• Advertisement
  • 10/17/17 04:07 PM

    Indie Marketing For N00bs: Lesson 6 - External Help Is Not A Cop-Out

    GameDev Unboxed

    More often than not, I’m asked questions by indie developers about bringing external help in. This lesson of Indie Marketing For N00bs will deal with marketing professionals, public relation firms, publishers, and who you want on your side. An alternate title to this lesson would be: “PR Gurus, Publishing Pros, and Community Managers, Oh My!”

    All of the lessons before now focus on the assumption that you’re on your own. But, you’re only one person. Your team, whether it’s small or larger, may not have the ability to focus on the particular tasks of managing the social media or sitting down to crack out a press release masterpiece. It’s OK to need help. Everyone should have someone that knows what they’re doing, knows the ins and outs of the game being made, the industry itself, and how to get the word out properly. Whether it’s you or someone else is the question to ask. They are your writer, your voice, your relations with the public, and your metaphoric face.

    Publishers Are Not Always The Infallible Fix

    Let’s get Publishers out of the way, because the most common question I get when people ask for advice is “Can you get me a publisher for funding and marketing?”

    This predisposed and panned need is due to misconception that all publishers are end-all, be-all and will save a game from doing terribly. This, as stated, is one of the easiest mistakes that developers can get themselves into. Indie developers go head first into finding a publisher, but should be more picky because each publisher has their own tools, needs, and requirements themselves.

    When most people think of publishers, they think of the big names like Activision, Valve, or the countless first-party options out there. These fine folks aren’t the publishers that you’ll be looking for. They comb through thousands of games a day to find the diamond in the rough that will be their poster child of indie in a sea of junk, if they are even looking to add an independent game their their repertoire. Many of them, like Blizzard (under the proper name Activision Blizzard), develop games internally and publish those. Let’s face the facts: World of Warcraft was not an indie game.

    Now, there are some better alternatives out there. But, they’re not always this almighty publisher that people believe they should be. First off, most indie-based publishers are not going to fund your game. Some will, if they find something they truly and wholeheartedly believe in, but all-in-all, the publisher is there to do one thing: publish.

    Some indie publishers, like Team17, New Blood Interactive, or Digital Devolver, have their own internal public relations and marketing departments or have their own methods to get what you need. Some will even personally invest in your project and are all self-contained to your liking. But, that’s not all of them and the likelihood that you’re chosen is not very big.

    Some publishers, like Apogee Software LLC and Digital Smash, are there to help give resources and help liaison the needs of publishing to niche platforms, but don’t have the funds to personally invest. As a developer, understand that this is still a viable solution if you’ve never published before. All options take a percentage of royalties, but these guys might be less inclined to take both the arm and leg to help you. However, they may be able to help get marketing professionals on your side on the back-end or get you properly set up for a crowdfunding option success.

    Some publishers will, at times, treat their acquired development teams as pets. They feed you, they talk you for walks. But, you better not leave any presents on the carpet or chew up the couch pillows or you’re in for as hell of a time. They will set your deadlines and your timelines. They will be your wake up calls, your drill instructors, and your nannies. You jump when they tell you to and there’s no real problems. This is how half-assed games come out on deadlines, where bugs are fixed post-release. If you feel that the game should be developed at your own pace, a publisher may not be your answer.

    Just remember: Publishers are not always necessary, but if you get attached to one, it’s definitely a good idea to know what you’re getting into and what to expect for each.

    There is no I in TEAM

    What do Marketing people do? This is a question that a lot of developers really have no idea how to answer. More often than I would have ever thought, devs believe that marketing and PR people are in charge of finding funding for the project. I’ve even been asked how well I can program before because they thought “Marketing and PR” had to do with programming the game somehow. All of this is wrong.

    Where some marketing folks can also specialize in these topics, that’s not the point of a marketing person. You need someone to market the game, get it out to the masses. Someone that can help set the tone for the entire brand you intend to show the world. In larger companies, each of these people even are separate from each other in different roles. As an indie, you may not have that luxury to have a PR manager, marketing manager, brand manager, and community manager. So, you need a well-rounded person to do as much as they can. 

