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Marketing Lessons From a Game Developer’s Perspective

Posted by Paula Taas on 2015-10-01

If you ask game developers why they decided to start building games for a living, a vast majority will answer with a simple sentence – “Because I love making games.” There’s only a tiny percent of people in it for the money, fame or whatever other reason. The rest are there to enjoy their time and build things they like.

But what most of them fail to realize is that building games is much more than just writing code and building game engines. If you don’t market your game or product, no one will use it.

, Cofounder of Soomla, covers the ins and outs of marketing from a game developer's point of view in-depth in his post, "Marketing 101 for Indie Mobile Game Developers"

The modern take to a 300-year-old question by George Berkeley “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody's around to hear it, does it make a sound?” would be: “If no one plays a mobile game, does it even exist?” My point is, you need to have a great game in order to succeed, but you also need to master the art of marketing, for your product to really exist.

Below is the step-by-step guide to marketing both your product/mobile game:

Reviews

There’s a reason why so many product review sites exist today – people read it and form their opinion based on those reviews. For games, there is a strong connection between getting a 9.5/10 on IGN and having great sales; people respect the opinion of others who play for a living, knowing what to look for in a game, and what makes a product great.

That’s why you want to have your game featured or product on some of these sites. Here are a few places to consider receiving reviews:

  • YouTube 
    YouTube channels where people review items are extremely popular. They offer gamers direct insights into the game they’re interested in, providing full multimedia experience, plus the opinion of the reviewer.  A couple of channels to look out for are Hot Pepper Gaming, AppSpy and Tangents.
  • SOOMLA 
    The SOOMLA blog has an audience of game developers and gamers, and gets approximately 20K pageviews per month. If you use SOOMLA in your game, go to our website and fill out this form. We will review your game.
  • Blogs 
    Blogs have experienced a certain renaissance in the past couple of years, with the likes of TechCrunch, Toucharcade and Gizmodo gathering large audiences. They’re a great place to have your product featured, but there is something you need to be aware of.
  • Be Aware 
    You need a good product/game. Reviewers are a nasty bunch and don’t mind stomping your product to the ground if it’s no good. Bad reviews discourage downloads/purchases.

Word of Mouth

Probably the most underestimated means of marketing, and one which is basically impossible to control is word of mouth. Developers know the entirety of their work will be done in front of the computer. Marketers must know that their work is not limited to the internet – there’s a reason why Forbes says “Word Of Mouth Marketing Is The Most Important Social Media.”

Take Flappy Bird for example – at first sight there’s nothing particularly interesting in the game. The developer has engaged in virtually no marketing whatsoever, aside from tweeting about the game. Yet, according to App Annie’s chart, Flappy Bird’s success basically exploded.

I remember my friends telling me about how insanely difficult the game was, and it made me download it. Nothing can ensure a game download like a friend telling another friend to download an app. I know a fair amount of apps on my phone were downloaded because someone told me about them.

You can also attend related conferences or events, tell others about your game/product and ask your friends to post about it. When good products obtain a loyal user, the loyal user also brings in more users.

Allying with the Media

Word of mouth is strong, but even that technique has to start somewhere. That’s where having a strong media presence will help. Contact different news stations or gaming news websites and tell them about what you have to offer. This will get people talking about it. In order to get the media to start talking, you need to give them something they will find interesting. Local news stations may showcase you as a local video game developer. If your game features a particular city or a particular topic, you can use that to your advantage. For example, if your game is about saving the environment, make sure to contact all news outlets and media organizations covering the topic of pollution and environment protection.

You also need to keep in mind that journalists are extremely busy and receive tons of emails every day. That’s why you need to know how to write an email a journalist will read.

When emailing, be sure to:

  • Keep the message short and to the point.
  • Use a distinguishable subject line that will draw their attention.
  • In the body of the email include a brief reason why your game is newsworthy and mention aspects of your game that make it interesting and fun.
  • Make your email easy to read; use bullets, short sentences, and small paragraphs.
  • Attach a press release and relevant media for the journalists to refer to. You need to be able to quickly convince the journalist that your game is worth covering.

