This episode brought to you by Polystream
In the latest episode of GDC Podcast, Kris Graft and Alissa McAloon of Game Developer chat with indie game marketing consultant Chris Zukowski.
Zukowski (who runs the site How to Market a Game) also took a slew of questions from a live audience during the episode, recorded during GDC Showcase earlier this year. There's a lot to learn from this episode--here are a few highlights:
The importance of indie game press coverage
"I don't think the press matters as much as it used to...I mean, the IGNs of the world, GameSpot, those sort of things. They don't matter as much. I love 'em! But it's more your community-building that will get you [to success]...Making your game super hooky and weird and out there, sure that might attract the press, but a lot of times the press doesn't write about your game until it becomes popular.
"To [use Valheim as an example], Valheim isn't that hooky of a game, it's just really good and fun. So I caution indies from trying to be too weird and trying to chase the press to cover you because it's weird and hooky, because you're actually going to alienate your audience that just wants a cool viking game where you just chop down trees.
"Valheim didn't become popular because it got good press. It got popular because it built a community by offering open development through betas and that sort of thing. So I often caution indies from chasing the press too much--Gamasutra excluded [laughs]."
What's the best strategy when discounting an indie game?
"I wouldn't recommend not discounting a game, and here's why. And you've got to be careful with your discounts. Every time you discount to a lower amount, a lot of game fans will follow your game based on the price, and they can set these limits where they get notified only when it's 50% off, 75% off. If you drop too deep of a discount, they only get notified when it's a new low. And it's a limited resource. You only have so many lows. As far as your discount strategy, I would discount in a stair step fashion--don't discount too deep right away because you just gave your game away.
"But...Steam is kind of like JC Penney...if you go one week, [an item is] 50% off, and the next it's buy one get one free. And you're like, that's the same thing. But they are always just discounting in creative ways. The audience at JC Penney is tuned for discounts...the type of people who shop at JC Penney are there for the discounts.
"The people who shop on Steam are there for the discounts. Your one indie game is not going to change that...I don't recommend having a principled stand where you say 'I'm never going to discount my game,' because a lot of the visibility associated with Steam is built around the expectation that you're going to discount."
The biggest problem for indie game devs
"The problem that indies have that not a lot of people talk about...is that a lot of people are starting at zero. They have zero followers, or a very small [amount] of followers, and I think time is kind of working against them. Basically it's impossible to launch a game from nothing, so you have to build up that audience. And it takes longer than just one game. That's a problem that a lot of indies run into and they don't' even realize it because they're only thinking about their game.
"Every game you release is going to be bigger and bigger and bigger. It's not an indie game but if you think about The Witcher, the first Witcher was a cult hit that only the cool kids knew about. And the next one was a small-indie-sized [game that a lot of people knew about] and the third Witcher has its own Netflix show.
"It's important to have that perspective. A lot of indies think, 'Oh my first game failed, and now I'm dead. This is terrible.' But that's just business. You have to build up your own reputation...knowing people behind the scenes in the industry but also building a fanbase. And it takes longer than just one game...The time horizon of building a studio that makes hit games takes a long time. It's one of the biggest problems that doesn't get talked about enough."