most interested in. Make new video uploads unlisted and share them first via your Discord so your Community gets a first look, then maybe a week later make them public and tweet about them.

    Make sure you emphasize that your Discord community is getting a first look at everything you create on here.

  6. Twitch
    Try to livestream at least once or twice a month, ideally more. You can hold special livestream events where you giveaway other games (Its super handy having a Humble Monthly subscription and also buying some of the Humble Bundles to have a big catalog of game keys to give away for competitions).

    You can livestream your team programming, your artists doing art, new gameplay features, an internal competition, anything really. Try to livestream at a variety of different hours throughout the week and weekend so that you can be sure that people from accross the globe can attend at least some of them. Once a stream is over, upload the video to your Youtube Channel for those members of your community that couldn't attend the livestream.

    Its just important to do it often and to a schedule. Be sure to create some good visual assets for your channel and Streaming overlay.

    Always be sure to promote your Discord throughout your stream.

  7. Brightlocker
    This is a relatively new platform that launched at the end of last year and is a mix between Patreon and IndieGoGo - you setup a page, can offer rewards that can be purchased for cash or the platforms own currency Gold. Gold is earned through interactions on the platform and has a monetary value. Players can subscribe to your pages for a monthly fee and the split is massively in favor of the developer.

    Due to how new the platform is there's and the fact they've partnered with some big name game studios there's been a really good surge of new users to the platform which can easily be converted to new community members for you.

    You can also post updates on the site and even livestream directly within the platform.

    Rewards can be physical / digital or even things called Guided choices, where users pay gold to have a say on a creative direction for an element of the game. Once again, you should be trying to push all followers from here to your Discord.

  8. IndieDB
    Personally not a big fan of IndieDB, I think the interface and UX needs a massive overhaul as it's incredibly archaic, but it's still a good place to re-post your blogs and get them featured on the IndieDB homepage. You need to make sure you stick to their rules when posting content on your pages here though (something like at least 5 new images or a video) otherwise they'll archive the post and it will only be visible on your personal game page.

  9. Facebook Groups
    There are a lot of game dev and gaming community Facebook groups out there; join as many of them and feel free to spam posts to your other content; you'll get a few hits this way - though Facebook has become less business friendly over the past year or so and less effective for marketing efforts.

  10. Steam Store Page
    This is something you should have setup around 6 - 8 months before release, but only if you have all your key art and a solid video and screenshots ready. At this point it's recommended that you make your store page live with the tag "Coming Soon" so people can start Wish Listing your game. As mentioned earlier, this is much better than allowing pre-orders in order to get as many day 1 sales as possible. In addition, making your store page live will open up your steam community pages to the public, here you'll want to pin a post that tries to push people to your Discord.


Discord has quickly become the go-to platform for community building over the past 12 months or so and if your not using it for your community building efforts you should be!

Replacing the traditional forum as a place to discuss and engage with your audience in a more direct way, Discord is an amazing platform that seems to be going from strength to strength.

So how do you get started using Discord as your community hub?

Your Welcome Page

Your Welcome page is the starting point of any good community. It should contain everything a new  member should know about your community to get settled in. It should be broken down into the following sections which I'll go into more detail after:

  1. Welcome Message

  2. Rules

  3. Team

  4. Channel Guide

  5. Role / Rank Guide

Your Welcome Message

This should be the first thing that your users see and its a good idea to get this to appear via Mee6 when they join your Discord server. Keep it short and sweet while directing your users to the channels where discussion topics are happening. Here's ours as an example:

Welcome to the official Failure: NeuroSlicers Discord Server! 
Here you'll be getting an exclusive look at early development progress and be able to discuss things directly with the team as we build the game.

It's super important for us to get all of you involved in the development process and create a killer cyberpunk strategy gaming experience that you want to play and talk about. 

Have your say, question our decisions and help shape Failure: NeuroSlicers into something special that you want to play. 

Check out #announcements for all the latest announcements and #feature-discussion and #occasional-updates for the latest content we've been sharing as well as discussion topics where we're looking for your input. 

Your Community Rules 

Its important that with any new community you start on the right foot and have some robust rules in place for new users. Make sure you direct new users to where your rules are, such as a welcome page. Here are some rules to get you started: 

Community Rules

The following rules were discussed and agreed upon by the early community. Please be sure to follow them so that we can continue to have a positive space.

  1. No personal attacks, harassment or defamatory remarks. 

  2. Don't make racist/gendered/sexist/homophobic jokes/comments; these will not be tolerated. 

  3. No spamming/trolling in the voice or text channels. 

  4. No posting explicit material in any of the channels. If you can't show it to your parents openly, don't show us. This is also a zero-tolerance rule which will result in a ban. 

