Marketing a new indie game is one of the more difficult tasks that new game developers face. From working with indie devs and talking with them through forums and surveys, it is clear that marketing and promotion is a huge problem area.
There are a few major issues that make this difficult for indie developers:
- Marketing (and business in general) is not part of the usual game development skill set
- Developers usually leave any marketing they do to the end of the development cycle
- It’s often assumed that if they make a great game, players will just show up to play it in droves
Unfortunately for them, the players won’t just show up. The app stores and publishing platforms are saturated with games to play. Gamasutra reports that, in 2014, 500 new games launched on iOS EACH DAY. On Android, there were 250 each day. It’s only gotten more crowded since then. Even Steam is a relatively crowded market, with 7 games per day and no easy path to discoverability on the platform.
This makes it extremely difficult for potential purchasers to actually FIND any particular game. Given that, how does a new indie developer stand out from the crowd and have a successful launch?
The power of “Let’s Plays” in indie game marketing
One great way to market your game to an audience of purchase-hungry gamers is through Let’s Plays on YouTube, Twitch and other channels. If you don’t already know, a Let’s Play is a video where a YouTube personality (ideally with a large subscriber base) streams themselves playing a game, either live or pre-recorded. The player narrates the gameplay experience, and potential purchasers can see if this is the type of game that they are interested in buying.
Edmund McMillen, creator of The Binding of Isaac, claims that sales of his game jumped tenfold once YouTube channels began streaming gameplay. Other developers agree, citing their own increases in sales numbers attributed to Let’s Plays. YouTube streamer Ryan Letourneau, who goes by Northernlion, has nearly 600,000 subscribers. Some streamers have subscriber counts in the millions. There are also a ton of smaller streamers out there as well, each with an audience eager to get recommendations and see some great gameplay.
Indie developers simply can’t afford to not get their game in front of these streaming personalities. The potential audience that the dev would be missing out on is huge. However, making the initial connection with a YouTube channel can be difficult. Some streamers are also part of “multi-channel networks,” or MCNs, which add another level of difficulty to getting noticed.
For the new indie developer, let’s start with the basics.
What NOT to do
I reached out to David Martinez, who works with Ryan Latorneau and is the PR and marketing guru for Raw Fury Games, for some insight into the more egregious developer mistakes when contacting streamers. Here’s a few examples of what not to do:
Mike Martin, aka Mathas “The things I’d say NOT to do to a YouTuber when approaching them is pretty simple. Don’t try to engage in endless email chains, make sure you send the code in the first one otherwise it could be buried/ignored. And don’t fill the email with paragraphs of explanations. Just give us a brief rundown of the game (maybe a quick trailer showcasing gameplay) and hit us with the code. If it looks good, we’ll end up trying it.”
Christopher Odd – “Here’s a few things that get my attention in my inbox. 1) A good trailer representative of gameplay 2) An email that arrives before the game is actually released. 3) A key that’s redeemable a couple of days before release.”
David Martinez – “actually meeting content creators and press at conventions, following them and tweeting back at them on Twitter about stuff not related to your own game, watching their streams and chatting on Twitch, subscribing and watching on YouTube, and pretty much anything else that will help the developer learn about the people they’re hoping will play their game.
Why would a content creator be inclined to respond to you if you’re just essentially spamming them? Or if your email looks like the other 10 games they were pitched on the same day?“
5 general principles for reaching out
While opinions differ on exactly how early to start, it’s usually not a great idea to start pitching your game to YouTube the day of release. Having a structured marketing campaign that releases information about the game and includes various Let’s Play videos over the months prior to release is vital.
In order to do this, you need to start reaching out early. YouTube channels often have a backlog of games to review, which means that even if you are chosen to be featured, it could be a while before the video actually reaches viewers.
Do your research, make it personal
Much like a cover letter for a job, it is important to inject a bit of personalization into your communication with a streamer. For instance, if you love their coverage of a certain game, bring that up in your initial contact email.
The more you know about them, the easier it will be to get their attention. You don’t want to send review codes for a game that’s outside of a streamer’s wheelhouse. You can research the types of games that streamers play here, or just check out their channels as part of your pre-messaging research. As always, though, make sure you don’t move into creepy stalker territory. Keep it professional and about their business.
Provide value and create a relationship
Rather than making the relationship a one-sided affair (“do my marketing for me, YouTuber!”), why not provide some value for the streamer? This can be done in a few ways.
You could interact with them on Twitter or other social media, helping them to gain subscribers, commenting or answering questions. You could provide constructive criticism of their channel or videos, though this may run the risk of turning them off if you’re too negative. You can feature them on your development blog when discussing the industry. There are a number of ways to provide some value to a YouTube channel – be creative but not creepy about it.
The most important lesson here is that asking for a favor should not be your first interaction with a particular streamer. Create relationships first, then leverage them for favors later.
Make it as easy as possible on the YouTuber
YouTube and Twitch streamers often get tons of requests from developers each day. If you’re expecting to have an ongoing conversation that eventually ends with them requesting a review code from you, you’ve got another thing coming.
Instead, get to the point quickly in your initial email message. Include a review code for them to download easily. Don’t make them work for it.
Don’t get discouraged
You will get rejected. A lot, I’m sure. Unless you’re a known quantity, it’s going to be difficult for you to get from sending that initial message to having the streamer actually download the game. Only a certain percentage of those that download will actually play the game. Only a portion of those who play the game will like it enough to feature it as a Let’s Play.
However, you can’t let this discourage you. If you believe in your game and have done the work to make sure there’s an audience for it, there’s usually going to be SOMEONE who will want to play it on their channel.
If, after all this, you’re still not getting any traction, it may be time to try out other avenues for marketing. Or maybe you’re not casting a wide-enough net. You can always go back to the drawing board.