    Enter: The On-Team Marketing Manager. This is your go-to guy to handle community efforts, writing press releases, or focusing on creating and enforcing marketing plans. This will be one of the most hard-working people on the team since they wear so many hats. With that being said, don’t overwork them. Create a plan (you know, a marketing plan) and let them implement it. 

    This can also be an opening to mention interns. Bringing in your own intern off the street has its advantages. You can mold them and shape them to how you want them to fit into your puzzle, especially with everything you’ve learned from the lessons I’ve given. It gets tricky without money up front to pay them salary though and they can quit pretty quickly with no backing behind all the work. 

    If you don’t pay, there’s a high chance they won’t stay for very long. Consider figuring out a budget to pay a marketing person to help, even if the budget is technically zero. They’re not there to work for free, or the possibly empty promise of being paid on the “back-end”. Back-end paying is when nothing is given up front and the share of the revenue is given after the release of the game generates profits. Offering someone only back-end payment for hard work will probably get you laughed at more often than not.

    If it's firm it means it's ripe, right?

    Many developers take on the age old mentality of having someone else do it for them. Hiring a public relations or marketing firm is incredibly common and a solid choice among both the indie and AAA developers. A firm will generally assign you an “account executive”, which will dedicate time and focus on you and your needs that you have paid for. They’ll usually have multiple clients that they are involved with and will split their time to each evenly. 

    The real question involved is if you’ve found a valid firm or someone that’ll give you the runaround. If you feel like the price is not right, for instance, you might be correct. Many firms will over charge for minute tasks. Many of them will want a huge chunk of the share of back-end. Get a fair percentage and you know you have a good company working with you.

    Just remember that almost all firms will want some sort of payment up front. Sometimes they can work with you a little, but they are a business and can’t take on a bunch of free, volunteer jobs. They have to eat and keep the lights on too.

    Many of these firms will treat it like a job instead of a passion. The very best firms will emotionally invest in your game. Be friendly to the developers, “like” or “follow” the game on social media, be more than just professional. These people are more interested in making lifelong partnerships and networks than dropping you the first sign of trouble. They want to help, give advice, and consult. They generally want to see you succeed. They cross their fingers for you and hope for the best. Additionally, success stories look better on their track record than a botched game, so personal investment helps keep them on track as well.

    In any case, find yourself a good team for your game. If it involves a marketing consultant, a PR firm’s account executive, or even a publisher to keep you on track, it doesn’t matter. A good team will be cohesive and work together to get the job done, whatever it takes.
     



      Report Column Entry


    User Feedback

    Create an account or sign in to leave a review

    You need to be a member in order to leave a review

    Create an account

    Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

    Register a new account

    Sign in

    Already have an account? Sign in here.

    Sign In Now

    There are no reviews to display.


  • Advertisement
  • Similar Content

    • By Philomena Schwab
       
       

      On the 2nd of November 2017 we launched a Kickstarter campaign for our game Nimbatus - The Space Drone Constructor, which aimed to raise $20,000. By the campaign’s end, 3000 backers had supported us with a total of $74,478. All the PR and marketing was handled by our indie developer team of four people with a very low marketing budget. Our team decided to go for a funding goal we were sure we could reach and extend the game’s content through stretch goals. The main goal of the campaign was to raise awareness for the game and raise funds for the alpha version.
       
      Part 1 - Before Launch
      Is what we believed when we launched our first Kickstarter campaign in 2016. For this first campaign, we had built up a very dedicated group of people before the Kickstarter’s launch. Nimbatus also had a bit of a following before the campaign launched:
      ~ 300 likes on Facebook
      ~ 1300 followers on Twitter
      ~ 1000 newsletter subs
      ~ 3500 followers on Steam
      However, there had been little interaction between players and us previous to the campaign's launch. This made us unsure whether or not the Nimbatus Kickstarter would reach its funding goal.
      A few weeks prior to launch, we started to look for potential ways to promote Nimbatus during the Kickstarter. We found our answer in social news sites. Reddit, Imgur and 9gag all proved to be great places to talk about Nimbatus. More about this in Part 3 - During the campaign.
      As with our previous campaign, the reward structure and trailer were the most time-consuming aspects of the page setup. We realised early that Nimbatus looks A LOT better in motion and therefore decided that we should show all features in action with animated GIFs.
      Two examples:

       

      In order to support the campaigns storytelling, “we built a ship, now we need a crew!”, we named all reward tiers after open positions on the ship.