  5. Please keep topics in their appropriate places. See the text channel guide below. 

  6. Respect your other community members 

  7. Respect the Authority of the Dev’s [DH] and Sentry’s [Mods], if you are in disagreement about a topic unrelated to the game, PM the person in question. Don't act in a way that will make the community a worse place to be, at the mods' discretion. 

  8. Have active discussions about the game and feel free to disagree with things that we share, but please try to keep the conversation constructive rather than attacking. 

  9. Messages will be deleted if they do not follow the above and you can / will receive a ban from the community. 

  10. If you feel you are being targeted by another member of the community then feel free to PM one of the dev team or Sentries and we will attempt to resolve the issue. 

  11. We may retroactively modify the rules if an issue comes up that isn't covered in the above. If we do so we will not ban the user, however, they will receive a warning and any future violations will result in a ban. 

As mentioned above, it's a good idea to gain "buy in" from your early community members in regards to your rules - discuss this topic with them and go through each rule in detail explaining why you feel this will help create a more positive community space. 

Your Team Section

Its important that your community knows who your team members are and what their role on the project is. This will help to connect your community with your team and allow the community to ask specific questions to the right people. 

In addition to this, having some mods (in our case our selected community member testers) that can help out with your community is a good idea. I talk more about this in the last section of the guide. Finally, make sure that your team and mods have a strict naming convention in terms of their username on Discord and be sure to assign the correct roles and colors so that your community can easily identify your team and mods.

The Team
Dream Harvest 
@[DH] Justin - Founder / CEO 
@[DH] Sven - CTO / Lead Programmer 
@[DH] Milcho - Lead Designer / Gameplay Programmer 
@[DH] Liok - Art Director 
@[DH] Brandon (WaywardStrategist) - Designer 
@[DH] Dan - Composer 

The Mods 
The following community members are here to help you settle in with the community. They are all actively playing the game and helping us at Dream Harvest with testing. If you have a question about the game feel free to ask them. You might even see some of them at Events we attend. 
@[🗼] Steven 
@[🗼] Sky 
@[🗼] jafdy 

Your Channel Guide

It's important that you setup a good selection of clearly defined channels for your Discord Server so that your community knows where to post. Be sure to make use of the channel tools in order to make certain channels read only and even private to select Ranks / Roles. Here's a breakdown of what we feel should be the bare minimum.

Channel Guide 
This is where you should jack-in when you first join the community....be sure to have a good read of everything here. 

Anything important we'll put here such as announcing when our latest newsletter is out, or when we'll be streaming over on Twitch next. This is a read only Channel.

Got an idea for a new bot, channel or anything else server related. Post your ideas here

General discussions about the game. Feel free to ask questions about the stuff we share and talk about how your going to become the best Slicer in the network! 

Here we'll be doing deep dives into core features, systems and other elements of the game and we'll be looking for your feedback, thoughts and questions in order to create the best experience possible. 

We'll be having discussions during our livestreams here. Also, once the game goes live during our pre-alpha we'll also be inviting all you lovely people to stream and share your videos of your experiences here. We'll even host your Twitch channels on our own channel! 

This channel is reserved for @Alpha_Slicer and above Ranks / Levels. It will be used to give constant feedback on your experiences playing Failure: NeuroSlicers. 

This channel is reserved for @Alpha_Slicer and above Ranks / Levels. It will be used to track bugs and other issues in game. 

Here's the place to talk about anything else your hearts desire. Its open season in this channel.

Here's where we ask for your help to share things and you'll get rewarded with XP for doing it! Just be sure to mention if you've shared something in this channel.

Got a cool painting, picture, line drawing, 3d model, music or anything else Failure: NeuroSlicers related that you've created and want to share? Post it hear for the whole community to see and earn XP!

You can Also Categorize channels into groups which we highly recommend as it will keep things organized. This is especially true when you move onto your next project and want to keep your community in a central space but have separate discussion areas for each game.

Role / Rank Guide

This is the place where you'll declare each Rank / Role that's attainable on your server. If you do happen to "gamify" your server using a bot such as Mee6 you can show what a certain rank will give a community member. As we included Role information for the team and mods in the team section, we've left that out in this section. Here's ours as an example:

Rank Guide
By interacting with the community and development team you'll earn XP. The more XP you earn the higher you'll rank. Get chatting / asking questions and engaging with your fellow community members and you'll unlock access to our closed testing sessions and more.

