5 Marketing lessons I learned releasing my first commercial indie game
Ok so the title might not be 100% correct since I’m pressing the release button tomorrow morning, but I have learned so much already that I’d love to share.
As most indie developers will know marketing is a big factor in making your game succeed. But avoiding getting buried in that daily release avalanche comes with planning and knowledge.
I have learned this the hard way. My wishlist count is horribly low compared to the revered 5K. But hey, my goal with my first title wasn’t to earn big bucks, my goal was to release something made from scratch onto Steam.
I learned a lot in the process by doing it wrong, so here’s what you should do right:
- Don’t start marketing before you have a place to gather interest.
My take on marketing was that I should start doing it as soon as I had something to share. This was only half true. I discovered there are a couple more factors in play: People must be able to register their interest (wishlist/newsletter), a release date should be not too far away, and what you’re sharing should actually matter to the audience.
I started showing my game when I just had basic physics and collision detection in place, not very interesting for gamers. And while other devs were interested, they had no place to wishlist my game or subscribe. People who did show interest back then probably left later, because these posts were made more than 2 years ago.
In short, don’t market when you’re not releasing for a long time, and make sure your game page/website is in order so your posts won’t get attention that you cannot direct the right way.
- Plan out a marketing campaign
Marketing is not just posting about your game everywhere. Marketing is also finding the right people and places where your info will be appreciated. Plan out time to actually do market research.
Find out which games are similar to yours and how people found out about them. Where do those players go to find their gems? Those are the places you need to get your info posted.
Also think about the elements of your game and how they could interest others. Physics, artstyle, engine, theme, these are all game elements that could interest others specifically. Write actual content like articles explaining how you did things, and post it where people want to read about that kind stuff.
I did this way too little. I just posted a lot of gifs that I thought would be fun on all social media, but this generated very little interest.
- Get high quality game page art soon
This is one I only learned a few days before launch. I thought showing some game sprites, a title and a background would be enough for the game pages.
I couldn’t be more wrong. As soon as I uploaded more professional art my Steam page view count doubled. I heard the Steam capsule art is the most important for your page, and now I’ve seen that this is true.
If I would have had this art up from the beginning, I could have probably doubled, maybe tripled the attention the game got.
My advice: Get some concept art as soon as you have solidified your game idea and you want to put up a game page. Launch your game page with that awesome art, and getting attention will become much easier.
Of course this is something budget related. I myself could spare around 70 bucks for some art, so I spent about 55 for concept art and 15 for a logo.
- Run a Discord if you are able to
This is one that I actually did do, and it was great. People who join your Discord are basically subscribing to a newsletter on steroids. You can update them regularly or even organize games or events to keep them interested.
Some will even regularly tell you some ideas or help you with testing, it’s awesome. A lot of invaluable input for my game came from Discord members.
- If possible, do a demo
This doesn’t fit all games, but if you could, you should. My demo helped me a lot with finding bugs, improving gameplay and testing concepts.
Especially in combination with the Discord server my demo was also a huge help in further developing the game and reassuring me that I have a stable product.
Whether you should have a closed or open demo is up to you. I personally opened up my demo by putting it on Steam, but it didn’t really increase attention for my game.
I’m going to take it off before release, since I think having both a demo and a full version doesn’t help with sales. But that’s my own opinion, for which I don’t have data to back up.
Those were the main things I learned, looking back. Hopefully they help you in some kind of way, or at least give some insight to my experience.
In case you want to check out which game this was about, here a link to the Steam page.