I know when I create any form of project, the biggest problem I have is with the marketing side of it. However, when I get it dialed in appropriately, it seems that success is just on the horizon. If I jump into a project headfirst, without considering the marketing side of things, it generally goes horribly bad. So how can we ensure that game titles are a success? I think this ultimately comes down to understanding what game marketing is and how to take action on it to your benefit.
Game marketing is the process of generating awareness about a game in order to increase customer action, including downloading, purchasing, or bringing awareness to a game title.
Why do you need to market a game?
According to a talk provided at Game Developers Conference (see below), 93% of all games fail from a financial standpoint. This is a sad reality. This means that you have nearly a five times better chance of opening a small business in your community and being successful than creating a game and producing one that is financially viable to continue to support you.
I strongly feel as though the biggest issue is the lack of marketing. When coming into the independent game development scene, I had no idea just how many games were being released. In fact, there are numerous games being released on Steam every day. As you read this, do you know of ANY game being released today? Odds are that you have no idea. This isn’t because you aren’t actively seeking out games, because if you are here you are very likely a gamer as well. It has to do with a lack of game marketing.
The vast majority of independent game developers area not budgeting time or money for marketing their projects. I have seen some great games that never saw more than a handful of downloads primarily because they had no following for their game
The most successful games that you can think of often have huge marketing budgets. One of the most successful game titles of all time, Red Dead Redemption 2, spent up to 300 million dollars on their marketing while spending only up to 240 on their development. Cyberpunk 2077 spent 142 million on their marketing while spending 174 million on their development. The common theme in most AAA titles is that they spending nearly as much, but often more on marketing than they are on the cost of developing the game.
What are some of the most common actions in marketing?
When it comes to marketing in the indie scene, the vast majority of developers do not have the same significant monetary budget that some of the AAA titles might have. What you likely do have though is time. Here are some strategies that I think are viable, and will continue to be viable for the foreseeable future.
1: Be active within the game community
This often looks slightly different for each game title. When I say this I am not suggesting spamming your game anywhere that will accept it. Instead, I would encourage you to go find games that have gamers actively playing that are similar to yours. My suggestion is simply be active there. This is your audience. So what I would possibly consider is streaming these games, building up your own community, and then referring them to a project you are working on from time to time and when appropriate to do so.
2: Actively seek out opportunities to work with people who have reviewed or publish content about games that are similar to yours.
Often times building up your own community can be difficult. One of the fastest ways to make some progress in advertising your game though is to speak with people that already have some form of following. This could be websites that have visitors and often publish reviews. It could be press release sites where some of the gaming industry websites are receiving their news.
3: Be willing to allow influencers to play your game
It amazes me how many people are unwilling to donate a copy of their game at a chance to possibly have a purchase. My question, would you be willing to give a copy if you were fairly certain it could lead to a sale? In my opinion, I would.
I believe there is a lot of value in having others play your game. They may not lead to any sales, but if it leads to just one, I would think it is worth it. That’s one sale you may not have received without that streamer showcasing it. Without some form of following, it’s really difficult to get traction on sales early on. This is a great way to do that.
4: Be Involved in the Indie Scene
My experience is that some of the most successful indie titles have been well supported early on by fellow indies. Take The First Tree, as an example. He sold over 200,000 copies and invested much of his time in posting awesome screenshots and short videos of his work. Much of that was to subreddits and the game development community.
I think the game is really pretty and he did a good job on it. However, on the marketing side, the secret sauce was not putting something crazy unique into his game. Instead, it was just the amount of work he put in to letting others know about his work. This led to a major following and a huge success at launch. This shows that indie devs really do support one another when the project is viable and worthy of it.
How much of your budget should be spent on marketing?
Again, we aren’t necessarily talking about money alone. Many indie games have been very successful on very small or no budgets. What you likely do have is a time budget.
Indie games should spend a minimum of 30% of their budget (time and money) on marketing their project. I also highly recommend this be done throughout the project. The moment you have something to show, show it.
This amount may go up or down based on your desire for commercial success. Blakthornprod spoke of his success for his indie game. It was clear to me that he defines success slightly different. His successful YouTube channel is his primary income it would seem. Therefore, he can afford to create games he wants to create and doesn’t have as much focus on how many copies it sells.
Ultimately, commercial success is not guaranteed. If you want to be a mainstay in the indie game scene, I highly suggest you look at how long you can spend on a game, research the amount of copies you realistically think it can sell, and make decisions early on that will help you align with those expectations reasonably. With a lot of hard work, however, your game doesn’t have to be “lucky”. Instead, you can predict it’s success!