Level 1 - @User
Level 5 - @New Recruit
Level 10 - @Trainee
Level 12 - @Neuro Junkie (Consideration for Pre-Alpha Demo)
Level 14 - @Script Kid
Level 16 - @Freelancer
Level 18 - @Operator
Level 20 - @Handler
Level 21 - @Slicer (Guaranteed Access to Pre-Alpha Demo)
Level 22 - @Elite Slicer
Level 23 - @Alpha_Slicer
Level 24 - @Shadow Operative (Guaranteed Invite to All Tests)
Level 25 - @DarkNet Commander
Level 26 - @Rogue Slicer
Level 27 - @Singualrity Slicer
Level 99 - @AI (Access to Developer Builds)

Conversation Topics to Get your Community Chatting

So you've started to get people to sign up to your discord but your struggling to think of how to engage with them in an effective way. Here are a number of things you can start doing:

  1. Have a Competition to get community members to design / come up with a new design idea or even some fan art or anything really

  2. Setup some rules on your welcome page but ask your community what they should be; get them to buy into the rules in order to mitigate any future toxcity

  3. Share concept art or even early sketches for a particular unit / building /whatever design, but have several versions and get the community to vote on which they prefer

  4. Talk about problems / challenges your facing as a developer, give them an inside look at the process

  5. Share your development roadmap and discuss priorities with the community, maybe even get them to vote for the next feature.

  6. Talk about your team members, who they are, what their role on the project is

  7. Live stream some early gameplay or create some super raw videos that you share with your community

  8. Share funny bugs and other random stuff you come across during development

  9. Do a feature deep dive where you talk about a particular element of your game in detail and ask for community feedback

  10. Get your most vocal community members involved as testers, make this super exclusive so there's some real competition around the application process and allow these testers to stream your game.

  11. Gamify your community using something like Mee6, create private channels for the people that reach a certain level and share special stuff only in those channels

  12. Most importantly, talk like a human being rather than a corporate / PR / Marketing person; allow the community to connect with you as an individual who just so happens to be making a game

Additional Discord Tips & Tricks 

  1. Make Your Announcements and Welcome Channels Read Only so Important Messages always stay in view

  2. Pin Pin and Pin Some more....seriously, start pinning interesting conversation topics so that you can direct newer members of your community to them and get their instant input on things.

  3. Don't be afraid to join a bazillion other discord groups, especially gaming communities to do with your genre of game - these are great places to find new community members for your own discord. Also join ones not to do with your genre of game....you never know where you might find new players!

  4. Seriously, get rid of the hard to remember Discord invite link and setup a CNAME record on your domain that's linked to a "never expiring" discord invite link - this way you can have a cool url like http://discord.yourgamename.com which will look so much better on a business card, poster or flyer. 


Questions To Ask When Planning Test Builds

The following was a question posed to me by another developer. Once again, my answer is based on our own experiences and plans and might differ to other developers out there creating games in a different genre.

The Question:

Hey everyone! I just wanted to ask what do you think about releasing an alpha version of your games? More specifically... When do you think is a good time to release it? Should it be paid/free? If it is free at the beginning, when to switch it to paid? Etc.

My Answer:

What would be the purpose of this Alpha version? To build interest? To generate revenue? To test with a wider audience and gather specific types of feedback?

I think you need to have a clear goal around doing these types of builds and tie them to your communication / marketing plan in an effective way - Its important that you see a return of some type; whether that's monetarily, enhanced engagement from your community, data for the improvement of your game, press interest, etc. Something measurable and substantial. But timing is everything and trying to accomplish all of the above at the same time, too early, will have a detrimental effect of your success.

Trying to Generate Revenue Too Early

The Question:

We want to build a community for the game in order for it to have a solid fanbase when version 1.0 is released. At the same time, if we can get significant revenues during the process, it would be awesome.

Many of my questions are somehow related to the article you shared, where it is suggested to have a playable build for the audience to have something to talk about, which makes complete sense. In this context, it is good to build a community early, so the game should be released early. The question is How to do it properly?

From the return types you mention, we basically want all of them. More users, more revenue, enhanced engagement, fine-tuning the game, press interest, etc.

My concerns are the following:

  • If the product is released too early, it may not fulfill the buyers expectations and the buzz would lose momentum.

  • If it is too late, the community won't be strong enough to drive the desired revenues, if there is a community whatsoever.

  • If the product is released early with a full price, it may not be well perceived by players as they may feel overcharged for an incomplete product.

  • If the product is released early but free (or low price) it might lose its "psychological value" and players may get used to a "free/cheap" product and when the price is full there won't be interest for them to convert... Or we may get many free users that otherwise would have paid for the game.

