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justincarroll

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  1. Back in the early 2000's Bungie kept fans of Halo informed with news, updates, and new feature developments. Players couldn't get enough, and a fervent community blossomed. Some of my friends still talk about how following that devblog inspired their careers. Sure, other game developers had been doing that since the beginning of the internet, but Bungie somehow managed to get regular fans interested in the game development process, which if you've been writing your own devblog, you know is no easy task. Since that time, practically every indie game developer I know starts and keeps a devblog for every new game they make. But unfortunately, it doesn't typically go as well as Bungie's did. Most devblogs start really strong, with great intention. And then it happens -- they slow down, and often grind to a halt. Which is a real shame because devblogs can be a powerful marketing tool for promoting games. Well, if they're done the right way. I'm going to explain exactly why devblogs typically die, offer you a new way of writing them, and then show you how to double your traffic (maybe overnight) with what I call The Republishing Strategy. Why All Devblogs Eventually Slow down and Then Die Although seemingly trivial, blogging is time-consuming. Even the shortest of posts require gathering facts, writing drafts, getting approvals, formatting, photo creation, and more. Not to mention those of you who are naturally long-winded (like me), or produce even more time-consuming content such as video. After all is said and done, the average devblog post takes about a full 8-hour day to produce, publish, and promote. But although the work sucks, it's not really the problem. Devblogs are typically about explaining feature design, development, and the deeper intricacies of overcoming programming challenges. And while that can be fascinating to the game development community, game developers make up a relatively small part of your actual playing audience. In other words, most players don't really care how you make games, they just want to play them. So there you are spending a lot of time on producing content for only a fraction of your audience. And that means your devblog is more about preaching to the choir than it is about acquisition, which further means your traffic probably hasn't increased much since you started. I see this all the time. To add insult to injury, as you get closer to launching your game, you have less and less time to put towards marketing efforts that don't generate a reasonable return on investment, time that would be much better spent just getting your game out the door. The Republishing Strategy Like I said before, most of your players probably won't be game developers. But those are the people who get the most out of your devblog, and leveraging that community can be a powerful catalyst for "starting the fire," so to speak. So instead of always riding the line between general posts and development talk, we're going to just draw a line in the sand and decide that at least 50% of your devblog will be for game developers and the other 50% will be for everyone. I'll unpack this in much great detailer, and even leave with a list of things to do along the way, but here's a quick overview: You're going to write in-depth game development tutorials using your games as the illustration, so that the meatier posts on your devblog transform into timeless resources for other game developers Then you're going to republish those tutorials on a bunch of other game development websites, forums, and groups, so that your devblog traffic doubles And finally, you're going to measure incoming traffic for clues as to how you can improve results moving forward I call this The Republishing Strategy. And here's exactly how I recommend you execute on it: 1. Write In-Depth Game Development Tutorials Using Your Game as a Case Study The first thing you're going to do is write an in-depth game development tutorial using your game as an example. It should be highly desirable for like-minded game developers, something they would typically search for on Google. And it should clock in around 2,000 words. To figure out what you should write about, simply ask yourself this question: What have you accomplished in making your game that other game developers could learn from? Here's a few title examples for articles that you might write... How to Build a Match-3 Puzzle Game in 1 Day with Unity The Beginner's Guide to Writing Roguelike Games in HTML5 The Ultimate Guide to Making IO Games Fast and Cheap How to Design a Strategy Game Based on Fun, Not Timers How to Design a Procedural Game That Feels Linear You get the idea. They don't all have to be "how to" articles, but they should be very crunchy so that game developers want to read them. Devblogs are typically locked in time, meaning once your game launches the content isn't relevant anymore. The Republishing Strategy turns all that on its head, making your devblog a timeless resource for aspiring game developers. Finally, publish one of these articles every other week (or once a week if you're up for the challenge), first thing in the morning on a Tuesday or Wednesday. And promote in any other marketing channels you're using, such a social media. Action Steps Write 2,000-word game development tutorials using your game as the sole illustration (the longer the better) Use at least 5 images throughout the post Link to at least 3 major websites (e.g. Unity, other development resources, Amazon books) Go heavy on the development language and buzzwords that other game developers are likely to search for on the internet (e.g. Unity, hierarchy tree traversal, procedural) Always include a link to your game's website, newsletter, or marketplace page Publish at least 3 of these articles a month Always publish on Tuesdays or Wednesdays Always publish first thing in the morning And one more thing... I understand that this whole writing thing might not come naturally for you. But I highly encourage you to stick with it, or at least give it your best try. The more you write, the easier it will get. Always start with an outline, and use blog post formulas to expedite production time. I promise that if you trust the process you're going to see a much bigger return on your devblog investment than you ever have before. 