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The Power of Audience Development for Indies

While PR, advertising, channel promotions and other vehicles can perform well for games marketing – with audience and community development, YOU can control and manage communications through the programs you build in these areas.

This is the first in a series of periodic posts, with marketing recommendations for indie studios.  These come from independent marketer Joel Dreskin, who has driven campaigns for organizations of varying sizes, large and small.  At GDC Next November 3, Joel will cover this and related topics in a session co-presented with Justin Woodward.

Starting off with a general point be sure to build marketing into your plans earlier rather than later, and don't be like the guy in this illustration.  I hear from developers periodically who wait until a very late stage before thinking about how they’ll market their games.  The earlier you start your marketing planning, the better off you’ll be.  This blog post focuses on the benefits of community and audience development programs.

While PR, advertising, channel promotions and other kinds of vehicles can perform well for indie game marketing – with audience and community development, you can control and manage communications through the programs you build in these areas.  As you get these established and the size of your audience grows, a portion of your marketing programs can then become quite a bit more straight forward to execute.  Community communications don’t typically replace PR or other kinds of programs. They can provide a very strong addition.

You can share information and content directly with fans, engage and interact, and cut past layers and obstacles from prior eras and other channels.  These can become your most un-obstructed vehicles – with no gatekeeping based on subjective tastes of journalists, editors or online store managers.

The more ways you can offer to connect with your community, the better.  Some in your audience prefer to spend their time on Twitter, and consume information there.  Others gravitate to Facebook, Reddit or elsewhere.  Have your communications tuned to your audience’s preferences in terms of where they like to spend time and consume information. 

In the initial stages of your studio, you’ll likely have a small online presence with moderate communication frequency.  This will develop as your project progresses, and you have more to talk about and share.

And everyone’s audience size starts small.  The earlier you start the process of building your base, the better off you’ll be down the line. 

Social Media Channels

Be sure to have prominent links to your social channels clearly posted on your studio’s webpage, as part of the signature line of your emails, on your press page – wherever fits.  This helps for regularly building the size of the universe you can communicate with directly – for when you’re preparing new game announcements, new content releases, special offers, and more. 

Once you’ve got these channels created and have established a base of followers, post there regularly.  A Twitter or Facebook link from your website that you don’t post to doesn’t do anyone any good.  You’ll typically increase posting frequency during more active times – such as the build up to a new content release.  Include URLs in your tweets and posts when appropriate, to make it as easy as possible for interested followers to find more information you’re posting about.

Communities also generally appreciate when you mix up the kinds of content you post – info that could be of interest for them, topical perspectives and more – not just sales and product information for your game.

Online Video Channels

Developers and publishers can plan for varied video content at key stages of the launch build up: teasers, gameplay, features, your full launch trailer and possibly more.  In addition to the impact you can achieve through this  format, video channels work well for building your audience, affinity, engagement and interest.  Different kinds of video content can include:

  • Teaser videos
  • Full game trailers
  • Series of engaging gameplay videos (focusing on different lead characters, themes, features)
  • Live streaming days, to give an inside look at your game development as it progresses – perhaps every week, month or somewhere in between
  • Streaming sessions that showcase players
  • Spotlights of head to head multiplayer sessions from the community
  • User created content and/or contests
  • In-game cinematic sequences
  • Game’s “first 5 minutes”
  • Interviews, behind the scenes pieces.
  • Other creative ideas that you have

Email

As you grow and begin to generate interest, you can also invite people to join your mailing list. 

When people choose to join your mailing list, they do this because they want to hear from you. So this is not spam, and it’s not crass to have a mailing list of people who sign up by their own choice.  Ultimately, this can become one of your best vehicles – your top, most engaged, informed, fervent enthusiasts and supporters. Journalists and industry contacts may sign up for your mailing list, so this can help with those kinds of efforts as well.

If you attend a trade show, get your project covered on an industry blog or website, generate interest through social media, and more, your mailing list helps to capture leads and establish this foundation for direct communications with your audience.

As your mailing list size expands, think about ways to keep this connection going through regular email communications – perhaps monthly. 

If all goes well, with interesting engaging content in emails to your base about projects your fans enjoy, subscribers will forward your emails along to others.

Community Forums

Adding a forum section to your website can work well for building connections with your fans and getting them engaged.  You and your team can also interact with people through other kinds of forums, such as comments sections of articles posted about your game and other online enthusiast sites like Steam and Reddit. Personality and tone play important roles in these communications. Stay friendly and positive.

Your Community Personality

The style and tone of communications with your audience play key roles in your community development.  A friendly, open, informal style works very well for creating affinity with your audience.  General rule of thumb: Keep cool, stay positive and be yourself.  You’ll also find that your audience will appreciate responsiveness and timeliness.

An accessible communication style comes easily and naturally for some, less so for others.  Be sure to find a person on your team who can work these channels effectively.  Some will employ a part time person that has strong skills in this area.

Humor can work very well for building the connection and rapport with your audience.  If you or your team have this in your arsenal, all the better!  A light touch doesn’t fit for all projects, particularly if it isn’t appropriate for your style of game.

While communications on the internet can be challenging at times, with trolls and haters who love to hate, a balanced, rational communication approach can serve you best.  Sometimes, you may need to walk away from your computer or device and take a deep breath before deciding how (or whether) to engage.  Ultimately, taking the higher ground will cast you in the best light, particularly with prospective customers, supporters and members of the media who might be reading along – the kinds of people who matter most.

Additional Audience Development Initiatives

Continually look for new ways to build your audience base and get more supporters. 

For example:

  • Shows – Exhibiting at events of varying sizes, from larger showcases like PAX to IndieCade to regional gatherings like the recent Bit Bash Chicago.
  • Contests – For great user generated content, multiplayer showdowns and random giveaways.
  • Fan art – Posting galleries and praise for great submissions.

Concluding Points

As mentioned in the beginning of this post, everyone’s community and audience development have modest beginnings.  Take the plunge and get started at your soonest opportunity.  Your core fans can become your greatest supporters, helping to spread the word with their friends, family members and communities.  Speaking of which, the following sizes for accounts I’m just beginning in connection with these posts are small.  Join up and they can grow ;)  This post has been adapted from my “Practical Guide to Indie Marketing” book, due for publication next year.  You can learn more about the book here.

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