Marketing Fundamentals for indie game developers

At the end of the day as a dev, we want people to play our game. We want people to play it and preferably tell us they like it, maybe even recommend it to a friend. But today, more than ever, making a game and releasing it isn’t enough.

Marketing is one of the key aspects of game development, as it is with any product development, but understanding the components of marketing—the building blocks of why we do this—is more important than ever. Today I want to take a step back and talk about the fundamentals of marketing—what does it mean to “market a game”?

What is marketing?

As several textbooks and lectures have taught me, marketing is the act of exchanging information with a consumer and the process they take to buy a product. There’s a lot of extra fluff or other ways of stating this, but to put it simply:

Marketing is the exchange of information to a person in the buying process.

This means that marketing is everything that’s being communicated (both intentionally and unintentionally) to a person when viewing your product.

To go even further, marketing is a piece of every part of the product you’re making. The capsule artwork and logo you use are part of the packaging; the copywriting you use on social media is part of the branding; the aesthetics you choose for the game itself is part of the marketing process. Even the act of releasing a game, free or otherwise, is a part of marketing as you’re building up your brand as a developer/publisher.

Understanding that marketing is something that happens both intentionally and unintentionally during every part of making a game is a key part to growing.

You are making a product. Consider who you’re making it for and why.

Why are you doing this?

Tell me—who are you? Why are you making games?

A big part of modern marketing is telling a story. When looking at articles or social media, modern consumers don’t want a standard product—they want a story. They want to connect with that they’re consuming.

Releasing a game for free isn’t enough to bring in players anymore on it’s own. Sure, it’s the best barrier for entry there is, but there’s plenty of free games out there already. You have to give players a reason to play on top of this. So, tell them a story.

How did you get into game development? What urged you to spend hundreds of hours making this game? How did you meet your teammates, if you have any?

I’ll start. I’m a long time anime fan and artist of 11 years. I wanted to make my own comics, but gave up in high school. Not long after, I discovered game development—namely that making games was accessible to anyone, not just AAA studios—and Ren’Py. Reading Shōnen Jump as a kid in middle school is what got me into drawing, and similarly it’s what I want to express in my games. I want to write stories that readers feel they could find in the monthly issue of SJ.

So now, I ask you: what drives you to create?

What is your position?

This is getting more into the studio side of game development, but still relevant to standalone games. My question this time is, “what is your positioning?”

Positioning is the space the product/brand takes up in a consumer’s mind. It’s how a consumer differentiates a product/brand from others.

Simply put, positioning is how your game or studio is different in the mind of consumers.

Positioning is not “we’re better”—what defines “better” in this case? Do you offer more character customization? Does you visual novel offer more branching choices than most? Do you focus on a specific niche of story genres and aesthetics? What sets your game or studio apart from the rest?

I’ll also use this as a time to remind you that simply saying “we’re not like the rest” or even worse, putting down other games in your niche, will not work. Your ideal player is someone who loves the type of game you’re making—why would you offend them by berating the games they enjoy?

Marketing is an art

Marketing is as much a creative process as game development. We’ve gone over the storytelling aspect of it, how you should weave in your experience into your marketing. Now I want to emphasize how marketing is an art form itself.

I don’t mean this in a pretentious way like “I’m a marketing artist”. Rather, I mean it in the sense that marketing is a highly subjective thing and your marketing will always be different than someone else tackling the same problem.

The way I market a certain game will always be different than the way someone else tries to market said game. Our tone of voice, our copywriting, our graphic design, our methodology for posting—these are all going to vary from person to person, even with a brand guideline.

There’s a lot of guidelines out there for best practices when posting, what not to do, when to post, what’s best to post, etc. Definitely read these, but try things out on your own, see what you like and don’t like.

This game is yours. Make the marketing your own too.

heart of the (marketing)

The heart of your project is you. Likewise, the heart of the marketing is you.

No one will be as big a proponent—well, you shouldn’t count on anyone being as big a proponent— for your game as you. Love what you make and show that when you talk about your game.

You’ve already answered why you’re making games and what’s special about it. Now show people that you love what you make.

Tell them your story.

It’s been a few months since I last sat down to try to write an article. Social media algorithms have been giving me a headache, so I wanted to return to the basics.

A lot of us can be swept up in keeping a posting schedule for Twitter or Tiktok. It’s too easy to forget about why we’re doing what we’re doing and what’s important. Posting online weekly is important, but what’s more important is spending your time on something you love.

2021 is almost drawing to a close. I’m hoping to release one more visual novel this year, a quick passion project of mine I started on just a few months ago. If you liked this article, consider helping me out and wishlisting the game!

— Arimia

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