2. Republish Your Articles on Popular Game Development Websites, Forums, and Groups After your article has been published on your own devblog for about a week, then it's time to republish it on various other game development websites and forums. But there's a few things we need to do to the article before that happens. First, if you're not already using Google Analytics with your devblog, please install it now (it's free) and make sure it's working. I'll explain why that's necessary in just a minute . Next, insert a link back to your original post right after the first paragraph in your article. It should read something like this: This article was originally published on My Nintendo News. And finally, insert a short bio at the end of your article and keep it under 300 words. It should read something like this: Shigeru Miyamoto is a game designer at Nintendo. He's currently working on Super Mario Bros. 4 for Nintendo Switch. For more great articles like this, subscribe to My Nintendo News. No, Super Mario Bros. 4 doesn't exist. Just let me dream. Again, you get the idea. Take this short template and put your own words to it. The goal here is to get people to click back to your studio, game, or devblog. And keep this as timeless as possible, don't say or link to anything that will need updated in the future. The last thing you want to do is have to go back to every republished post and edit it. That would be an epic waste of time. One more thing to note here, if you're republishing your article on a syndicated blogging platform such as Gamasutra, then these new additions to your article make perfect sense and you should do them. But on certain forums such as Reddit, these added elements will feel inorganic. Be self-aware about where you're posting, follow community rules, and always present your work appropriately for the audience. Now, the moment we've all been waiting for. It's finally time to republish the article... Here we're looking for highly trafficked game development websites, forums, and groups that make sense for what you've written. Here's a short list of game development communities that I know work really well for this: Tuts+ (Game Development) Gamasutra Reddit (/r/gamedev) GameDev.net Indie Game Developers (Facebook Group) Front page of Gamasutra where your post could be featured. Obviously this isn't a comprehensive list. There's also framework forums, platform blogs, and Facebook groups to consider. Use your inside knowledge, experience, and gut instinct to put together your own list of websites, forums, and groups where you feel the community could benefit most from what you've written. The worst thing you could do is blindly republish everywhere. The Republishing Strategy should be a two-way street. You're helping fellow game developers learn how to make your games, and in return they're helping you by checking out your games. There are a few staple communities you can rely on for every post (such as Gamasutra or Reddit), but beyond that, the websites and forums you republish on should vary based on what you write. Action Steps Install Google Analytics and make sure it's working properly Insert a link back to your devblog after the first paragraph of each article (where appropriate) Insert an under 300-word bio at the end of each article, complete with links back to your devblog or more (where appropriate) Republish articles on highly trafficked websites, forums, and groups that make the most sense for what you've written That's the bulk of The Republishing Strategy, but you know how I roll, we need to measure and optimize what we've done as a last step. 3. Use Analytics to Measure and Optimize Your Republishing Performance The day after you republish your first article, open your Google Analytics dashboard, and if you're a relatively low traffic or new devblog, you should see that your traffic has doubled overnight. I'm going to be honest, it's pretty awesome when you see that happen for the first time. Take a moment to enjoy the fruits of your labor. After all is said and done your dashboard should look something like this... Here's a screenshot of me using the republishing strategy to increase my traffic by 6,066% on day 1, and by 533% by day 7. You should see about 500 new visitors from a week of republishing. Obviously it's going to be different for everyone, and depends on a lot of factors. Suffice to say, this is attainable fuzzy math. In any case, over time you're definitely going to see direct traffic rise slowly. If you've already got thousands of people reading your devblog each day, it could take around 1 month for you to see your traffic double from these efforts. If you're a hit game with tens of thousands in traffic each day then you're going to see great percentage bumps for your efforts, but you probably won't double your traffic from this strategy alone, at least not quickly. After a full week of republishing, it's time to analyze your traffic