You’ve made one or more games. Congratulations! I assume that you have made it possible for people to get to your game, but if you’re like most indie developers, odds are good that you haven’t gone very far out of your way to make it probable that people will find and play it.
As the New York Herald Tribune noted long ago, “doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark. You know what you are doing, but nobody else does.”
The Independent Games Festival at the Game Developers Conference every year in San Francisco is one outlet that top indie developers have used as a platform to get the attention of players, including Jenova and the gang at thatgamecompany (Flow, Flower), and Jonathan Blow (Braid).
The forums at TIGSource have exploded in the past few years giving indies better visibility of one another’s work.
Cheap, Targeted Ads
In my own path, Facebook ads were one of the ways that I advertised for my experimental iPhone app Burnit, and I found many benefits to using them [2014 update: this was written in 2009, and Facebook ads are now a useless waste of money].
They were extremely cost effective – for a very modest budget of a couple hundred dollars, I was able to run ads for two weeks reaching tens of thousands of people every day. Cost can be controlled by setting a limit of how much you’re willing to spend per day, and for how many days you want the ads to run. Even better, the ads on facebook are extremely easy to target – say, you only want to run your ad (or 1 version of your ad) for males, located in the United States, ages 15-25, that mention the word “penguin” in their profile. Done. Facebook even gives you estimated numbers for how many people on Facebook fit into the details you’re providing, to see how different constraints are affecting the size of your targeted audience.
Other big wins are to get your game hosted on other sites. Marketing people refer to something called, “NASCAR Blindness”, referring to the point that even though few people in marketing watch NASCAR races, it would be dangerous to conclude that no one watches it and therefore it’s a waste of time to advertise there. Don’t assume that everyone on the internet goes only to the sites that you do (!). Even though many different portals/hosts have different submission criteria (formats, icon image dimensions, etc.) it’s well worth the time to input those values into as many sites as you can uncover. You make content, and there are lots of websites/reviewers/portals that are constantly on the lookout for new content they can share with their users.
Develop a Web Presence
While I suspect this is obvious by this point in history, just in case you’re still on the fence: if your game isn’t somehow online (video, demo, at least screenshots and information) then to much of the world it basically doesn’t exist.
For the purpose of managing my sites I’ve been happy with StartLogic for many years, for their solid uptime, low price, ease of use in creating new domains or e-mail addresses (all of which I forward to/from/through one gmail account anyway), and the flexibility to meet my varying webspace and traffic needs every month. If you don’t have the time or money to devote to doing anything fancy, don’t let that stop you – a simple text website with links to your work is infinitely better than nothing at all.
After spending weeks, months, or years on a game, surely it makes sense to spend at least 3-5 days devoted entirely to making sure as many people as possible will (not just can) discover and enjoy it.
StatCounter (not to be confused with the totally unrelated to StartLogic above) has been a key part of my websites and videogame work for years. It’s 100% free, quick to set up, and provides loads of useful information to you about who is visiting your websites, from where (geographically and by website), and for how long. It displays charts and graphs of visitor traffic over time, distinguishing between unique visitors and page visits, and plots maps of the past 500 visitors to each website you set up with it. Adding StatCounter to the pages hosting your games makes it possible to see how many people are playing, and is important in assessing the usefulness of facebook ads, blog posts about your game, and Facebook/Twitter postings about it.
Disclaimer: I’m Not a Paid Salesperson.
To be perfectly clear: I don’t do paid endorsements for anyone, and the only reason I bring up GDC, Facebook Ads, StatCounter and StartLogic are because I think what they have to offer is well worth investigating, and all of these have been positive pieces in my own journey. I point you toward them purely from the hope that they might help you along, too.
Always, Always Link Back to What You Do
If your game is downloadable, include a link either in the same start menu folder or in the program itself to jump to your website. If your game is online only, definitely include a link to your page. 4-5 years later you may still find traffic coming in from all over the world, eager to see what you’re currently up to. No matter how old it is you, it will always be new to billions of potential players, and for a few extra seconds of work you can convert fans of your past work into traffic aware of your latest work.
[2013 Update: You Need a Short Video!]
For more about that, see my more recent entry, Assemble a Short Trailer.
(Originally posted as part of GameDevLessons.com Vol. 4 Sec. 3)
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