First a little introduction.
I'm the lead designer and marketing guy at Speelbaars. That's a small indie company from the Netherlands that probably a lot of you haven't heard of. That's totally oké. We're working on our debut game called Lumini and I'm just sharing my thoughts and experiences while I'm trying to figure out how this lovely industry works.
A lot of people that start in the game industry or aspire to do so, have their sources of inspiration.
I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that, but a lot of them idolize the people/products that got them to do so, so much, that either consciously or unconsciously they end up copying them.
Nowadays indies need to compete in a market that is flooded with people just like them. They all have the dream of making it big, have people write about their games, make enough money of of their games to never have to worry again. They all want to be acknowledged for their hard work in the industry we all love. Yet only a few of them realize that dream and that is, in my opinion, a sad reality that we all need to work on.
Most of the time, when I hear people complain about not getting noticed, they blame others. It's either the press that doesn't pay attention to them, it's big-shot indies that like to confine themselves in so called cliques, it's people not understanding what a great game they're making, you name it. Hardly anyone has the self reflection to seek the problem with themselves. I know, it's easier to blame the other guy, what could you've done wrong? You've worked your ass of on a great product right?
True. Your game could be original and great, but somewhere you're not standing out. Marketing isn't just making a game, it's letting people know it exists and in that process you need just as much tenacity and originality as you do in making the game. You need to approach press in a way others don't. Most indies succeed in reaching small indie focused blogs, people who write about games they love, because the love game (I know right?). But those people aren't gonna make your game reach the audience you crave. Problem is, most journalists of so-called mainstream games media, receive hundreds, if not more, mails a day. All great games, original ideas and lots of passion. But they're just people, they have 24 hours a day, just like you, of which they will only spend half of it (at most!) on selecting that few titles that they know they're audience will like. What this effectively means is that from those pages of mails, they will only pick a handful a day of which half will be from sources they're well familiar with. That isn't necessarily because they don't like your game, or because they hate you. It's because it's their job, they need money as much as you do. They gain that money from their readers, from ad-clicks/views as you will. So it's natural that they choose to write about topics that their certain about. They'd love to write about great original games, but they don't have the time to go through hundreds of mails a day to find that gem.
Now here lies your task. If you can find a way to stand out from the crowd, to make yourself noticeable in those hundreds of mails, or even better, reach the press outside of mailing. Your chance of being noticed sky-rocket, now all you need is to sell your game!
And that's the second part of the problem. Lots of times I hear people tell me how great their game is. When they tell me it's this title, mixed with this title fitted in this (most of the time) popular genre. As I said earlier, it's great to have inspirations and I'm hardly the one to tell you you shouldn't use elements of existing games. The title I'm working on with my own company at the moment is inspired on at least six titles that I know of. But a lot of games miss their own identity, their own character. It stops with the inspiration. If you have an iPhone, you can download hundreds of Flappy bird 'clones' and I know for a fact at least half of the developers are genuinely proud of their game. What they miss is that Flappy bird was news, something that resembles that, isn't. Even though the theme is different, or the story. There are a lot of games that are great or even better then the games that inspired them. But if you tell people it's inspired on without giving the game it's own story, it's own context, people will just see it as a clone.
Everyone has inspirational sources. Nothing is entirely original. But people want to read about new things, it's called NEWS for a reason and I'm sorry to say this, but it's your own mistake that you 'sold' your game without being interesting to read about.
Here are some tips on how to avoid this problem. Now bear with me, this is purely speculative and drawn from my own short experience (I'm somewhat of a wise-ass). You can start with games you like and draw ideas from that, but mix it up with something that those games miss, that they don't do. It can be anything, that's all up to you. Now mold the game around that idea, make it it's own game, forget about the other games. The only time you go back to your inspirational sources is when you have a specific question regarding the part that you drew inspiration from in that game and try to answer it by trying to define the way they solved that problem, not by copying what they did. You might be surprised and make that part even better than the original! It's your own game, it has it's own story. The game will still hold the elements that you find important, but they bear your signature.
Now that you've finished your game, that is not a clone, that is truly original and innovative. You can start to expose it to the world.
Remember what I told you about being original beyond the game? Now comes the part that purely theoretical and unproven(at least by me). In your story (be it a press release or something other), you start by telling what the game is about. You tell what the game does and what it's supposed to evoke. After that you can say all you want about it's original mechanics and what not. But do so from the games own strong points, not related to the games that inspired you. Give the game it's own space and context. Tell the person you are writing to why this game deserves his/her attention. Give the journalist something edgy to write about. Make it news, because your game is now original and new, without losing it's inspiration.
- Don't blame others for not getting exposure for your game
- Avoid making the 'same' game as your inspirational source
- Give your game its own character and context
- Write about what makes your game unique, regardless of what it does the same as others.
- Remember; I'm just figuring stuff out along the way as well.
For questions, or opinions, leave a comment or mail me at steven[at]speelbaars[dot]com.