for performance. Inside the Google Analytics dashboard navigate to Acquisition > Overview. Where to go in Google Analytics to see your acquisition channels and traffic. The tabled data at the bottom of the report is showing you which channels sent the most traffic to your devblog in the last month. Click on Social and Referral for a detailed description of exactly which websites sent you the most traffic in those channels. Pay special attention to percentage of sessions and look for the traffic that isn't performing well. Consider how you might improve them, or whether or not you should keep republishing there. Also, don't rule out that your content may have missed the mark, or that it might suck. No offense, but that can happen. Stay self-aware, question your content, and experiment with change before completely abandoning a certain website or forum. Analyzing your referral traffic once a week is going to help you stop wasting time on what's not working, and spend more time on what does. Action Steps Measure referral performance weekly Note referrals with poor performance, and consider optimizations Experiment with new websites, forums, or content Rinse and repeat And for those of you number-junkies out there, you can also use Google Analytics to figure out which referrals send the most traffic to your website or marketplace pages. It's possible that the website or forum you're getting the most traffic from isn't the same one that drives the most sales. How to do that is way beyond the scope of this article, I'm just saying it to show just how important measuring your marketing can be. So there you have it, that's my republishing strategy for devblogs. Your Devblog Probably Won't Be an Overnight Success I hope you're as successful as Bungie someday, but let's be real here... Your devblog probably won't be the overnight success that theirs was back in the day. It could happen, but it probably won't. However, this is the best way I know to improve what you're already doing, double your traffic within a month's time, and convert your devblog into a selling tool that pays dividends long after your games have launched. That's a pretty big win. Game marketing is a process, and overnight successes are few and far between. But I know that if you implement this strategy you're going to see your traffic numbers double, and climb from there. That said, I'd love to hear from you... How did you feel the first time you saw your traffic double from implementing this strategy, what types of results have you seen since, and what have you done to optimize your devblog each month?
  2. What should you do for your official game websites? What tools should you use, how should you design them, and where should you start? I can't throw a rock on social media without hitting a group of indie game developers asking these types of questions, and pitching in to help each other out. There's a hundred ways you could make a website for your game, but I believe I've got the absolute best. And the only reason I believe that is because I've spent most of my career building official game websites, as well as coaching indie game developers on how to optimize their websites to sell more games. This is my signature blueprint for how to make the most effective official game websites as fast as possible. And bonus fry, it's cheaper too. Official Game Websites Are Kind of a Pain in the Ass Your game needs a website. That, we know. And getting one is relatively easy, right? You design and develop games, surely you can throw up a website. And since you're just getting started, there's no way you're going to spend thousands of dollars to hire someone else to do it. And if your games aren't generating revenue, I don't think you should either. But what starts to happen after you throw up a website is you start diving into customizations, tweaks, and trying a bunch of things. An hour turns into a day, a day into a few days, a few days into a few weeks. Creating your own website starts to become a bit of a pain in the ass. Still, it's not enough to make you pay someone else to do it, but enough to send you to game developer forums asking other people what they think. So technically, you can make a website. What slows you down, what turns building one into kind of a disaster, is not knowing exactly what you should do, if what you've done is good, or if it's even going to work. And let's face it, time is money. Every hour you spend on your website is another hour you're not spending to finish your game. Official Game Websites Should Make You Money, Not Just Make You Look Good I was helping a small indie game studio head optimize their marketing. They had launched a handful of games in the past year, each with its own website. When I asked what those websites cost and how well they performed, they clammed up. And when pressed, they finally admitted they felt websites were worthless. But the one thing they did stress over and over, was that every time they made a game website it didn't "look like every other game website out there." And that these types of custom designed websites sometimes took weeks to complete. So that's where all their time and money went, on making sure their websites looked cool, because they genuinely believed that effort would help them sell more games. Unfortunately, they were wrong. The truth is official game websites are just marketing pieces in a bigger marketing puzzle. They should be pointed towards a certain set of goals, and work in tandem with other pieces of game marketing, such as social media or public relations, to accomplish those goals. But don't get me wrong, I fancy myself a beautifully designed game website. After