There are three elements that make up the secret of discount mastery for indie studios: timing, medium, and promo. Your discount promotions aren’t working for you? Then you’re probably not balancing one or more of those elements properly.
Bargain season is evergreen in the indie game section of the marketplace. It almost doesn’t seem fair. Some AAA game will scrape 10% off their price and sell thousands of units. But when the poor indie studio slashes 50% off their flagship game, they’ll rejoice to sell a few hundred copies.
Still, complaining about the marketplace is like whining about imaginary cheaters. That’s the state of the game; you have to play it like it is.
Besides, it’s not as if AAA studios have some cheat code for success. Their approach to timing, medium, and promo is just much more meticulous than yours. So when a AAA studio discounts, they know what they’re doing.
‘Indiepocalypse’ or not, independent studios are now shipping games to market by the zettabyte. It’s the end of an era. There was a time when an indie dev could hope for their gem being discovered by serendipity. These days, you have to shine through a high heap of clutter in the form of clones and asset-flips. All it truly means though, is that now you’ve got to be more inventive and competitive to attract players.
Perhaps this marketing stuff doesn’t sound like fun. But master timing, medium, and promo, and it will be.
You should run a discount when your indie game needs it, when it’s opportune, and with a hard deadline. Offer discounts too frequently and you’ll wind up like that Arcadian in ‘The Indie Dev Who Cried Discount’ by Aesop. Promote your game too infrequently and it may be smothered by newer competition. You have to be tactful.
The good news is that you can get creative with all of this. Let’s look at the indie game Dandara.
Raw Fury published Dandara on February 6th, 2018. That’s no fluke. Dandara, not the game, but the Afro-Brazilian freedom fighter, refused to return to a life of slavery and took her life after she was arrested on February 6th, 1694.
If you’ve read ‘The Indie Dev Who Cried Discount’ by Aesop, you’ll understand that Dandara’s launch date automatically opens up an annual promotion window. A potentially strong one too.
While a game’s shelf life naturally wanes year by year, Dandara, Brazilian folk heroine and capoeira adept, may become more popular. She has a lot going for her. Should her history start to be commemorated more publicly and traditionally, Dandara—the game—is at the center of it.
Of course, there’s nothing like a vibrant anniversary celebration to run an ass-kicking discount with a hard-knocking deadline. This is how you use timing.
Indie game marketing, at its heart, is a community building exercise. To build a community, you need to find the right environment, the right medium. Every successful indie game has learned how to harness the power of its fans—its community. Just ask Lucas Pope.
On the surface, it may seem like making a pixel art game as cool as Papers, Please is your key to success. Like all you have to do is develop it, and put it on a high traffic platform. Under the hood, this is far from the truth. It’s not what Pope did either.
Pope started posting updates in an indie dev forum almost as soon as he began work on Papers, Please. He went into the medium where he knew he’d find early supporters. Through inclusion, those prime supporters became the hype squad that also helped steer the game’s direction.
Pope took it a step further. He leveraged his medium by asking his community to submit character names that would become the citizens of his game world. The results? Over 30,000 entries! This was long before the game was released.
While Pope’s pre-launch activities were not discounts per se, they were an extra bargain for those who got to participate. Why? You may buy Papers, Please at the same price as any one of those participants. Still, they’ll derive a lot more pleasure from it because they’re a feature part of the game. Just think about how they’ll spread word-of-mouth.
The takeaway here is simple: stop thinking the only medium where you can offer a hot deal is the hilltop. You can promote your indie game in the valleys too. ‘The Indie Dev Who Cried Discount’ by Aesop illustrates the value of Hilltop versus Valley promotions. As always, be creative about it.
Papers, Please benefited from the full range of medium. It went from the valley to the hilltops and on to astronomical sales. At the time of this writing, it’s only ever been bundled once (back when you didn’t need to know how to bundle your indie game) with an obstinate take-it-or-leave-it deadline.
Once you’ve mastered timing and medium, you can have all sorts of fun with promo. Almost five years after its initial release, a free short film for Papers, Please came out, boosting sales once again. This must have been especially fun for Lucas Pope, because he wasn’t even in charge of making the film himself.
But let’s talk about Peter Lazarski, whose name you might not know. Lazarski is behind the Imaginary Monsters brand and its accompanying indie game, Halloween Forever. During Halloween Forever’s development, Lazarski used social media to update his community with dev logs that included comic strips centered on the game world.
And then you should check out the Imaginary Monsters shop. Among other merchandise, you can pick up Halloween Forever stickers that come affixed with a Steam key for the game, at the same price of the full game!
Lazarski makes it fun for you to discover Halloween Forever. There are multiple paths into the game world through transmedia. He’s not just reveling in his creativity to make the game, he’s also making its promotion an enjoyable chore. Imagine that.
When your promos are made of entertaining actions, a well-timed discount becomes an irresistible temptation. Take your audience on a joyride from the get-go.
There are dozens of reasons why your indie game could fail, but don’t let discounts be one of them. Fancy joyriding through a more detailed explanation of this topic? Read ‘The Indie Dev Who Cried Discount’ by Aesop. It’s free (like all his fables).