       
      We were especially interested how the “Navigator” tier would do. This $95 tier would give backers free digital copies of ALL games our company EVER creates.

       
      We decided against Early Bird and Kickstarter exclusive rewards in order avoid splitting backers into “winners and losers”, based on the great advice from Stonemaier Game’s book A Crowdfunder’s Strategy Guide (EDS Publications Ltd. (2015). Their insights also convinced us to add a $1 reward tier because it lets people join the update loop to build up trust in our efforts. Many of our $1 backers later increased their pledge to a higher tier.
      Two of our reward tiers featured games that are similar to Nimbatus. The keys for these games were provided by fellow developers. We think that this is really awesome and it helped the campaign a lot! A huge thanks to Avorion, Reassembly , Airships and Scrap Galaxy <3
       
      Youtubers and streamers are important allies for game developers. They are in direct contact with potential buyers/backers and can significantly increase a campaign’s reach. We made a list of content creators who’d potentially be interested in our game. They were selected mostly by browsing Youtube for “let’s play” videos of games similar to Nimbatus. We sent out a total of 100 emails, each with a personalized intro sentence, no money involved. Additionally, we used Keymailer . Keymailer is a tool to contact Youtubers and streamers. At a cost of $150/month you can filter all available contacts by games they played and genres they enjoy. We personalized the message for each group. Messages automatically include an individual Steam key. With this tool, we contacted over 2000 Youtubers/Streamers who are interested in similar games.
      How it turned out
      - About 10 of the 100 Youtubers we contacted manually ended up creating a video/stream during the Kickstarter. Including some big ones with 1 million+ subscribers.
      - Over 150 videos resulted from the Keymailer outreach. Absolutely worth the investment!

      Another very helpful tool to find Youtubers/Streamers is Twitter. Before, but also during the campaign we sent out tweets , stating that we are looking for Youtubers/Streamers who want to feature Nimbatus. We also encouraged people to tag potentially interested content creators in the comments. This brought in a lot of interested people and resulted in a couple dozen videos. We also used Twitter to follow up when people where not responding via email, which proved to be very effective.
      In terms of campaign length we decided to go with a 34 day Kickstarter. The main reason being that we thought it would take quite a while until the word of the campaign spread enough. In retrospective this was ok, but we think 30 days would have been enough too.
      We were very unsure whether or not to release a demo of Nimbatus. Mainly because we were unsure if the game offered enough to convince players in this early state and we feared that our alpha access tier would potentially lose value because everyone could play already. Thankfully we decided to offer a demo in the end. More on this topic in Part 3 - During the campaign.
      Since we are based in Switzerland, we were forced to use CHF as our campaign’s currency. And while the currency is automatically re-calculated into $ for American backers, it was displayed in CHF for all other international backers. Even though CHF and $ are almost 1:1 in value, we believed this to be a
      hurdle. There is no way to tell for us how many backers were scared away because of this in the end.
       
      Part 2: Kickstarter Launch

      We launched our Kickstarter campaign on a Thursday evening (UTC + 1) which is midday in the US. In order to celebrate the launch, we did a short livestream on Facebook. We had previously opened an event page and invited all our Facebook friends to it. Only a few people were watching and we were a bit stressed out.

      In order to help us spread the word we challenged our supporters with community goals. We promised that if all these goals were reached, each backer above $14 would receive an extra copy of Nimbatus. With most of the goals reached after the first week, we realized that we should have made the challenge a bit harder.
      The first few days went better than expected. We announced the Kickstarter on Imgur, Reddit, 9gag, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, in some forums, via our Newsletter and on our Steam page. If you plan to release your game on Steam later on, we’d highly recommend that you set up your Steam page before the Kickstarter launches. Some people might not be interested in backing the game but will go ahead and wishlist it instead.
       
      Part 3: During The Campaign

      We tried to keep the campaign’s momentum going. This worked our mostly thanks to the demo we had released.
      In order to download the Nimbatus demo, people needed to head over to our website and enter their email address. Within a few minutes, they received an automated email, including a download link for the demo. We used Mailchimp for this process.

