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I Haz Been Podcast... Building On Online "Presence"

One of the trickiest things about getting a game out that's not backed by a million dollar marketing plan is finding ways to get the word out.

There are a lot of game studios out there.  Even after you subtract the studios that already have a big-name publisher (and presumeably their marketing team) behind them, you have hundreds of startups, indie studios and people looking to break into the industry caught up in the mix as well.  With a game due out this March, I'm getting up and running, trying to increase our visibility and give the marketing guys for our publisher some added value to work with.  Not all of these experiments are going to be successful, but they are certainly going to be interesting.

First things first.  Social media.  Let's face it, "social media" is the new uber-buzzword out there.  Everyone's into it, from Larry King on down to Paris Hilton's chichuaha.  Game studios have Facebook pages you can be fans of, Twitter accounts that plug their development process, MySpace pages showing screens and works in progress.  All of these seem to be most excellent ideas, not only because they give you an opportunity to build buzz before the game gets released, but it gives you a concrete figure, a specific number of interested "hits" to take to your publisher. 

The rule of thumb I was given by the hoary old chain-smoking advertizing guy (think the cast of MadMen 50 years into the future) was that there's a 1 in 6 conversion.  In general advertising terms (shotgun style magazine advertising, tv spots, etc), for every six "interested" contacts, you are looking at an average of one sale.  When it comes to social elements like Facebook, where people are actively *seeking* contact, I suspect you are going to be looking at conversion rates as high as 30% (if anyone has hard-data on this, feel free to correct me!).

The thing to note about Twitter and Facebook in particular is that they require *active* engagement.  You can't just post a site and expect people to flock to it, even if you are an established studio.  You've got to spend at least an hour or two every day looking for new people and adding new content.  It should be studio related content, but you don't have to go as far as posting new screenies every day.  The screenies are your *big guns* save them and put them out sparingly. 

Tweets: As an example, the @Agiliste Twitter feed has about 150 followers right now, it's been up for just a couple of weeks, but we have been focusing on following/getting followers who are specifically interested in iPhone games.  We are in the process of slowly building a following of genuinely interested tweeps, rather than going for volume in this case, and we are hoping to hit a couple of thousand "targeted" followers by release. 

"But" you may say, "there are people out there with 20k+ followers!  Aren't you just being slackers?"  Not at all.  We are persuing followers who have an interest in games, rather than just shotgunning at this point (that's not to say we won't shotgun later in the game, but for right now, we want to be talking to people who have a higer percent chance of actually buying our game.

Podcasts: We have recently started  dabbling in podcast interviews as well, like these two here: 

http://gamedesignaspect.blogspot.com/2009/08/single-play-sessions-podcast.html

http://kickedinthedicebags.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=566912

I do kind of hesitate to putting the links in close proximity to one another (simply because it's like putting Anderson Cooper and Howard Stern in the same room...)  But by and large, the interviews doesn't have a lot to do with our game in particular (actually, one's kindof all over the place) but we do get a plug in at the end for Agiliste, which gives us another touch of visibility and will (hopefully) drive new eyes to our lead-in materials.

Developer Blogs: have been the norm for a while now, but the suffer from the same problem as most of these types of media.  They *must* be maintainted, and they must be interesting and relavant.  That's not to say that our audience *won't* be interested in how many bagles you had to order for lunch for the out-of-town execs, but we going to want to keep those types of posts to a minimum, people are going to be reading our dev-blog to see what we're *doing* to see how we are solving problems, to see what issues we've encountered and where in the production process we happen to be.

Cross-linking: One thing we have done is to try and cross-link everything.  These audiences are not the same, people who follow on Twitter are going to (by and large) be a different set than those who follow you on Facebook and possibly a different set than those who read the blog, etc.  There is a bit of overlap, but we don't think you can go with just one and expect the news to get out there.  We have to cross promote, and keep the spam to a minimum (this means we had to decide if we wanted to "tweet" the Facebook or if we wanted to just post your FB status to Twitter, for example.  (Actually, we learned this the hard way by accidentally spamming a bunch of our followers).  The real trick though is *not* offending our audience.  People will unfollow or unfriend or just stop visiting the site if they feel we are overdoing it, if they feel we are just *using* them as a place to dump advertising.  This *shouldn't* be the case.

Community:  Overall, we try to remember that we are building a community here.  We are reaching out and making friends, not just finding people to sell our product to.  These are *social* media outlets, with an emphasis on the *social* and we want to be social, to interact with our audience as much as we can (without tanking our gamedev process at the same time, of course).  We can do this now because, as a studio we're pretty small, "Half-past-indie" as it were.  If we were bigger, it might be harder, but there are some excellent examples out there like Insomniac that are making a great effort to stay in close contact with their fanbase through social media.

Accountability:  The real question at the end of the day is going to be "did this work"?  Did we really affect sales of our game by going to all this extra time and effort?  It's hard to say it's wasted effort, we've already received a couple of comments on our screenshots that have made us go back and *think* about what we are presented, feedback that is, in all honsty, somewhat invaluable, especially since it is coming from people who are not so deep in development that they can't see the forest for the trees, as it were.  That ever-mythical "conversion rate" is the big fat question though, how are we going to track it (*are* we going to track it).  It feels like kindof a cheat, making all these friends, then watching to see who *buys* the game, but the reality is, if we don't sell the game, we can't make another, and being able to prove our effectiveness to our publisher should go a long way towards keeping us a viable studio.

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