For indie game developers, the struggle to get a new title noticed is a very real – and very critical – part of their daily work. That's because the global video game market is more crowded than ever before, and indie games have to compete with well-funded AAA titles and an endless stream of low-effort mobile games that all vie for consumers' attention. Plus, when you consider that the average game developer doesn't have a long resume filled with marketing experience, they're not exactly positioned for easy success.
For many of them, the solution is to work to create a grassroots-style word-of-mouth effort that helps their game's discoverability on platforms like Steam and the various app stores they might be listed on. The problem with that, however, is that those platforms are only partially algorithm-driven. That means there's no guarantee that their title will get a push unless a human curator on one of the platforms chooses to let it happen.
But it doesn't have to be that way.
The truth is, indie game developers can create and execute a high-level marketing plan for their games – even if they don't have a large amount of funding to devote to the cause. The secret is to leverage digital campaigns in a way that provides the best bang-for-the-buck and that will stand a better chance of getting the attention of human gaming platform curators.
Make Audience Targets a Part of Development
Even though most game developers base their game concepts on whatever happens to strike their fancy, sparing some thought for a target audience from the beginning of the development cycle is essential. It's something that many indie devs take for granted or leave for the end of development – when it would already be too late to make any substantial changes without risking the game becoming a jumbled mess.
By figuring out what audience a game is aimed at early on, developers can simultaneously craft the game's experience to suit their target demographic's desires, as well as begin creating a marketing plan to reach those very people. According to Steve Escalante of Versus Evil, it's also critical to identify the game's hook for the target audience upfront. In a recent interview, he stated, "You have to think about how your game is unique. Because the press is going to pick up on that, the community is going to pick up on that." And if you can build your marketing on the back of that hook, the entire campaign will be in sync with the grassroots buzz the game generates among its intended audience.
Partner with the Right People
Although there's been enough buzz around the concept of influencer marketing lately that it can hardly be considered a secret tactic, a surprising number of indie devs still seem to think it's a tactic that's out of their reach. But in the age of AI and micro-targeting, that's no longer true. According toArtem Paulkin, Commercial Director at HypeFactory - which specializes in designing influencer campaigns for games, technology is already rewriting the rules of the influencer game.
He says, "Data insights and the scaling of influencers and advertising campaigns will mean that influence marketing will shift from the sole collaboration of millionaire influencers through to influencers with a smaller and more niche audience," That means low-budget indie games can now use data to target exactly the right partners to connect with their target audience.
And to keep budgets realistic, developers can be ultra-selective in designing an influencer outreach campaign. Paulkin continues, "AI and large-scale data analysis is allowing micro-inspection of influence marketing strategies," That means there's a high degree of granular campaign control available, so developers can invest their precious marketing dollars with confidence that they're going to see a solid return on investment.
Create the Right Materials
The last important part of creating a successful marketing campaign is to create the right materials to support it. It's a part of the campaign that can make or break the whole effort – and one that quite a few developers don't worry enough about. First and foremost, they should focus on creating visually appealing game stills and gameplay trailers. The overarching goal of all of them should be to show off the artistic and gameplay excellence of the game.
But developers shouldn't stop there. They should also leverage the cutting-edge concept of the initial asset offering (IAO) which is gaining traction in blockchain gaming to generate both additional marketing funding as well as positive buzz for their games. That's just what the creators of a game called Dissolution did – to the tune of $30,000 before their game's launch. In one fell swoop, they generated plenty of cash to fuel additional development and marketing, while building an audience who was quite literally invested in their game.
Ready to Launch
The point of all of this – besides attracting a large and willing audience for a game – is to increase the game's visibility enough that the curators of major game platforms will want to get in on the action and shine the spotlight on it. And by doing it in a precise and methodical way, a campaign to get it done shouldn't cost much, and may actually bring in money in certain circumstances.
In any case, though, getting to the point that their game begins seeing steady promotion in its sales channels is often enough to meet an indie developer's financial goals for their creation. And since all of the groundwork builds additional momentum, any developer with a solid game to pitch should end up more than happy with their results.