I’ve done a lot of things for IGM over the past two years; I’ve edited content, revived and coordinated the monthly Magazine, managed our social media, handled all the behind-the-scenes business stuff, and written my fair share of articles, too. I like to think I’ve done a halfway decent job up to this point, but I’m willing to admit I do have one weakness: Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream. Okay… two weaknesses I guess. That first one, but more importantly, I’m also terrible at devising marketing strategies.
It’s not something I went to school for, and it’s not exactly something you learn how to do after a couple Google searches, so it’s not something I expected to excel at. But you have to appreciate the irony of working as the head of an outlet in the indie gaming industry, where the majority of developers are absolutely the worst at marketing their own games, while being terrible at marketing your own brand which is, in many ways, built to help developers market theirs.
So one incredibly long-winded intro later, here we are: One of the last things I did at MIGS 15 this year was attend a panel titled “Communities in the mist, and other advanced guerrilla marketing techniques” conducted by Astrid Rosemarin, Community Developer over at Execution Labs. Execution Labs is an accelerator and investment platform for indie devs. In short, they offer developers mentorship, financing, and a community willing to collaborate on, and actively facilitate, the development process. Developers like Kitfox Games and Switchblade Monkeys have already worked with them to release titles such as Moon Hunters and Secret Ponchos, respectively. For the panel, Astrid lent her expertise and shared some marketing tips that I in turn would like to pass along. I’m admittedly not the greatest at marketing, but I think that’s an advantage in this case, as these were the points that stuck out most to me, and I’m betting others in the same boat will gravitate towards them as well.
1) Research the market
This one kind of sounds like a no-brainer, but at the same time, many developers start by building a game for themselves before turning an eye towards commercial success. But it’s important to thoroughly research the market before beginning to actively develop your game. This doesn’t mean you can’t keep concepting ideas about art and setting, it just means you have to make sure there is at least some sort of audience for your game before you start pouring hours, and dollars, into developing it.
Some developers think this is what Kickstarter is for, to push an idea out into the ether and see if it takes; but with the diminishing community interest in crowdfunding anything outside of visual novels and ex-AAA developer projects, this is becoming an ineffective method. Right now, the best thing you can do is join a community of developers, be active on social media and message boards, and just workshop basic ideas. You don’t have to openly discuss all of your ideas, nor should you, but working with a larger community to hammer out the framework of a game isn’t such a bad idea.
2) Get organized
Developing a video game can be a long, grueling process. Games can get delayed, or perhaps worse, release all buggy and require major post-launch updating. The point is, it’s hard to truly gauge how long a development cycle will last, so it’s important to have a set schedule and marketing strategy. Building a community pre-launch is incredibly important to a game’s success. At the same time, building hype for a project long before it ever releases can cause fatigue, and once gamers lose interest it can be difficult to recapture their attention in an overcrowded market.
Walking that fine line is a difficult process, so it’s important to have a plan for how to engage with the gaming community. Whether it be through slowly revealing bits and pieces of information over an extended period of time in the form of newsletters or regular blog posts, or streaming development on Twitch, having a carefully thought out plan for community engagement is a must. For some teams, hiring a social media manager is the solution. For others, drawing up a project timeline may be the best way to get organized.
3) Build relationships
Relationships are the most important part of community building. Fan feedback is crucial to a project’s success, and as mentioned above, building an audience during development means having someone to sell your game to as soon as it’s ready. Depending on the game’s development cycle, which was hopefully detailed as part of the organizational process in Step 2, there are three different strategies to employ based on how long a game is in production: Short cycles for games developed within a year or less; medium cycles for games that take between 1-2 years; and long cycles for games that take more than two years to develop.
Short cycles require the most immediate fan engagement, as it will likely take the length of the development cycle just to amass interest and generate buzz for the game (I personally recommend taking part in #screenshotsaturday on Twitter). Given the brief development window, day-to-day content updates and social media engagement is a feasible strategy. Medium cycles offer some time to strategically plan out how information is released; developers can plan to attend events, and create monthly newsletters for fans to keep up with project updates. The long cycle is where it can get tricky, having to balance keeping audiences interested without blowing the most interesting feature announcements too early. For situations like this, a recurring social event like streaming on a set schedule, and reaching out to press outlets to plan for embargoed, simultaneous feature coverage can be useful tactics.
I hope these marketing tips prove useful for the development community. I know I personally found the talk incredibly engaging, and quite informative. While I can’t really do it justice in a “short” article like this, hopefully at the very least more people are inspired to take in interest in learning about effective marketing strategies for game developers.