all, I did help design the official websites, microsites, and experiences for many blockbuster films and AAA games. However, even I admit looks alone don't sell games. The "One and Done" Website Strategy So your games need websites, but you can't afford to waste time and money on what doesn't work. You need an effective game website that you can stand up relatively fast, and with a relatively low cost of ownership. Furthermore, it's to your benefit to create a system out of what you do, so that building game websites becomes easier and faster, which is a long-term cost-savings. Here's my signature system for building game websites that way: 1. Always Start with a Goal Before building a game website, it's important you ask yourself what's the one thing, above all else, that you want potential players to do. That's your game website's primary goal. If you've ever built a game website without first asking yourself that question, you probably just copied what other game developers were doing. And while that's not necessarily a bad thing, their goals might be based on undisclosed business initiatives that don't really make sense for you. A good rule of thumb for figuring out what your primary goal is when you're just starting out, is whether or not you've released your game. If you haven't released your game, then your goal should probably be to build up your audience before launch. And if you've already released your game, then your primary goal is simply getting traffic to your marketplace pages. As your game grows with DLC, sequels, or spinoffs, that rule goes out the window. But it's the right place to start for now. 2. Give Your Game Websites Their Own Domain Names The overarching goal of a game website is to sell your game to players. And the overarching goal of a game development studio website is to sell your company to business partners, employees, and the media. That's why I never recommend using your company website as your game website, because it muddies the waters. When you're just starting out, potential players don't care who you are. And so they're far more likely to follow your games. In fact, even when you're a popular developer, most players still don't care. Infinity Ward and Treyarch are the two studios who develop games in Activision's Call of Duty franchise, but when asked who makes the games, most players will probably say Activision. We would know to say the development studio, but that's because we live in the game industry bubble and speak developer. Give your game websites their own domain names (I use Namecheap). Launching game websites on their own domain helps keep your messaging and goals laser-focused, it helps to attract more players with entertainment, it gives games their own soil to grow into brands, and all that combined helps you sell more games in the long run. The only time I would likely deviate from this strategy is when a game brand becomes pop culture, and needs a hub website. 3. Use a Website Builder This is how most indie game developers build game websites: They buy their own hosting, install the WordPress software, spend a few hours hunting down and buying a theme, and then they spend the following days and weeks mulling over custom design and content creation. By the time it's all said and done, it's taken weeks to build what they consider a basic game website, not to mention all the hours they'll continue to spend with tweaks, plugins, and so on. And I totally get it, because I've done that too. The reason we've all done this is because we believed that it was the fastest, cheapest way to build a website that would give us the greatest amount of control. Basically, we did that because it's "god mode" for website. But it's also cost us countless time and money that would have been better spent just working on our games. So it's time to try something new. I highly recommend using Squarespace to build your game websites. In any case, use a website builder. The reason I recommend Squarespace is because for $12 a month you get a website that would cost upwards of $50,000 to build from scratch. I would know, because I've built those. [media][/media] The objection is always that the templates look the same. I'm a designer and I don't think so, but even if you do, drag and drop functionality gives you the power to change your layout in seconds. A good rule of thumb is to spend a maximum of 1 day building an official game website, especially if you're just starting out. In fact, you could build the official website for Hay Day in just 1 hour using a website builder, and that's a million-dollar game. If Supercell wanted to waste $50,000 on the Hay Day website, I'd actually be okay with that (maybe more) considering how many sales it drives, but they obviously haven't. And neither should you. 4. You Only Need One Page with a "Buy Now" Button Style alone doesn't sell games, but design does. You can have a really crappy game website, and still make money. In other words, a great-looking website is a want, not a need. I've planned, designed, developed, optimized, and measured the performance of official game websites in all shapes and sizes. The only thing your game needs is a one-page, responsive website with a "buy now" button, very similar to what Supercell, and other popular indie game studios, do for most of their games. And here's my wireframe for how I design those pages: A wireframe for an official game website design. (Click to enlarge) Overall, this is pretty self-explanatory. But there are a few things I want to point out. Everything I've done here (and didn't do) is by design, so let's walk through why this works so well. 1. HEADER First of all, notice that there's no navigation, and very few outgoing links overall. This is an attempt to remove all distraction from your primary goal. The last thing we want is to get players ready to buy, have them click away somewhere else, lose that desire, and never come back. All we really need up top is the one-liner that makes them want to click the "buy now" button, and the button itself. Once the potential player clicks to buy the game, it should open a new tab to your game marketplace, if not add it to their cart automatically. If the potential player cannot be convinced, they will begin to scroll, if they haven't already by instinct. 