 

Press Kit

A press kit, often referred to as a media kit in business environments, is a prepackaged set of promotional materials of a person, company, or organization distributed to members of the media for promotional use. They are often distributed to announce a release or for a news conference. Here’s where you include a press release, a couple of photos, a dedicated landing page and game reviews done by other people (if they’re positive, of course).

Landing Page

If you want to get noticed, having a strong presence on search engines is essential.

That is why your site must be SEO – search engine optimized with proper keywords, meta-data, solid html and relevant content. The more backlinks to your website the better. Make sure you provide the url and links to different parts of your page.

Pay attention to details – your site should not have unfinished content, like an un-customized WordPress theme with brackets saying [Insert Content Here], or similar. 

The website is extremely important – it will work for (or against) your brand, your game and its downloads. There should be interesting content that encourages people to download the mobile game or use your product. Just because you have a lot of pageviews doesn’t mean it will necessarily convert viewers to use your product.

One way to convert pageviews into app downloads, for example, is incorporating a text-to-download form in a landing page. The website can be provided to a journalist in an offline format or with a URL depending on whether or not developers want the page live at that time.

How To Write A Press Release

A press release is basically a completed news story presented to the journalist for use. It requires a few pieces of key information in order to be successful.

Headline 
First of all, it needs a compelling headline, one which will evoke interest, but also be short enough for people to read. Pay attention that it fits in 140 characters because a lot of media outlets now share their stories on Twitter.

“Rodolfo’s new game will shake the very foundations of the RPG genre. Free demo inside.”

Introduction
The basis of journalism revolves around the five Ws: Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?. Make sure you answer these five questions in the first sentence or at least the first paragraph. Use the dateline format here and grab the attention of the reader with some captivating sentences. Engage the reader and build interest.

Description 
Once you have given the basic information, you can move on and expand the story. Tell them more about the story and the gameplay. Mention specific challenges in game design and how they were overcome. Suggest the importance of the game and how gamers will benefit from it. Encourage the readers to witness some features on their own and play.

Quotes 
Quotes will always give you the much-needed credibility. If you can, incorporate quotes from other players, fans, reviewers and journalists and so on.

Call To Action 
Don’t forget to tell people to download and try your game!

Contact Information 
This should include information about the studio such as size, amount of projects, mission, goals, and years of experience. Moreover, it should also include all means for someone to reach the studio: full studio name, email, mailing address, website, phone, Twitter, LinkedIn, and/or Facebook.

Media 
Today’s news outlets are digital and can incorporate all types of multimedia. If you have any video, audio or any other material that can give additional insight to the game and its development process, make sure you use it. Incorporate screenshots of interesting moments and key elements in the game. Include biographies of the team members and pictures of your team working together.

Many developers use presskit() to help facilitate the process of creating a press kit.

Social Media

Facebook 
Facebook is the number one place you should go when looking to promote, especially for a game. It’s the biggest networking site in the world, with millions of users and tons of groups. Here are some groups you can join to promote your game.

Note 
It is better not to have a social media page at all, than to have one which is outdated for months. That being said, the best thing is to have a social media page and to update it regularly. Take advantage of this when you’re launching your app and trying to get more users.

Twitter
Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake understand the importance of #hashtags and so do you. Cynics will say that only journalists use Twitter, but in your particular case, even if that were true, it’s still good enough for you. It’s a great platform to promote and answer different questions. Just make sure you use the right hashtags so that people can find you.

To help find hashtags that are pertinent to you, use tools such as Hashtagify.me, SproutSocial, and Tagboard. Find the relevant hashtags to your product. Some hashtags we tend to use are:

  • #gamedev
  • #freetoplay
  • #indiedev
  • #indiegame

If you use a game engine such as Unity or Cocos2d-x don’t forget to tag them. This might help you get premiered by them and opens up their network of followers.

