Most indie games are not profitable. There are plenty of great games that come out all the time, and as you know, making great games is not enough to sell them. It’s true for all kinds of creations and products. You can rarely rely on what you make to grab attention. In the crowded game market, your first problem is to reach out to people. To prove them that your work is worth their time and attention. That is why you must communicate in smart and innovative ways.
I insist: it is necessary. See, I’m a creator, just like you. I already built an indie game studio with a talented engineer, and we didn’t make it. And a fair part of that was due to my lack of interest for communication. Since then, I understood that marketing was not only required, but that I was free to do it in a personal fashion. Genuinely, and with passion. Now, things are working out for me.
In her talk “Marketing indie games on a zero-dollar budget”, Emmy Jonassen outlines the 3 steps you should take to get your game noticed. You start by producing the right content, and that’s the bulk of the work. Then, you want to score articles in key publications, and finally build a supportive fan-base. We’ll cover the latter in a future article, because it’s a vast topic.
Check out Indie Game Girl’s 3 Marketing Tips
Before we dive into the 5 types of content you need like your trailer or your landing page, I’ll be honest: making money off your games won’t be easy. It will take a lot of work. After all:
95% of indie games are not profitable
80% of indie games operate at a loss
and back in 2013, when Emmy did her talk, only 25% of iOS indie game developers had made more than $30,000
Marketing your indie game is never 100% free. It will cost you time and energy. But if you don’t do it, you won’t sell anything. I sell products, and trust me, that’s how it is. No communication, no sales.
So you have a great game. A solid project with good potential. You’re on your way to release. Now’s the time to get started with marketing, or building a plan. And with communication, putting your plan to execution and getting in touch with people. If you’re short on cash, like many independent developers, you are better off doing as much as possible on your own. And this article will give you simple steps to help you become more successful.
5 steps to marketing your indie game with no budget
The trailer, pictures and text you create to get people interested in your game will make or break your communication. In her talk, Emmy outlines 5 types of content that will help you get noticed. The most powerful one is the trailer, followed closely by the screenshots. Everything visual in nature. Then come your press releases, which are required to reach out to journalists and YouTubers. Last is your landing page, where players will find everything they need to know about the game, and your devblog.
Step 1: Make a kick-ass trailer to get people hooked
You will hear this time and time again: the trailer is your best asset to spark people’s interest in your work. It’s the only type of content that can combine beautiful images, fast-paced animation, engaging music and a strong call to action. All in one place. It’s an even stronger tool in that it conveys all the information you want to share with the viewer in 1 to 2 minutes.
A great trailer follow several rules:
Keep it short. Your trailer should be less than 2 minutes long. This is a heritage from the movies industry, where trailers must be under 2 minutes 30 seconds long to be displayed in the theater, with few exceptions. The ideal length sits at around 60 to 90 seconds. That’s enough time to show gameplay, to reel people in, but not too much so you don’t lose them before your call to action. More on that below.
You have between 3 and 5 seconds to capture the viewer’s attention. Especially on the Internet where anyone can just move on to the next video. Get them hooked with a powerful intro! Check out the Hollow Night release trailer for a good example.
Have great music and sound effects. Having studied music scoring myself, I can assure you that sound is your best ally to convey a certain feel or emotion.
Use footage from the game! This is a game trailer. People want and expect to see your game. They want to know how the game plays and what they might buy.
Drop in reviews and quotes from professionals. The words of popular people will add credibility and authority to your work. That’s why you always see testimonials on landing pages for products and services online. If journalists or famous developers give a nice comment on your game, include it in your trailer. Avoid reviews from your friends or random people from the Internet. Things like “This game is so cool! – Mom” will not really help you. And if you get good reviews after you launch the trailer, Emmy even recommends putting out a new version just to add the quotes.
End your trailer with a call to action. Tell the viewer where to get your game all what he should do after watching. If this is a launch trailer, you want people to know where they can buy your game (Apple and Google store, Steam, etc.) and where they can find your landing page.
Extra tip: you want the ambiance of your trailer to be as good as in your game. The video should stay true to the pace and the feel of your universe. You spent a lot of time creating that game. Refine the trailer with the same attention and care. You may only get so many views, but you should still spend time on it. Keep in mind that the video is not only for players. It’s also for the game press. And you are competing with hundreds of other teams to get them to pay attention to your work.
Here is another example of a well-crafted trailer, by the French studio Alkemi:
Drifting Lands (perfectly crafted trailer)
Step 2: Capture beautiful screenshots to make people want to learn more
An image is worth a thousand words. Especially online, where many do not really want to read. Your community will engage a lot more with tweets and Facebook posts that feature beautiful pictures. The press and bloggers will want appealing, high resolution screenshots to put in their own posts.
Take a lot of high resolution pictures. They should always be crisp and clear. Then, cherry pick the best ones. You only need anywhere between 6 and 8. Think of it as your game’s portfolio. A portfolio that anyone might check out.
Pay special attention to your visual composition. Every picture should tell an interesting story. But never the full story. You want to poke the viewer’s curiosity. You want them to want to know more, to raise questions and leave them unanswered. Composition is a vast topic. If you have a good game artist working with you, I recommend that you delegate this task to them. For more information, I talked about it a bit more in the 3 steps to improve your game’s graphics.
You want your screenshots to be bright and contrasted. Send them to your peers and friends for feedback before you send your images out into the wild. For one, you don’t want to rely on your gut feeling to assess whether a picture is good or not. But on top of that, every display renders colors differently. A picture that’s okay on your tablet might not look as good on someone else’s computer.