2. TRAILER The next step is to have potential players experience your game through its trailer, the next best way aside from playing the game itself. Do your best to keep trailers fast-paced, hitting all the beats, effectively communicating it's best features, and ending on a CTA to reinforce purchase. This section could also have pagination if you're cutting teaser, gameplay, and official trailers 3. DESCRIPTION The next section is basically the description. If they can't gather what your game is about from the trailer (they should have), then they'll literally read that here. Keep this section relatively short, as free from development language as possible, and highlight a handful of your game's best features. Complete this section with a beautiful character shot, or some other primary break-out visual from your game. 4. SCREENSHOTS Screenshots are pretty straight-forward, which also means they can be boring if you're not careful. Select the best screenshots to sell the game, not necessarily for the development of the game (there's a difference). Also, be free to experiment with how these might look if you used treated type or captions to highlight features. I recommend a minimum of 3 screenshots, but 5-10 (max) with pagination or modal overlays is optimal. 5. NEWSLETTER If at this point they're still not convinced to buy, they're probably very interested. And that's a great thing. So we're going to ask them to sign up for our newsletter. This enables use to (1) build our email list, and (2) win the opportunity to nurture them towards purchase. And we're going to entice them to opt-in by offering them a highly valuable, free incentive (e.g. comic book, strategy guide, playable level). I've seen the best results with one-click for the "subscribe" button and then a short form (name and email address) in a popup or modal overlay. Otherwise, putting form fields right on the page works too. 6. FOOTER Finally, the footer should stay as minimal as possible, only consisting of a few social links, a press kit link, and your studio's logo (unlinked). Again, we don't want users clicking away and never coming back. Unfortunately, analytics prove time and again that once a potential player clicks away from your game website, they're probably not coming back. THIS IS GOOD ENOUGH FOR NOW In conclusion, this is the 20% of work that yields the 80% of results. The big design idea is to focus entirely on the primary goal, keep distractions to almost zero, and hit the secondary goal if we can't nail the primary one. Don't get me wrong here, there's a time and place for a multi-page website experience with all the bells and whistles, but not right now. And I know exactly how fun it is to work on those projects. But right now we need a website that's 100% focused on driving sales, so that you can keep making your own games. You need a good enough website, and this is good enough for now. 5. Install analytics and tracking Every visitor that comes to your website tells a story with their actions. And those action can be measured with analytics. Where did they come from, how long did they stay, and did they click to buy your game? Analyzing all that data for trends will help you optimize and improve your game websites moving forward. For example, if most of your traffic is coming from Twitter, then investing more time and money in Twitter could be a great idea. Or if most of your conversions happen on mobile, then investing more time and money on optimizing the mobile version of your website could be lucrative. To start taking advantage of all that data, I recommend installing Google Analytics, even if your hosting plan or website builder comes with their own set of analytics. In fact, I would turn those native analytics off if possible, and only use what you get through Google. This is what a Google Analytics dashboard looks like. In addition, I recommend installing tracking pixels for Facebook and Twitter. Tracking pixels will help you begin profiling an audience for use with social advertising experiments in the future. Making Game Websites Should Be Low Cost and High Value You now have a foundational, replicable system for building effective game websites as fast, and as cheap as possible. This is going to help automate standing up game websites, and start giving you back the hours you've spent away from working on your games. But most importantly, they're going to perform far better. You're going to see more traffic going to your marketplace pages, and more email opt-ins now that you're laser-focused on hitting goals. And that means, maybe for the first time ever, your game websites will actually be a valuable marketing asset, rather than a visually-stunning nebula that potential players seem to go missing in. How has this strategy helped you think differently about your own game websites? Or what have you been doing beyond this strategy that seems to be really making a difference? Post a link to your own game websites in the comments, I'd love to see what you've done.
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