Promoting an Indie game: what should you link to?

Background

Every Saturday, thousands of indie / hobbyist game developers publish screenshots of their in-progress games. Unlike most forms of marketing, this is:

  • honest / genuinely representative (it’s actual content)
  • interesting (show’s the dev’s intentions)
  • exciting (pictures of games are usually more fun than words)

i.e. … it’s an amazing marketing tool.

But many game developers are screwing this up. A year ago, I posted a long list of advice, tips, and explanations – worth reading. But some devs are still misunderstanding / screwing this up. So, what should you do?

“You only had one job…”

A recent trend is for otherwise-good games to lose audience and lose their chance to go viral … simply by posting wrong / stupid / useless links.

In marketing terms, a couple of things are so supremely important that nothing else matters:

  1. Something attractive (best of all: content)
  2. A call to action (“CTA”) – something the reader can “do next”

Without those two things … you have NOTHING.

For instance: if you capture a beautiful screenshot, and provide a link to it, with some info about your game “it’s a blah blah game in style of blah, inspired by blah” … then you’ve done great at 1, but failed dismally at 2.

That’s beautiful, but how the **** do you expect me to buy it when you gave me no link / email address / etc?

Sure, it’s not for sale yet. But when it is, and you are trying to “get the word out”, you’ll have an audience of 3 (your Mother, your best friend, and your pet).

If this goes viral: you will LOSE. With no CTA, other people will clone your idea, and get equal or more credit, because (chances are) they provided a way for viewers to followup.

Let’s look at CTA’s devs offer:

Your Steam Greenlight page

WAT?

To you, this is:

I want to get Greenlit [I’m not sure why; the system is terrible, and worse every month].

I want to monetize you – as a viewer – RIGHT NOW. We’ve not even met, but I want to use and abuse you.

I need eyeballs on my Greenlight, so that Valve can make more money. So .. I’ll feed you … to them! RESULT!

To the viewer, this is:

I want to watch development, but instead I’m being asked to click on an advert. I have to login (LOL), and I walk away with nothing. At best, this click will disappear into my enormous library of Steam games I already follow.

…or, to most game players out there (NB: this doesn’t matter if you only want to sell to the restricted audience of hardcore, Steam-using, PC gamers):

WTF is Greenlight?

Overall, it’s pretty insulting to the viewer. It’s like asking someone out on a date, and taking them to a beauty contest that you’ve entered them in. And then claiming the reward money if they win.

If you want to include your Greenlight link, this should be a secondary link at best – for the people that want it, great. But don’t make it your main thing, or you drive people away.

Kickstart my cashflo, bro!

The same as Greenlight, no?

No.

To you it might be the same, or at least: very similar. But to the viewer, this is a different proposition.

If I kickstart something, I get email updates during development (if you’re smart; not all KS’s do this, and plenty do it poorly). But more importantly: I’ll get a bunch of notifications when it’s finished, and no matter what: I’ve already bought it. I don’t need to “remember” to buy it later.

Plus: I’ve secured myself a discount on the price (you did make the KS cheaper than final retail price, right? I really hope so!)

Net result: I feel REWARDED for clicking your link, rather than USED. Even though it’s superficially the same CTA as Greenlight!

Say my name!

Special mention to gamedevs who think that putting the irrelevant, unheard-of, name of their game as the CTA.

Guys. “Blorgesnatch” may be highly googlable, and have instant recognition after you win lots of awards, but until then it’s completely forgettable. I remember a small java project, unheard-of outside of a couple of developer forums, whose name people kept forgetting – something about MMO, or CraftWorld, or something like that. Monsters? Um … err … “MineCraft?” – YEAH! That was it!

The name becomes the CTA only once the game has reached an audience of 100,000’s (preferably: millions). Even then, it’s a really shitty CTA – you’re implying that viewers “could” go and Google the name. You’re not giving them a CTA, you’re giving them a half-assed implicit CTA.

Almost like you think that your game is so crappy it doesn’t deserve to be played. Think about that…

Good CTA’s

If you didn’t know the CTA term before reading this post, go forth and Google. The marketing industry has written vast amounts on this subject (a lot of it in short, easy-to-read books; marketing people apparently don’t like thick/heavy reading). The SEO people will embrace your interest with open arms – if that makes you feel dirty, think of it as a “know your enemy” kind of thing.

That said, there’s a lot of turd out there. If you get lost in it, here’s some (very basic) tips:

CTAs require ACTION

Compare this:

Minecraft is an awesome game. Everyone loves it. It’s so cool! http://MineCraft.com

…to this:

Minecraft is an awesome game. Everyone loves it. Play it now

Both are CTA’s; both are pretty good. (merely putting a URL in a post begs for it to be clicked – it’s a weak “active” CTA (it says “click me”), or a strong “passive” CTA (people often search a bunch of text for the link, knowing there’s probably one there, somewhere).

But only one has an action in the text. That one wins hands-down. People who like what you’ve produced are extremely likely to do what you tell them – so tell them what to do!

CTA’s CALL to you

Look back at the example above:

“an awesome game … play … now”

“play it” was the action, but “an awesome game (that is playable)” was the call. I front-loaded the action with a couple of things intended to attract the viewer’s attention, to get them psyched-up ready to run with my intended request (knowing I was about to ask them to “play now”, I made the viewer excited at the prospect of playing the game).