       
      We also added a big pop up in the demo to inform players about the Kickstarter.

      At first we were a bit reluctant to use this approach, it felt a bit sneaky. But after adding a line informing players they would be added to the newsletter and adding a huge unsubscribe button in the demo download mail, we felt that we could still sleep at night.
      For our previous campaign we had also released a demo. But the approach was significantly different. For the Nimbatus Kickstarter, we used the demo as a marketing tool to inform people about the campaign. Our previous Kickstarters’ demo was mainly an asset you could download if you were already checking out the campaign’s page and wanted to try the game before backing.
      We continued to frequently post on Imgur, Twitter, 9Gag and Facebook. Simultaneously, people streamed Nimbatus on Twitch and released videos on Youtube. This lead to a lot of demo downloads and therefore growth of our newsletter. A few hundred subs came in every day. Only about 10% of the people unsubscribed from the newsletter after downloading the demo.
      Whenever we updated the demo or reached significant milestones in the campaign, such as being halfway to our goal, we sent out a newsletter. We also opened a Discord channel, which turned out a be a great way to stay in touch with our players.
      We were quite surprised to see a decent opening and link click rate. Especially if you compare this to our “normal” newsletter, which includes mostly people we personally met at events. Our normal newsletter took over two years to build up and includes about 4000 subs. With the Nimbatus demo, we gathered 50’000 subs within just 4 weeks and without travelling to any conferences.
       


      (please note that around 2500 people subscribed to the normal newsletter during the Kickstarter)
      On the 7th day of the campaign we asked a friend if she would give us a shoutout on Reddit. She agreed and posted it in r/gaming. We will never forget what happened next. The post absolutely took off! In less than an hour, the post had reached the frontpage and continued to climb fast. It soon reached the top spot of all things on Reddit. Our team danced around in the office. Lots of people backed, a total of over $5000 came in from this post and we reached our funding goal 30 minutes after hitting the front page.

       
      We couldn’t believe our luck. Then, people started to accuse us of using bots to upvote the post. Our post was reported multiple times until the moderators took the post down.
      We were shocked and contacted them. They explained that they would need to investigate the post for bot abuse. A few hours later, they put the post back up and stated to have found nothing wrong with it and apologized for the inconvenience. Since the post had not received any upvotes in the past hours while it was taken down it very quickly dropped off the front page and the money flow stopped. While this is a misunderstanding we can understand and accept, people’s reactions hit us pretty hard. After the post was back up, many people on Reddit continued to accuse us and our friend. In the following days, our friend was constantly harassed when she posted on Reddit. Some people jumped over to our companies Twitter and Imgur account and kept on blaming us, asking if we were buying upvotes there too. It’s really not cool to falsely accuse people.
      Almost two weeks later we decided to start posting in smaller subreddits again. This proved to be no problem. But when we dared to do another post in r/gaming later, people immediately reacted very aggressive. We took the new post down and decided to stop posting in r/gaming (at least during the Kickstarter).
      After upgrading the demo with a new feature to easily export GIFs, we started to run competitions on Twitter. The coolest drones that were shared with #NimbatusGame would receive a free Alpha key for the game. Lots of players participated and helped to increase Nimbatus’ reach by doing so. We also gave keys to our most dedicated Youtubers/streamers who then came up with all kinds of interesting challenges for their viewers.
      All these activities came together in a nice loop:
      People downloaded the Nimbatus demo they heard about on social media/social news sites or from Youtubers/Streamers. By receiving newsletters and playing the demo they learned about the Kickstarter. Many of them backed and participated in community goals/competitions which brought in more new people.

       
      Not much happened in terms of press. RockPaperShotgun and PCGamer wrote articles, both resulting in about $500, which was nice. A handful of small sites picked up the news too. We sent out a press release when Nimbatus reached its funding goal, both to manually picked editors of bigger sites and via gamespress.com.

       
      Part 4: Last Days
      Every person that hit the “Remind me” button on a Kickstarter page receives an email 48 hours before a campaign ends. This helpful reminder caused a flood of new pledges. We reached our last stretch goal a few hours before our campaign ended. Since we had already communicated this goal as the final one we withheld announcing any further stretch goals.