As we are talking about pictures, you should also provide high-resolution copies of your company’s logo. And ideally, you want to have some very large, print ready screenshots for journalists who work for magazines. If you use Unity, there is a free game screenshot add-on on the asset store to do just that.
Step 3: Stick to the point in your press release and grab the press’s attention
Journalists are busy people. They work fast, and the easier you make their job, the more likely they are to write about your work. When you send a press release or share an important story, you have a single shot. I like to see communication that way at least, because it forces you to perfect your plan. If your press kit is too verbose and you don’t provide everything people need, you will miss opportunities.
Most press releases tend to follow this simple structure:
Headline. Just like with any article, you want to nail this one. The headline should tell what your article is about.
Subhead, or subtitle. It should add some extra information to the headline. You can skip it if the headline already contains the whole essence of your story.
Basic info. Mention the city, the country in which your studio is based, and the date on a single line.
Lead paragraph. Most people will only read the very first sentence of your PR, so make it count. Use precise adjectives, simple vocabulary and try to boil down your story to a single sentence. Just like with an article, try to provide an answer to the gang of the 5 Ws: what, where, when, why, who… and how! Yes, there are 6 of them.
Quotes. It’s very common for studios to put quotes from their founder or the game’s author to humanize the press release a little bit.
Call to action. Give the reader a link they can visit to learn more about your game and find your press kit.
Contact info. At the bottom, give the readers ways to contact you. This might include your email address, your physical address, and your phone number.
Check out Gamasutra for tons of examples of press releases made by all sorts of studios. They are shared automatically from the game press website, another place you want to know about the day you put your press release out there. IndieGameGirl also provides a game press release template on her blog:
Step 4: Optimize your landing page to convert visitors to players
Your landing page is like your store page on Steam or Itch.io. It’s a powerful marketing asset that will convert visitors to players. That is the sole point of it. Most studios will put out a landing page with a prominent preorder or buy now button around the top.
Again, Emmy lists some best practices you should follow to maximize your conversions:
Remove the navigation. Your goal is for people to follow you on social networks and hopefully to buy the game. Having navigation at the top of the page only takes clicks away from those buttons.
Use an attention-grabbing headline at the top. Most people will only read that, so give them a reason to spend more time with you. The headline should be creative and give them a reason to check out the trailer, screenshots, and learn more about your game. Try to talk directly to your visitors or target audience in the page title.
Include social sharing icons. Maybe on the top right side of the page, somewhere where they can be found if anyone wants to follow your work.
Feature a prominent call to action button. Right under the trailer video, give people the means to preorder or buy the game if they want to. Also tell the visitor which platforms the game is available on. Steam, Apple Store? Windows, Mac, Linux?
Put your trailer at the top. Remember that it’s your most powerful piece of content. If it doesn’t spark interest, it’s likely that nothing else will.
Include a handful of beautiful screenshots. I think you can see the pattern. We get to reuse everything we have worked on up to that point.
Include a few reviews or testimonials. Same thing as with your trailer. If you don’t have them when you put up the landing page, don’t forget to come back and add them later.
And at the bottom, leave a link to your press kit and your contact info.
You’re free to adapt the layout to offer a unique experience. Notice how Seasons: After Fall’s landing page has everything we mentioned, but not in a typical order. The links and buttons are laid down so that they all fit within your screen when you first land on the page.
Step 5: Post weekly on your dev blog to keep your community engaged
If you share interesting information, your dev blog is a key place where you will engage your community. Ghost of a Tale offers an excellent example of a captivating dev blog. The game’s creators explain how they overcome technical obstacles with the project. This not only proves their expertise, but this is very interesting to both fellow developers and players in that it shows their progress and might give ideas at the same time.
Making your own dev blog will require some serious dedication, as you want to post on a regular basis. It is said that you must post videos or blog once a week for it to work. In my experience, this is not necessarily true. I wrote dozens of articles and released about 200 videos on YouTube in the past 2 years. Yes, weekly content keeps your core fans engaged. But if you focus on quality, you tend to get more visibility and improve your reputation. At the end of the day, most your online traffic will come from a handful of pieces you released.
And if you make longer writings that are interesting for people, you can afford to release them less often. Actually, if you only post once every 2 weeks or once a month, you can take your time to research ideas and get feedback from the community. This is another way to keep people engaged.
Regardless of the amount of content you put out, you do want to include images in your blog posts. A lot of people will not read everything you write. They’ll just try to get a sense of the news. You obviously want to include a link to your blog it in your website’s main navigation, and you should have an RSS feed and email subscriptions so people get notified when new a post comes out.
Last but not least, at the bottom of each and every blog post, include some call to action. Maybe you want people to share the post. Kindly ask them to do so. People will most likely not do it if you don’t ask, but some will be glad to give you a hand if you do. And don’t hesitate to remind people about when the game is coming out, on which platform, if they can preorder… That’s key information that people will want to know if they stumble upon your dev blog and read to the end.
We looked at the 5 types of content that are essential for your game to sell.
It starts with everything visual, the video trailer and screenshots.
We then reuse that content in our press kit, thus press releases as well, to reach out to the game press.
We also reuse all our work in our game’s landing page, which is the one place where people who stumble upon your game might turn into players. 3 birds with one big stone.
And we talked about development blogs, a great way to let people know about the game’s progress and keep your community engaged.
Content is not the full picture. It won’t sell the game on its own, but it’s a necessary foundation for you to poke people’s curiosity and build a lively community. We’ll talk more about that in a future article on the blog.