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Some devs seem to confuse simple promotion with marketing, and although many marketing practices directly or indirectly involve promotion of one or other sort, marketing is a different beast altogether. Below a short, oh wait, long guide how to do both! You can use or disregard any of the points made below, after all, nobody should tell you how to make or promote a game, you need to find your own path, these below are only guidelines if you need any.
Marketing is all about finding or carving out a market for your game.
1. Define your audience.
2. Define your market.
3. Less innovation or more innovation?
4. Development is an integral part of marketing when you assign different levels of urgency (priorities) to different activities.
5. Quality attest your game and fix it as you go.
1. Hardcore gamers? Casual gamers? Teenagers? Adults? Who is your target audience?
A. Casual or hardcore gamers? Then subgroups, gamers who simply want to enjoy the game or gamers who love extreme challenges (like in Super Meat Boy, Faster Than Light)?
B. Visual group. People who are into comic, or serious and realistic, or dark, industrial graphics? Oldschool graphics, such as pixel art, sprites (including old 2.5D isometric techniques), or new graphics, lowpoly or highpoly 3D art? (Sometimes your target audience may conflict with your target visual group.)
C. Age group.
D. Genre group, if you are mixing genres heavily, set priorities first, for example if your game is 85% FPS and 15% RTS then your genre group would be FPS gamers not RTS/strategy gamers (the latter would be secondary only).
2. What market are you targeting?
A. Location; the globe, anglosphere, or specific regions and countries?
B. Languages; recommended are English, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, Arabic, plus some others such as Chinese, Japanese and extra languages (some translations can prove to be quite cheap, for example translations to most Eastern European languages), you should never rely on English only, it may be not enough. Two languages (your native one and English) may not be good enough either. Many indie devs skip this step and are satisfied with just one or two languages while at the same time they wonder why the game is not selling much. (Losing a few gaming markets because of no proper localisation.) You can also consider supporting fan-made translations if you are really short on funds.
C. Platforms (desktop, console, mobile, web platforms).
3. Less innovation as a more traditional approach or more innovation as a good selling point? It is your choice. The only thing worth remembering here is you can stick to one traditional genre or one grand game design while innovating specific game mechanics and subsystems. (Macro-tradition, micro-innovation.) Your exact game design will definitely influence marketing and promotion. Going for a completely new genre or a brand new game design is running with pioneer's spirit yet it is substantially riskier.
4. Do you want to develop new fresh content for x-packs to hook and captivate new fans? Or iron out those nasty, minor yet quite disturbing bugs just for your current playerbase? Any plans for those ever-hated DLC packs to spruce up the game and give it a little more flavour (after all, not all DLCs suck)? Perhaps you need spare time for making a website to promote the game? Marketing disconnected from development is as dangerous as development isolated from marketing. Also, in the AAA game industry, sadly, it is a quite common mistake to separate from and blind marketing guys to the wishes, hopes and demands of fans. (Development, marketing and fanbase should be at least loosely interconnected.)
Also, you may need to jot down your development progress, how many hours you spent, and where you need focus, especially if you feel you are wasting time or getting too distracted. Promoting and marketing as activities can also eat up a whole lot of your time so better to plan how much time you can spend on each dev-related activity, including primary and additional marketing or advertising.
Marketing (unlike promoting/advertising) starts with the beginning of your development. Focused development translates to better quality game and thus game more marketable and promotable.
5. Your game as a project may be finished, but that does not mean it is finished as a product. Fixing it after it has been released or adding small yet meaningful things that solve user issues can also serve as a marketing trick (as it proves you consider your game a product being refined as the time goes, not a mere project to be finished and discarded and all forgotten about).
(ordered starting from the most efficient and contributing one)
1. Quality, quality, and quality of your game, plus the fun factor
2. Catch attention of editorial sites, reviewers, youtubers, letsplayers
3. Multiplayer, mapping and modding support
4. Additional community building on YouTube, Twitch, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, IndieDB, and dev or engine sites
1. Publishing an unfinished, unappealing game translates to burning your chance to reach out. This is not about art style or development stage of your game, it is about gameplay, visuals and sound, the very skin, meat, bones, music, heart and soul of the game:
A. Boring gameplay, forced, predefined options. You definitely need to let the player choose. Video games are not TV, gamer's choice should not be limited to only changing the channel. Customisation is more than welcome.
B. Inconsistent or ugly style, visually unappealing game; lowpoly, pixel art and many other art styles shine when wielded well, but should they be half-baked or underdeveloped or undervaried, they can prove to be your game's downfall. The importance of visuals should never be underestimated, visual appearances catch your fans at the very first sight, keep them for a while, one moment enough to persuade them to explore your game a little more, while enjoyment and depth of gameplay that come later on captivate and devour them.
