Whenever I ask indie devs what they’d like to know about marketing, a lot of them respond saying they have no idea where to begin. With this in mind, I went to Develop this year to give advice about how to get your game on people’s radar. I considered five key areas of discoverability:
- knowing your audience
- sharing your content
- nurturing your community
- contacting influencers
- and spending money on promotion
The following is a broad overview to be used as a jumping off point for further research. Each game is unique. Marketing plans should always be individually crafted. Also due to its absurd word-count, the blog has been split into 5 parts, and linked conveniently above.
Spending Money on Promotion
When indie devs budget out the cost to make a game, very few include marketing spend. Yet it’s common knowledge that AAA games and their publishers certainly must set aside a large budget just for marketing.
The games industry isn’t great at sharing how much they spend on marketing, as it’s perhaps a bit taboo, but surveys from the larger business world show that large companies (>$5b revenue) spend 13% of revenue on marketing, while smaller companies ($250-500m revenue) spend around 10%. Of course, marketing spend is more than just paying for promotion, but that’s what we’ll focus on in this section.
So when should indie devs consider spending money on promotion?
- When you can afford it
- And when you can understand it
Being able to spend money on promotion is wonderful, and can really help widen the reach of potential buyers, however, finding the funds is difficult enough, so be sure to understand the whole picture before spending a dime. If you have a limited budget, center your spending around key milestones like Early Access or launch, when your game is available for purchase.
Don’t spend any money unless you have very specific objectives. If you don’t understand what you want as an outcome of spending your money, then you risk wasting it. If you don’t have an in-house marketer or analytics wizard, it would be worth reaching out to consult with one for a short time to set up a plan for any advertising you’d want to do.
It’s also important to understand that a lot of the advertising from big brands isn’t specifically done to get sales conversions. In business you’ll often hear people talking about a sales funnel: Awareness, Interest, Decision, Action. This describes the path consumers go on before they buy a product—and plenty of ads you see are often for more top-level functions like awareness and interest, which, if you’re an indie with a small marketing budget, you probably can’t afford to constantly throw your money towards.
However, at key points like your launch, could help grab more potential buyers, or if you have a mobile game which is much more straightforward from ad to purchase.
How can I spend it?
There are unlimited ways to spend money on promotion, and it definitely depends on your goals, budget and audience. However, a few steady and common examples are:
These could be campaigns on Adwords, Facebook, Reddit, etc. Typically digital ads are where I hear horror stories of devs spending money on social platforms without understanding what objectives they have for campaigns or what the results mean.
Pros for digital ads:
- Compared to other types of promotion they can be inexpensive and very customisable
- They’re easy to stop early if they’re not performing well against your objectives
- They allow you to gather more audience data about your purchasers
Cons for digital ads:
- Can feel like sitting in front of the NASA console for the first time—it’s complicated
- Therefore it takes time to learn, unless you can hire a consultant
- Can easily waste money due to a lack of understanding
- Unless you’re advertising a mobile game, they’re generally more for awareness than direct sales
Events can be great if you have gameplay that suits having people come up and play it, or a game that’s great for watching. If your game has a lot of reading or is more suitable for long-term play, it may be more effective to use your money to go to events as a speaker, that way you can still gain the benefits of going to a conference without having to pay for a booth.
Pros for events:
- Personal! You can have one-on-ones directly with your fans or new players
- Great for game testing and seeing how people actually interact/react to your game
- Prestige, or showing that your game is a real game—great for branding purposes.
Cons for events:
- Not great for direct conversions to sales
- Can be expensive, especially if you want to go to a few
- The competition is literally all around you
- Can be exhausting, especially if you have a small team
If you’re looking for a more personal ad, podcasts can be a great way to go. Many podcasts will have data on their viewership demographics, so you can choose which podcast audiences align with your own.
Pros for podcasts:
- Much like streamers, podcast advertising feels pretty close to word of mouth advertising
- Podcast themes can be niche and cover a wide range of interests
- They can be a great way to reach your affinity audiences
- They come in rage of prices
Cons for podcasts:
- Can be difficult to see direct impact on sales (unless you have a mobile game)
- Better if done consistently, which could be pricy/hard to keep up
- Many steps to get the buyer from ad to purchase
So, some final reminders on spending money for promotion:
- DON’T pay for numbers instead of earning your audience
- DON’T spend money without having specific goals/outcomes
- DON’T spend money on a platform without understanding how it works
That was a lot of info to take in all at once about discoverability and marketing—as can be seen by the fact that I had to divide this blog into parts!
My main takeaway is this: marketing isn’t just PR or social media. Marketing is ALL the strategies you use to lead people to buy your game. In a crowded marketplace, it’s important to make sure you have a stake in each of these areas in order to better your chances at discoverability.
Your Indie Game Deserves a Marketer — by Hannah Flynn
Everyone Can Do PR: The 5 Pillars & Pitfalls of Indie Games PR — by Thomas Reisenegger
How to Choose the Best Social Media Platforms as a Game Developer — by Charlene LeBrun