People who hate marketing usually cite this kind of thinking as the reason why. Unless you’re Darth Vader, you cannot “make” people do something they don’t want to; what you’re doing is trying to do is persuade them. Unless they are very vulnerable, people will make up their own minds. Don’t be afraid to be as persuasive and cunning as you can get – if someone likes your game, they’ll appreciate it.

If they don’t like your game, they will IGNORE your attempts.

Certain CTA’s are expected

As a viewer, if I see a screenshot for a game, and I love it, it’s usually ONE OR MORE of:

  1. This LOOKS beautiful, artistically
  2. I can imagine how this FEELS to play, as a game
    • ..and I’ve always wanted one like that
    • ..or it’s opened my imagination to something new, and I like it
    • ..etc
  3. This REMINDS me of a game I love but haven’t played for ages
    • Because I completed it, and there’s no content left
    • Because it was on an old platform that doesn’t work any more (e.g. NES)
    • I lost the DVD / scratched it, it’s broken now
    • It had flaws; I got bored with it, but still kind-of have an itch to play it, or something similar

Which leads to certain CTA’s I expect you to deliver, immediately:

  1. Let me SHARE THIS BEAUTIFUL THING with all my friends / followers / community
  2. I want to PLAY IT RIGHT NOW! even if it’s massively under-developed / early in dev
  3. I want to WATCH IT UNFOLD while you’re making it
  4. Let me BUY THIS BEFORE I FORGET (and don’t make me “remember” it for 12 months)
  5. I want to SUPPORT YOU SOMEHOW – either because I’m nice
  6. I want to SUPPORT YOU SOMEHOW – or because I’m Hipster: I want to be seen to be an Early Adopter among my social circle (“I promoted that game before it was famous”)
  7. Give me MORE INFORMATION – your screenshot was a TEASE

…how you fulfil those is up to you, but I suggest you look for a small number of CTA’s that cover a large percent of the options. e.g.:

  • Have a website? It’s the 21st Century; websites are kind-of expected, dude ;).
    • Very early in-dev games can get away without this; sometimes it’s regarded as extra-hipster to be “so cool and new we don’t even have a website!”. But make that decision knowingly, not because “I couldn’t be bothered” ;)
  • If you have a demo, for all that is holy: make it easy to find and play. ONE CLICK, NO account-signup, NO installation, NO waiting. But note: “playing a demo” is NOT the same as “purchasing the game”. You definitely absolutely want BOTH: some consumers will NOT want to play the demo, they’ve already decided to purchase; I #facepalm when I see games that allow you to play a crappy demo, but don’t let you sign up for purchase.
    • “You had me at the screenshot; why won’t you TAKE MY MONEY?!??”
  • Have a twitter account (Great for people to “Follow and forget”, and get reminded nearer launch / when something interesting happens, because their twitter feed will suddenly fill up with your twets and retweets about …. whatever big event it is)
    • If your audience doesn’t use Twitter, you could skip this. But Twitter is – for good or bad – the biggest fish in this ocean right now; chances are, your audience uses it heavily.
  • DON’T have: Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc … UNLESS: your target audience is known to be big users of those things
    • …Facebook is particularly wasteful of your time/energy. FB explicitly prevents the above; Facebook is open about preventing that, it’s part of their core strategy. That makes it very poor for you. But if your users expect/demand it, don’t turn them away!
    • …Tumblr and Pinterest are like twitter: useless to anyone who doesn’t use it themselves. But both seem to be a lot more niche. This can work in your favour, if your audience uses them: you’ll have fewer games to compete for users’ attention.
  • Capture email addresses, or SOME kind of account you can “message” in future. Many people will mistype their email, and many will unsubscribe if you send them a newsletter every week – but if you keep their emails for one-off announcements, it’s more useful to you than any of the other things here.
    • “We’ve started a Kicksarter – buy the game now!” (user wants to buy, you want a surge of interest all on the same hour; don’t confuse the two: many users probably care less about “backing” you, they mostly want to purchase)
    • “Buy now on STEAM!”
    • (1 year after launch) “The game is even better now – free DLC, updates, etc – and this week it’s available for 50% off on Humble Bundle!”
    • …etc. i.e. major events with their own CTA that is exciting and valuable to the consumer

    …but I am not a Marketer

    Research this yourself. Understand CTA’s. Use them for your benefit (and the benefit of your future customers!).

    For a 2nd opinion on your CTA’s, feel free to tweet me @t_machine_org.

    (see what I did there? Blunt, unsophisticated, but it gives you a clear next step :P)

3 thoughts on “Promoting an Indie game: what should you link to?

  1. Azun Szurnosaroth

    ““play it” was the action, but “an awesome game (that is playable)” was the call. I front-loaded the action with a couple of things intended to attract the viewer’s attention, to get them psyched-up ready to run with my intended request (knowing I was about to ask them to “play now”, I made the viewer excited at the prospect of playing the game).”
    “But only one has an action in the text. That one wins hands-down. People who like what you’ve produced are extremely likely to do what you tell them – so tell them what to do!”
    “Minecraft is an awesome game. Everyone loves it. Play it now”
    Oh God, why do people have to be so repulsive?

  2. adam Post author

    @Azun – because we live in a society where we respect each other, we listen to each other’s opinions, and we each make our own decisions about what to do.

    You clearly missed the point of the post, and misunderstood most of what was written. Try reading it more carefully.

  3. Pingback: Flower Picks, February 2015 | Flower Picking Giants

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *