By Jesse "Chime" Collins
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.
By Jesse "Chime" Collins
Welcome to the fifth lesson in the series known as Indie Marketing For N00bs. Today, we’re going to cover a short lesson that most indie developers believe is a myth but really isn’t. Marketing isn’t free and anyone that ever told you otherwise lied directly to you.
If not in monetary spending, it’s definitely in time needed to market properly manually. As you’ve read in the previous entries, marketing, public relations, community development and management, and social media all take time. A lot of it. As the old saying goes, “Time is money”. You will either take the time to do it yourself properly or bring in some additional tools for your arsenal that costs money. There is no in-between.
The immediate answer that people go to is advertising. This is the oldest and most well used form of digital marketing in the modern era. Creating an ad, focusing the target market (which you should have a comprehensive idea of due to your marketing plan), and paying for impressions (those that see the ad, but don’t necessarily click) is about as simple as it gets. There’s even a ton of options to go to depending on your demographic and social media that you utilize:
Facebook Sponsored Ads
Wanna know a secret? Put in the Work.
If you want a truly successful campaign, you will spend money to get the right resources. But, that shouldn’t stop you from taking on the manual options as well. As I’ve said before: Get yourself out there on your own. Make sure every eye possible sees you. If you don’t know how (or my guides just weren’t as effective as you hoped), there’s always the option of bringing on a marketing specialist to your team or even hiring an outside PR company to handle the affairs. But, again, those cost money. People don’t work for free.
If you DO want to do it yourself, here’s the trick. There is no secret, special trick. It’s really just a lot of hard work and know-how.
Understand That There’s A Lot Riding Against You
Everyone has heard of Star Trek, the classic science fiction show that premiered in the 1960s. Don’t worry, this is relevant. In the original series (and the newer movies), there is a test that is given to cadets of Starfleet called the Kobayashi Maru. The point of the test is that some situations are completely unwinnable and it’s to show how well cadets cope with the concept of a no-win scenario.
Now, I’m not going to lie. The cards are stacked against you as an indie developer. The day this was written (October 4th, 2017), 15 games came out on Steam alone and every one of them were a free indie game. There’s a lot of evidence and statistics that show you will fail. You can do everything right, spend money to get the proper tools and help, make a fantastic game, and still fail. This is what I refer to as the “Kobayashi Maru of Marketing”. You just can’t let this discourage you. It’s an obstacle and your next game will do better.
Marketing takes a village. If your marketing budget is zero, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will fail. It means you have to work harder, step twice as fast, and learn from mistakes quickly to adapt. Put in the effort, get the word out, make sure every eye that can possibly see it does. Make sure you’re in the face of journalists because you need them on your side because you can show them everything you want, but if they do nothing about it, it’s lost to the wind.
By Jesse "Chime" Collins
Welcome to the fourth entry to Indie Marketing For N00bs. This week, we’re going to talk about some things that most developers fail to really follow through on: Marketing Plans. These are both fundamental additions to any successful game on the market. We’re going to take the time here to really explain the importance of these tools, what they’re used for, and how to create them yourself.
PLAN? I Don’t Need No Stinkin’ PLAN!
You’ve designed a game. Go you. What is the first thing most developers do before they make the game, though? They create a game design document, which entails the plan for what’s going into the game, how it’ll be implemented, and something that can be followed through or be utilized by a publisher that wants to take your game under their wing. In theory, you already know how to do exactly this, so why aren’t you designating time to do the same thing for other aspects of the process?
A marketing plan is your personal guideline to what needs to be done early on, as well as in post-development when it comes to marketing, public relations, social media, and community management. It’s big, generally. But, it helps developers know when they need to make a post or a blog, or when they need to make an announcement due to hitting a target. This includes when you should do “Dev Diaries” or how often you should tweet. Make a plan and stick to it.
I Love It When A Marketing Plan Comes Together!
Everyone has a different method for their own versions of a marketing plan. Some people do a simple outline with key points and some people go above and beyond for a true precision strike outward (For instance: My plans tend to be between 9 and 11 pages, including a title page).
I mentioned earlier that the plan can be for a publisher. If you ever plan to get picked up by a publisher (even the indie publishers), they want you to be as impactful as you can be autonomously. It’s less work and hassle for them if you come equipped with your own knowledge and tactics.
But, maybe I don’t want a publisher. Why do I need a plan? Making a plan for yourself keeps you on a strict regimen to get your game out there. Will it ensure a 100% success story? Of course not. But, it will ensure that you are following my rule from previous entries to this series: “Every eye possible”.
Know Your Audience And They Will Know You
A plan should include two major sections, split into explanations for each one: Information and Marketing Tools.
In the Information section, include a quick description of your game, maybe one or two paragraphs. This is to guide anyone other than yourself that may read this document. If you have any current statistics or analytics about your game or company, include a section for them. Set your goal here, as well. Make an attainable goal based on similar games on market. Knowing what you’re up against and adjusting your expectations to adhere to logic is a perfect way to set yourself up for a win.
Additionally, do some research and figure out your demographic. Come up with a range of people that you believe your game is targeting. Include:
Age range Is your game more mature themed? Would it appeal more to a nostalgic retro audience? Is it cartoony and kid-friendly? These aspects matter. Gender(s) With women taking to the industry in recent years, more women are likely to play your game. Take this into account here. Languages For instance, if you game is only in English and you have no plans to localize the game to Chinese, China might not be your demographic. Systems Is your game only on PC? Probably shouldn’t focus on console gamers too much then and vice versa. Is your game mobile? Why are you contacting people that only play PC games? Know your audience and it’ll help with future endeavors and needs.
List Out All The Tools You’ll Use
Marketing Tools should include Social Media, Video platforms, Game’s Website, Community Presence, Press, Paid Advertisements, and Software and Services you plan to use. This section is a lot bigger than the other, but it’s where the majority of the plan is laid out.
What social media are you going to use? List them out here. We’ve discussed social media in a prior lesson, so add in any that are going to be linked to this game, no matter how small. Think of this as your reminder to post on Google+ or Instagram. How often will you be posting to each platform? Do you plan to tweet daily? Are you hitting other platforms often? Make sure to include even game developer specific platforms here as well. Any presence needs to be noted and should have a guide for how you handle each one.
Do you plan to make videos for your game? Have you made a trailer? Will you be streaming the game during development or post-development for people to see progress or features? Make sure to include if you’re using YouTube, Twitch, or any other video platforms. How will you post these videos and how often? Will you be live for most of it on Twitch and then upload it to YouTube after? What’s the plan?
Most indie developers don’t utilize their own website for promotion, but it’s a powerful tool to have a simple domain to send potential eyes to. This looks great on business cards, promotional materials, or any shout outs you make need. Some people even go a step further and implement a dev blog into their site. This can tie to the videos, as well, showing off aspects of the game that may not have been apparent. Dev Diaries, which can be shown on your site, are one of the easiest ways to keep community involvement during the creation of your game.
Utilization of the forum structure is always a good way to keep community involvement, in both the traditional sense and the more modern takes. Reddit is ridiculously popular to show off progress and several sub-Reddits (specific sections dedicated to particular topics) are designed specifically for indie developers. Additionally, the use of Discord could be considered a “modern take” to the forum structure. Taking on an old-school IRC style mixed with vocal capabilities like Teamspeak or Ventrillo, Discord is designed for gamers and widely utilized as a community tool for the game industry.
Media Shower: Wishing Among The Stars
As we’ve discussed in an earlier lesson, the press and media are your friends. List out your plan to contact them and how you plan to keep them notified in your plan. This includes a guideline of when you plan to write press releases to get out to the media and press sites. Figure out what kinds of streamers and “Let’s Players” you want to try to contact and set a target.
Include a full plan for a customized “press kit” in your marketing plan. I’m going to be setting “press kits” aside as its own lesson at a later date, but expect a much more substantial detailing of what should be in a standard press kit.
Software, Services, and Ads
As with any other game-related step out there, tools can and should be used when marketing. This can be a number of things, from minor social media tools like Hootsuite or Buffer, all the way to full analytics reporting programs like Google analytics. A popular free tool to use is Google Alerts, which can set keywords and have Google email you when something comes up in the search engine. If you intend to have people play the game in Let’s Plays, websites like Gamesight can be very helpful in tracking your game. After the game has been published, it’s important to try to get your game on such aggregates as Metacritic, not for any other reason than Twitch and other websites pull from that site for their content.
This section should also include any paid advertising you, your publisher (if applicable), or third party will intend to use. Be concise. Since this uses real money, you can utilize the demographics designed in the first section of the marketing plan to focus the impressions and clicks. Ads can be Google, Facebook, Twitter, or a number of other platforms.
Understand the difference between sponsored advertisements and "like" purchasing, though. It's the difference between having real eyes see your product and having some company in a click farm boost your numbers in a fake way. Fake followers and "bots"can completely mess up any intended reporting and realistic charts. You'll never know if you're actually doing good.
Don’t forget to think out of the box, though. Marketing is only limited to your own mind. Be creative and sometimes it will pay off. Some people get a proper Wikipedia article put up for their game. If you intend to make a commercial, YouTube and Twitter can be tapped for a video-based ad. Heading to small events in your area can help get more eyes. Just make sure you have it all in your Plan.