C. No variation, for example no terrain variation, character variation; you need as much variation as possible, never stop at just one type of bridge or even 1-digit amount of bridges, go for a 2-digit or 3-digit number (10+, 100+ tile variations, 10+, 100+ portraits to choose from, and so on).
D. Way too much innovation, or avoiding to break cliches or bad standards; this sometimes breaks marketing and makes it hard to find a specific audience for your game yet makes your game unique (or "more" unique). Eventually it will be up to you to go for more innovation (creating your own market) or less innovation (using one of the current gamer markets to reach gamers that prefer to play classic, track-beaten genres).
Controls for one, should never be "innovated" "too much", i.e. replacing WSAD/ZQSD with HBVN for no reason (some innovation, such as using IKJL keys may be actually reasonable depending on what exactly you are devving).
2. Catching attention of editors, reviewers, youtubers (letsplayers) is definitely the best way possible to make your game well-known as long as it is of high quality and/or enjoyable, enough to stand out. Pulling big editors' attention is quite hard, unlike youtubers. In both cases you need some review copies ready and sent out to the right people.
3. When your fans are bored with the singleplayer mode, multiplayer adds an extra dimension to your game. It is hard to implement and maintain yes, still, it gives you the right to e.g. enable a multiple copies purchase option on Steam for a valid reason (multiplayer games are perfect gifts!). Even simple local/couch multiplayer, LAN or connect by IP mode without servers of your own may help your game along towards the slightly bigger multiplaying audience.
Modding support is mainly for prolonged longevity, and to build a core fanbase which keeps returning thanks to the fan-made content. Sometimes people buy games they otherwise would not buy if it was not for the mods that have been made for them.
Not to mention the fact that modding and multiplayer support is basically self-building community (the community indirectly and directly promoting the game for you, and not just by word of mouth, but with custom content and gifts to their friends they want to play with).
4. This is "manual" community building (unlike "automatic" community building via modding/multiplayer support). Usually less effective than reviewers/youtubers/modders/multi-players promoting your game for you.
A. Short posts and notes on Twitter and Facebook, posts about events you are about to participate in, links to your website about any new content such as new GIFs, articles, new staff members, and any sort of happenings.
B. Starting up separate profiles on various networks and in various videogame databases, for example Made with Unity, IndieDB game profile, also posting new threads about your game on various forums.
C. Dev video diaries on YouTube, dev walkthroughs on Twitch and videos uploaded to other video services (even if those other video sites are not that popular, it is better to never ignore them as it may be good to upload your videos there just for those naughty SEO purposes).
D. Big media-rich posts on your blog, Tumblr, IndieDB or your own official website.
You can build your connections and become a regular at various dev forums and sites. To seem less pushy, you need to participate in the dev communities, it is all about give and take, not simply take. Many forms of advertising may come off as spamming if you registered only to advertise your game and not take your time to build your profile on many different dev sites.
Extra. More ways to promote your game:
Oh, for example adding a note somewhere that reads along the lines of "inspired by Elder Scrolls games" which is quite a shameless way to advertise and even SEO up your game using someone else's name or brand, best used only if you worked as AAA developer on those games and as long as you parted ways on good terms. Bad and underhanded ways such as raising controversy can be also used to catch the scrutinous eye of various sites, although this method is not recommended at all.
By the way, mistakes in particular that influence promotion of your game and can destroy your game in reviews, the kind of mistakes to absolutely avoid:
1. Game-breaking bugs, game-breaking mechanics (e.g. in-game gambling that players can easily abuse)
2. Difficult controls, or e.g. controls-neutral physics (levels, enemies should be difficult, not controls)
3. Incomprehensible, clunky or cumbersome GUI/HUD (it should be intuitive, the kind your players can learn without any tutorials or unnecessary juggling)
4. Zero manuals, tutorials or guides of any sort (unless you really have a strong reason for leaving players without any?)
5. Any outstanding quality issues (the above mentioned, no visual appeal, no visual variation, and so on)
1. Ever improve your game (it may be partially or completely finished as a project but still not ready as a product!)
2. Send out review copies to editors, reviewers, youtubers/letsplayers
3. Support multiplayer mode and modding/mapping
4. Build the community (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, Twitch, Tumblr, IndieDB, engine/dev sites)
This is all! At least at the moment.
(This article is licensed under CC-BY, written by feillyne, it can be reposted and used for whatever purpose.)
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