Don't limit yourself to twitter, you can also find relevant groups to join on Google+ or LinkedIn. Here are a few places to check out if you are a game developer.

Google+

LinkedIn

If you’re able to post on all these social media sites, you will reach a variety of people and really market your game to a diverse group.

Forums 
Whoever told you forums have been overcome is clueless to how the internet works nowadays. Forums are places where thousands of people come to share thoughts, opinions and engage in discussions on different topics. It is a place where you can find people that love to play and maybe even test games.

Reddit is a popular platform that contains many subtopics that can be relevant to your product. For game developers, some useful forums are listed below: 

Blogging
Having a blog on your website will help you tremendously in your efforts to promote your game. You can also be a guest blogger on other blogs, too. Blogs are a great platform to give your audience cool facts about your game. Yaniv Nizan, SOOMLA CEO, wrote an article about the importance of blogging for startups in general.

Here are a couple of blogs you can check out: 

Cross Promotion

With the right tools, an indie developer can drive installs and user acquisition at a relatively low cost. Those tools are usually platforms that allow forms of sharing, barter and direct deals. For example, Tapdaq offers install trading with other games in its network, and Chartboost offers direct-deals marketplace. Others soon followed the trend. However, you should be careful when adding mainstream in-game advertising forms to your games, as those usually show ads from big game studios, willing to spend on advertising. This usually results in smaller studios losing those players altogether.


Hype Up!

Creating buzz and drip-feeding information is a great way to create hype about a certain project before it actually gets launched. Movies do it all the time with sneak previews, cinematic trailers, posters, interviews, etc. Games and products should also do it by leaking screenshots, hardware specifications, trailers, demos. Prelaunch.me, for example, helps developers pre launch their games by allowing users to register, providing potential beta testers, and receive scores for their game.


A pre launch campaign might help you inspire users to play your game or try your product from day one. The first few days are the most important in its life, which is a topic we covered in our e-book of mobile data reports.
Such a campaign will improve the chances of the game/product thriving in the long run and create enthusiasm for its gamers. This can lead to a community of people anticipating the release date.


A good example is Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers Brawl. Their pre launch hype brought in a huge amount of enthusiasm for players. Nintendo announced a new character for the game every week until the game was released. Players waited in anticipation to learn about new aspects of the game. Nintendo sold 874,000 copies the first day in North America alone.


Ad Campaigns

Tread Carefully – You’ll need a lot of money for this.

If you spent your entire budget on a couple of computers and an Adobe Creative Suite licence, you’ll have one hell of a time trying to promote. Make sure you always create a marketing budget, as throwing money in the way of advertising has proven to be effective, time and time again. However, you don’t want to literally “throw money” the advertisers’ way – you need some context. Of course if you are a game developer, you want to target gamers. But who are these elusive “gamers”?  Where to they work, what do they do? Where do they live? Half of the U.S. plays mobile games, but this means half of the U.S. doesn’t – so you want to weed out that demographic. More about this can be found in the top ten mobile game data reports e-book. This report is a must read for indie developers that are attempting to use ads.

For all mobile gamers, there is one thing they have in common. Can you guess what it is? They play games. And games are the best billboards for promoting other games. They use everything, from banner ads to video ads, and according to recent reports, video ads are performing the best. You can also look at other parameters, too. If your game is about sports, it’s obvious you’ll target sports pages. Same goes for medieval RPG games, World War II shooters, etc. Similarly, if you are trying to promote your product, aim for where your audience "hangs out" and where you can get the most visibility.

What’s Next?

Finishing the development stage does not mean your job is done. That means your job has just begun, and it will take a lot more effort to market your properly and make sure people find your game/product, use it and stick with it. Take these tips into consideration from day one and you will save time and money while effectively marketing. There is much to consider and, if done right, the marketing and public relations part of development can be fun for both the developers and the end-users.


Marketing Lessons From a Game Developer’s Perspective

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