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The Viral Formula

Peer Reviewed by Michael Tanczos, Ravyne, Bacterius

Marketing business advertising social sharing
How do you get your game to experience viral growth? Create the tools for your users to do so!

4: Adsense

Believe it or not, people actually enjoy finding new and interesting things and sharing them with their friends. The challenge is really about giving your community and user base something worth sharing with their friends. I constantly find Indie Games churning out interviews or press releases, which are great, but not specifically meant for your intended audience.  Here's my bad flowchart to try and give you an idea visually of what I'm saying.


If you have an audience that is already interested in what you're doing, that is your community audience. You're obviously going to interact and communicate with them very differently then someone who has never seen your game before - non community audience. Anyone who is a part of your target demographic is a part of your total audience. The goal here is to understand how to propel viral content so they feel like sharing. Creating material that is meant to be shared with large audiences is an art form. The material has to be easy enough to interpret (even if you've had little or no exposure to the game) but interesting enough for someone to consider it worth their time to engage with.


Looking back to when StarCraft was a major competitive e-sport, they started a robust campaign for their expansion title The Heart of the Swarm. Users were flooded with a variety of media types to cater to different types of users.
  • New gameplay mechanics/units were demonstrated with videos for competitive and hardcore gamers to see what they could expect
  • Graphic art (like below) was shared with the connected community for those very excited about the existing franchise to spread their excitement.
  • Cinematic trailers were funded to create buzz about the expanded universe of the game.
All of these assets were meant to ensure a non community member was left with the question "Is that a game? A movie?" They have questions they likely want to answer and will dig deeper to answer them. This is what you want a non community member's reaction to be. What about those already excited about the game? These assets released regularly will continue to engage their attention and even encourage them to share with their friends to share the excitement.


I really want to stress that press releases and community management are very strong components of your marketing with important functions. I don't want to undermine these functions and create a "trump" card of marketing. Any time you have specific groups of demographics in your target market, a form of communication specifically crafted for them will generally work better than a "one size fits all" mode.Community management and press & interviews should be your marketing staples with viral assets being the icing on the cake. It's really about creating a wide spread of content that all types of people can get excited about. I've seen it happen time and time again where a small indie studio puts out a small trailer about their game, with game play footage, and the gaming community loses their mind! April 2013 I spoke with the team at The Forest who put out a small trailer (see video below) that went viral. Within days, they had over 200k users on Steam pledging they would buy it upon release. So what can you take away from this discussion and do for yourself?

Build a Media Tool Kit

Inside any good game release (big or small) is a studio releasing a ton of content to the community on what will make the game worth playing. It's important to not only use the right media format but to use the right media format for a specific piece of content that you're releasing.

Screen Shots

These should not only highlight the graphics, but the atmosphere and mood your game is set in. The important lesson I've learned with screenshots is that quality > quantity. Putting out 2 dozen screen shots of basic gameplay footage leaves nothing to the imagination. Give a taste, but not the whole bite.

Game Play Videos

My eyes bleed when I see random gameplay footage that has been linked together. You need to communicate a story, a driven narrative, in your video. Again, I'm going to reference The Forest for their amazing job of putting together an engaging gameplay video that creates a short story in just a minute and a half.

Concept Art

How is this different from Screenshots? Concept art explain the story/theme/setting of a game (qualitative components) whereas screenshots describe the mechanics of a game (quantitative). Both are important, and appeal to different sets of people.  

Are you putting together a media kit? Are you starting to advertise your new title? Feel free to reach out to me for a brain storm session!

Originally posted on www.VideoGameMarketing.ca/2014/05/26/viral-formula/

About the Author(s)

Kevin Harwood is a Video Game Marketer with experience from Triple A to Indie. I love talking about games, so please reach out


GDOL (Gamedev.net Open License)


May 30 2014 10:26 AM

Hi Kevin,


Thanks for sharing your knowledge! It seems like another bunch of work with all this marketing stuff after one finishes his game ;)


We are a small Indie startup from Hamburg, Germany, and just finished a first Alpha version of our game "FreudBot". Right now the only "fans" of our game are friends and family, but of course we like to really start to spread the word now. We already have setup our channels on Facebook, TwitterGoogle+ and a own website.


It's great and easy to communicate news in these channels to reach the current community. But are there any places where it's easier to get new people for your game community? I'm thinking of forums, online magazines/Let's play,...




May 30 2014 03:21 PM

Hi Christian, 


Really like the concept you've got. I'll follow the development :)


Good question! Yes, developing new user acquisition channels is pivotal so I would suggest reaching out to communities and forums specifically tailored to your vertical and niche of indie games. Certainly check out Reddit and see which sub communities regular posting would be suitable. I would even suggest doing some basic PR and social advertising when you're getting closer to release.


When you get closer to release you'll have a constant stream of YouTuber who will want access to make videos about your game ("Let's Play"). This a fantastic way to get more exposure however you want to have a solid strategy behind it. Read my article on advertising with YouTubers to see what I mean. 

Jun 01 2014 05:49 AM
Excellent article. Thanks.
Jun 02 2014 02:29 PM

Great article, thanks! :) I'm working on a fairly big project right now and when it's done I want to be able to market it correctly, thanks for sharing your ideas.

Jun 05 2014 12:05 PM

Hi Kevin,


Thanks a lot for the answer! I was hard-working the last days to get at least an announcement of FreudBot out to IndieDB, TIGsource and Unity Forums. Got at least some new people who are interested :) I'll check Reddit, too, the next days, didn't have that on my list yet, so thanks!


About YouTube: I can imagine that it works for PC games very well, but how about mobile games? Are there even YouTubers who do Let's Plays for mobile games?




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