This isn't going to be much use to an established company or developer, it might be a little more interesting to students looking to start a company or newly founded devs. Also my spelling and grammar are shocking so apologies in advance!
Lost Zombie Studio consists of two people: myself (Jody Gallagher) and Matt Sharpe. We have both worked on games projects in the past including a few pretty big games that I won't bother to list here. We have been working on Away Team for roughly a year with a spattering of contracts in between. The game has changed pretty dramatically over that time into something much bigger than originally planned. This meant we had to make the choice of building it ourselves with little money or just scrapping it and continuing with the contracts. There just isn't enough time in the day for both!
We obviously decided to push on with the game as it's something we both deeply believe in and we started LZS to do cool projects like this in the first place.. Also who needs money!?
We are both complete novices when it comes to marketing or PR which meant we just ignored it, also marketing is boring right!? So the first incarnation of the LZS site was pretty terrible. It was a plain old site with some hyperlinks, I would show a screenshot of it but, thankfully, it has been sent to the farm. We had thought that if we build it they shall come, surely if we have a place for people to come see the game that's about all we really need to do… Potential customers will be flooding in, press will get wind of the game and we can put all this “suit” work behind us.
Obviously that was wrong! we realized pretty quickly no one knew who we were or cared about our little indie game. Other than my mum, no one was going to buy this thing once we finished it. So we decided to listen to the experts yelling at everyone to share what they are actually doing (Brian Baglow) and come up with some sort of plan to do that.
So this is a breakdown of what went right and wrong over the 24 hours from relaunching the site and also some info on what we did as far as planning to get to that. I should also note this is all stuff you can do for free, other than my own personal time we didn't spend a penny.
Preparation and what went "right"
We do the game development to a rough scrum style so we decided to add the marketing, PR and other neglected tasks to the sprint for that week. We are both used to working like this (or at least probably should be) by now so it made sense and meant we wouldn't procrastinate. as a bonus it also meant we did some research into different vectors for selling and marketing the game. People have tons of different ways of planning this stuff out but I've found a simple shared Google spreadsheet does the job fine. Trello is also really useful and free!
WordPress! “Middleware” is something most developers use every day in our projects and saves a massive amount of time and money, so instead of building a site from scratch again we decided to use WordPress. This was an excellent choice and only took a few days to set up. There are probably other solutions out there but WordPress just worked for us. It also has great integration with Google analytics, something which needed to be set up if we planned to try and track what effect we were having. Seriously it's pointless putting up a site without it, and the real time view makes you feel like an NSA spy!
Thinking about aesthetics and design is another thing that comes naturally to all of us when making games but not so much when we build sites (at least for us in the past) so we put a bit more thought into design and colour schemes for this site. Going with a more punchy neon flash colour and more subtle charcoal and white for the rest. We also planned out call to action buttons and general layout a lot more meaning, theoretically at least, the general bounce rate for the site should be improved.
Super fun Databases! I spent a whole day, around 10 hours, trawling the internet to find journalists email and twitter addresses. This is without a doubt the single most boring thing I have ever done... maybe ever! But it's a huge help, we now have a great, up to date and current list of 200 or so people we can harass with our game updates. I made sure to make a note of their personal sites as well as where they work so I can tailor emails to people. I have heard press don't link blanket cc'ed emails! There are pre made lists online you can find if you search but most are outdated or just links to contact pages.
As with the contact database, I spent some time searching the interwebs for forums and fan sites for subjects that related to our game. In this case Away Team is a SciFi strategy game, so I googled "scifi game fans forum" and other similar variations on that. I got a ton of sites we can now go to and post info on the game. I would say you have to be careful with posting on random forums as you do not want to come across as a spammer and obviously the forum should be relevant, you should also be adding something. These people are about as close to the "target demo" I could think of so it's perfect and they are literally just sitting there waiting for you to show them stuff! Brilliant. I'm also making a note to keep checking the sites and reply to any questions folks there might have. (ProTip: This can be done by subscribing to the threads you create.)
A good description of the game was something we were lacking so sitting down for an evening and getting all the blurb written up gave us a half decent "about" page and also meant we had something to post to all the wonderful links we had collected! This blurb is shared across the site's game description and the press release email. I kinda cheated with this and used Press Friendly which is a site that you can join for free which will give you a step by step process for creating what is basically a pitch for you product. They will also give you a 15 minute skype chat to go over it at no cost. It gives you a very good base to work from, I say a base as it does need to be changed a bit to work as a games blurb. Still, it's a great start.
IndieDB is a perfect companion site to your main one, for indie devs at least. It has a huge amount of users and does a pretty good job of showing your game and website details clearly. We somehow got pretty popular for a few hours on IndieDB as well. I have no idea how this is calculated but was a nice morale boost.
Dev Blog. To make sure there was something other than just a description of the game and a few screenshots on the site when we launched it we decided to start a Blog talking about subjects related to game design or the game itself. We are going to try and "blog" every week or two, keeping up a momentum of info on the game and a good reason for people to come back to the site. (also this may improve my dreadful spelling and grammar)
What went wrong or could be improved?
Well, I spent way too much time on this - over 24 hours. Hardly left the computer the whole time and slept maybe 4 or 5 hours in between. This isn't counting the time spent preparing during the week. This can all eat into development time and cause issues as well as being bad for your health and posture. It has proved to me that this isn't a side job you can just leave till you have some spare time and is probably a full time job in its own right.
We didn't spend a penny doing any of this. We increased hits to the site from roughly 5 a week to around 500 in a few hours. I can only imagine the amount of scope using facebook paid posts, or similar on google etc, could generate would be multiples of that. So I think spending a little money (not too much) is a good step even at an early stage.
Hire someone to do all this stuff if you have the money, it's a LOT of work. I hadn't realized just how much time this would eat into. I now have a better respect for marketing folks! There is a lot to be said for doing it yourself though as you'll have a much more intimate approach to the task at hand.
MOAR! we need to keep up the web trawling, finding fan sites relevant to the game and getting more press contacts. I don't know how much time you can realistically spend doing this as it is a huge time sink, but a few hours a week is probably fair.
We should have done this earlier! I think with hindsight we could have been doing all this stuff last year sometime and would probably be in a slightly better position right now. There is certainly a time and a place for everything, you can't launch a massive campaign with nothing to show. But we still should have done more earlier.
Kickstarter and Greenlight look like great places not only to make cash but also to build an audience! Kickstarter alone is definitely something we are going to look into if only to try and generate a bit of a buzz. Again both of these involve spending some money so fell outside the zero spend initial plan.
We (or should I say "I") can do with a little more research into marketing practices. I dread reading a book on marketing or PR but it's probably something that needs to be done.
Right! so all of this was done and I'm sitting in front of the computer on Sat night at about 8pm, desperately trying to fix a borked WordPress after trying to just copy paste it to another directory on our server... oops. Anyway I eventually got it working and started posting links to it around the internet, using the template and lists I had created. This took a couple of hours to do and I spent the rest of the night and most of Sunday replying to emails which were now coming in... the forum posts people were replying to and Facebook and Twitter etc.
Jump to Sunday night I'm sitting feet up, a little bit of a sore head, cat on my lap and "reward" beer opened. It was a productive experiment, we have some people at least who now know what our game is all about and who we are. We also have a couple of news sites wanting to feature the game.
Even a little marketing and PR is definitely a must do even for tiny indie devs like us!
Please! share your thoughts on this with us and let us know if we can improve what we are doing at all.
About the Author(s)
Jody gallagher - Founder and developer at Lost Zombie Studio