I’ve read many articles on indie promotion and they all seem to emphasize one point which is: nobody knows about your game. In this post I go through our experiences on promoting Prisonscape and the things I’ve learned during the process.
Our first promotional posts were done around 10 months ago. We posted
this announcement for the game to /r/IndieGaming on Reddit and after that just kinda hoped for people to notice us. At this point I knew absolutely nothing about indies or where
they can be promoted. After a while I got to know the scene and just recently I came up with a “layering system” for promoting our game. This system divides the population into three different layers, and your goal is to penetrate as many of them as possible. Usually indie developers should only concentrate on the last layer. These layers are:
Almost all the people I know belong to this layer. These are the people who play
Farmville, Candy Crush Saga or Angry Birds in the loo. They are often called as
casual players. This layer is almost impossible to penetrate, since basically every
game is a potential hit in this target group. It’s like playing the lottery – you make
a game and hope for the best. Even ridicilously polished, great games fail among normal
people. Most indies can forget about this target group.
Fuck yeah, three stars!
How to penetrate this layer:
- Lots of advertising on mainstream medias
- Viral campaigns
- Simple gameplay
- A stroke of luck
This group pays for games and play them a lot, but it’s mostly AAA stuff. Also very hard
layer to penetrate, since it’s very difficult for indies to compete with top quality games
made with huge budgets. These people will most likely choose 30 USD AAA game over 10 USD indie. Every once in a while this layer is penetrated by indie titles. Good examples of such titles are Amnesia, Braid, Super Meat Boy, Mount & Blade and the newest addition, Pokemon: Generations.
This game sells better than your game.
How to penetrate this layer:
- AAA quality graphics
- Advertising on mainstream medias and large social media platforms such as Reddit
- High production value
- Large monetary investments
- Popular concept (Pokemans, etc.)
- Unique and interesting idea
Indie gamers and nostalgics
Now this layer is something most indies will try to penetrate. Indie gamers are people who specifically concentrate on games that don’t necessarily have top quality graphics and effects and they are also more eager to pay for games (my observation, might not be true). I also put up nostalgics here, since these people enjoy classic gameplay and graphics which indies have. I think that we haven’t really done that with Prisonscape just yet, but hopefully this all changes once we reach a few promotional milestones. When we started doing Prisonscape last November, I knew nothing about this group. I didn’t know about Gamasutra, Indie/ModDB, TIGSource or any other similar sites. I had never used Twitter and to be honest I thought it was a stupid and limited platform. But after a while I started finding these resources and also discovered their potential for promoting the game.
First thing we did in our promotion was to start our devblog with own domain name. This didn’t really do anything, since nobody knew about our game, so we tried to put the word out there. The problem was that we only had the idea and nothing much to show. This all changed after we hired an artist to work on the graphical assets. After a while we found out about Reddit’s Screenshot Saturday and tried to bring something new to the table every week. After a while, we created pages to IndieDB – I really like this site since it already has a big audience and promoting your game was very easy. TIGSource’s devlog section is also very good place to promote your game. Twitter is a very good platform for networking, and some jaw-dropping screenshots can get a dozen of retweet and amount
you tens of followers.
This was the first screenshot we submitted to Screenshot Saturday
The first people who will notice you on this layer are indie developers. I would say that most of our ”fans” are actually indie developers themselves. The reason for this is because they often can tell the difference between a prototype/tech demo and an actual game. They will take a look at your concept, even when the game looks like shit. Indie devs are also very encouraging towards other people’s projects, because they know how difficult it is to make something as simple as moving objects on the screen.
How to penetrate this layer:
- Have something to show. I’ve seen a lot of concepts getting popular based only on one or two amazing looking screenshots or tech demos
- Write a LOT about your game – all of it doesn’t have to be big announcements about big, new features. If you are on IndieDB, notice that even adding screenshots puts you on top of the browse list which gives you more coverage
- Have a dialogue with your target audience – take feedback and comment on it. For example, we decided to do complete overhaul on our battle system after a discussion on RPG Codex
- Study your “competition” – check out past Screenshot Saturdays, check devlogs on TIGSource and browse top 100 games on IndieDB. Read comments on these games to see what people like and expect from these games
- Don’t be afraid to go and pitch your idea and concept on social media – we’ve done it on 4chan /v/ and got a lot of positive feedback (and also a LOT of negative feedback!)
- Don’t be annoying spammer and try to make every gaming website write about your game – these guys usually contact you if they find the game interesting. Exceptions are “media bombs” nearing big announcements and releases such as Kickstarter or putting out an alpha version/demo for your game
- Use analytics tools to see where your traffic is coming from. Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools are of course good for this
- Keep up good relations with other developers, they can help you pitch your game when the time comes as long as you’re also helping them
- Don’t worry about overdoing it – nobody knows about your stupid game.