My Answer:
I recommend starting with community first and foremost if this isn't something you've started building yet - Revenue, press interest, data for the improvement of your product, etc can naturally come from a good, solid community.

I also think that trying to generate revenue too early will be detrimental to the long term success of your product. The way the steam store works now, its imperative that you have high day 1 sales in order to stay in the popular new releases table and carousel.

This means that pre-orders or early sales of your game are out and wish lists are in. 

If your going to do an Alpha / Beta phase, do it on a temporary basis with keys that expire. First and foremost should be your community building efforts.

Once you've started to build a community you'll already have people eager to get their hands on the game.

It's at this point that you can start to get creative and build the excitement level further.

Ideas for using Test Builds To Increase Community Engagement

The first test builds you should be getting into the hands of players is when you have something playable. However, you do want to make sure that you can action feedback in an effective way and you also want to make sure that the people that are going to be playing this test build are part of your key demographic. For this reason, it's important to start with a small number of testers; 3 or 4 of your most vocal community members. You can expand on this down the line, but working with a small number at first means that you'll have an easier job dealing with all of their feedback.

  1. Put together a survey as part of the application process and make sure your asking the right questions in order to determine who would be right for the role and who isn't. Here's the one we've been using for Failure: NeuroSlicers‌ - one thing of note is that with this survey it's less about the answers and more about the applicants ability to argue their point in a well constructed way. The survey also takes quite a while to finish and might not be suitable for your type of game.

  2. Setup some specific rules for these testers. They're going to be getting an inside look at the development process and early builds before anyone else. There needs to be a bit of control over what they can and can't share with the wider community in public channels. Here are the rules we used and we discussed them in detail with our potential testers before putting them into motion in order to get their "buy in".

  3. Gate the application process behind Discord community members that have reached a certain Mee6 level in order to guarantee that these people are vocal community members and not just people that have joined your community recently. This ties into the idea that you want to be constantly rewarding your engaged community members with new opportunities and exclusive things.

  4. Promote the Application through other social media at least two or three weeks before your launch the survey so that you can drive new people to your Discord Community and give them enough time to engage in order to level up to the required level to be eligible to apply for the position.

  5. Allow these testers to livestream early content.

  6. Treat these testers as your community moderators, allow them to discuss topics regarding the game with other community members.

  7. Invite these testers to events and get them to help demo the game (and buy them Pizza / Drinks for their help)

  8. Make sure they have private channels on your discord to discuss topics away from the rest of the community.

And this is the general spiel along with the benefits we use to get people to signup:

Want to apply to help test Failure: NeuroSlicers and gain instant access to our current build, way before it's available to our wider community for the Closed Pre-Alpha?

As a Sentry, you will:
1. Immediately get access to the current version of the Game.
2. Do regular playtesting sessions where we try out new features and balance changes.
3. Give direct feedback on any aspect of the game, which we'll be looking at closely.
4. Wait a ton of time until the next build, because we have 1 Gameplay Programmer.
5. Receive a free digital copy of the game once it launches.
6. Receive an exclusive "Sentry" Badge/Banner/Portrait once the game launches.
7. Be in the Game's Credits.
8. Get free entry (Where possible) to certain global gaming events that we are attending and where you can help us out with demoing the game....we'll even buy you pizza + drinks

Once your ready with a Closed Pre-Alpha / Alpha build you can start to invite more of your community to get involved with testing. But once again, you want to reward your most vocal community members with access before others. Here you can once again use the leveling system from Mee6 - invite top level players first in small batches.

You also want to determine how long this Closed Pre-Alpha / Alpha period will last - you dont want it to go on forever as these players will likely begin to loose interest and might not purchase your game when it's ready for release.

For games with an online component, this could mean that your servers are online only at specific times each weekend over a 1 or 2 month period so that you can guarantee a surge of players over those periods and you'll hopefully be gaining a good amount of feedback during those periods.

It's likely that you'll start to see a surge in community members joining your Discord over these periods, especially if your allowing players to livestream and record let's plays. On that note, something you should consider doing is reaching out to those influencers we talked about earlier and getting them involved with each round of testing.

Anyway, that's about it. Hopefully with some of the info above you'll become Community Ninja's or at least start to find your own path to building up you're games community. I'm sure that I'll be making edits to this guide over the coming months as we launch our own Pre-Alpha build to the wider world and I'm sure many of you who have gone through all of this have plenty of comments and suggestions to improve this guide. On that note; let the discussions begin!


Justin French
Founder / CEO
Dream Harvest

Want to join our Discord Community for Failure: NeuroSlicers, head over to http://discord.failure.game and come and chat with us :)

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