       
      We decided to do a Thunderclap 24 hours before the campaign ends. Even after having done quite a few Thunderclaps, we are still unsure how big of an impact they have.
      A few minutes before the Kickstarter campaign was over we cleaned up our campaign page and added links to our Steam page and website. Note that Kickstarter pages cannot be edited after the campaign ends!
      The campaign ended on a Tuesday evening (UTC + 1) and raised a total of $75’000, which is 369% of the original funding goal. After finishing up our “Thank you” image and sending it to our backers it was time to rest.

       
      Part 5: Conclusion
      We are very happy with the campaign’s results. It was unexpected to highly surpass our funding goal, even though we didn’t have an engaged community when the campaign started. Thanks to the demo we were able to develop a community for Nimbatus on the go. The demo also allowed us to be less “promoty” when posting on social news sites. This way, interested people could get the demo and discover the Kickstarter from there instead of us having to ask for support directly when posting. This, combined with the ever growing newsletter, turned into a great campaign dynamic. We plan to use this approach again for future campaigns.
       
      Growth
      300 ------------------> 430 Facebook likes
      1300 -----------------> 2120 Twitter followers
      1000 -----------------> 50’000 Newsletter signups
      3500 -----------------> 10’000 Followers on Steam
      0 ---------------------> 320 Readers of subreddit
      0 ---------------------> 468 People on Discord
      0 ---------------------> 300 Members in our forum
       
      More data
      23% of our backers came directly from Kickstarter.
      76% of our backers came from external sites.
      For our previous campaign it was 36/64.
      The average pledge amount of our backers was $26.
      94 backers decided to choose the Navigator reward, which gives them access to all games our studio will create in the future. It makes us very happy to see that this kind of reward, which is basically an investment in us as a game company, was popular among backers.
       
      Main sources of backers
      Link inside demo / Newsletter 22’000 Kickstarter 17’000 Youtube 15’000 Google 3000 Reddit 2500 Twitter 2000 Facebook 2000  
      TLDR:
      Keymailer is awesome, but also contact big Youtubers/streamers via email. Most money for the Kickstarter came in through the demo. Social news sites (Imgur, 9Gag, Reddit, …) can generate a lot of attention for a game. It’s much easier to offer a demo on social news sites than to ask for Kickstarter support. Collecting newsletter subs from demo downloads is very effective. It’s possible to run a successful Kickstarter without having a big community beforehand.  
      We hope this insight helps you plan your future Kickstarter campaign. We believe you can do it and we wish you all the best.
       
      About the author:
      Philomena Schwab is a game designer from Zurich, Switzerland. She co-founded Stray Fawn Studio together with Micha Stettler. The indie game studio recently released its first game, Niche - a genetics survival game and is now developing its second game Nimbatus - The Space Drone Constructor. Philomena wrote her master thesis about community building for indie game developers and founded the nature gamedev collective Playful Oasis. As a chair member of the Swiss Game Developers association she helps her local game industry grow.
      https://www.nimbatus.ch/
      https://strayfawnstudio.com/
      https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/strayfawnstudio/nimbatus-the-space-drone-constructor
       
      Related Reading:
      Algo-Bot: Lessons Learned from our Kickstarter failure.
    • By Gezu
      Hi,
      I would like to ask your opinion on what's the best way for marketing your game project and building it's community.
      I've done some research here is what I got so far:
      - Website, twitter (update often), trailer, demo, blog, press kit, contact journalists.
       
      Any hint or experience?
    • By Cofyka
      Will the logo of my game engine at the beginning of the splash screen improve the brand of my game/software? Will it have any influence on users that the game/software's graphics were created from the scratch by the developer? I know some of them really don't care how it was made and it's not their thing but will it somehow embellish my game? From my own perspective, I enjoy more playing games which have their own game engine, because they feel more dynamic and controlled, I just like them. Whats your opinion?
      Just to note. I know it's impractical to create a game engine just to create a game, but my goal was to learn OpenGL because I was very interested and I feel more comfortable of possessing my own API rather than using a third-party engine, I feel more control over my app.
  • Advertisement