Yesterday (June 25th) was the 3rd anniversary of my first commercial game, That Which Binds Us, which was a commercial failure. After it released to little fanfare, I realized I was missing something- marketing. Yadda yadda, 3 years later I’m sitting here trying to teach others how to market their visual novels. Over those 3 years, I’ve been asked a lot of questions on marketing VNs. Today I want to answer some of those for future VN devs.
Some of these questions are ones I’ve heard over and over while others are questions I’ve received in my VN marketing channel (feel free to join us and ask any questions or share insights!).
How do I market visual novels?
This is too big a question to ask someone! Imagine asking, “how do I write a novel” or “how do I draw”. That’s the magnitude you’re asking me!
So, in return… you have a lot of reading to do. Have fun and return here once you’re done.
When do I start marketing?
…Alright, maybe not right away. I’ve talked about this a fair amount but there is no set time for when you should start marketing.
Technically, by deciding on your project’s name, art style, aesthetics, themes, and scope, you’ve already started marketing, but I digress. Remember, marketing is the series of processes for developing, communicating, and delivering a product/service.
Publicly announcing your game and starting the long process of posting to social media can be daunting, so go at a pace that is comfortable for you. For more info on social media marketing, check out my previous article on it.
When is the best time to post?
You’re going to hear this repeated a lot from me- it depends on your audience! If your audience is primarily German-speaking, then posting during German timezones will probably work better for you.
As for English VNs, you’ll typically want to post during US hours. Different websites will tell you different times, but the times I’ve seen over and over are around lunchtime in the US. As the (mainland) US has several timezones, this golden lunchtime lasts for a few hours!
10:00AM – 2:00PM Central Standard Time
When it’s 10AM in CST, it’s anywhere from 8-11AM in mainland US. When it’s 12PM CST, it’s anywhere from 10AM-1PM in the US.
How do I know where my audience is?
Similar questions: What sites do I post to? Where should I post?
I used to work at my college’s school of business entrepreneurship program. It was a fun job- not the desk work, but the people I got to meet daily. So many students (and adults) would come through the doors every week with a business idea. And one thing I heard over and over again was…
My target market? My target audience is everyone!Beginner entrepreneurs
Your audience is not everyone. Similarly, your audience is not everywhere. But how do you find out who your audience is and where they are?
I had an entire talk on target markets and where to find them at this year’s Visual;Conference, which you can watch a recording of and read my notes right above. No, I’m not giving you a tl;dr because this subject is too indepth and you need a firm grasp on it.
How do I reach fans instead of other devs?
Ah, great question! The answer is simple but in practice it’s hard.
If you’re a bit confused by this question, basically it means, “how do I reach people who will like my game as opposed to only marketing to other game devs?”. This is an important thing to get right, as game devs are not your audience. Yes, all of us should play games so we get fresh ideas on what to do with our own projects, but in general devs are not your audience. If you end up only marketing to other game devs then you’ve spent all your time marketing to people who aren’t your audience!
The simple answer is, go where your audience is. Naturally, this is much harder in practice. Sometimes you go to places you think are mostly for consumers (such as Discord servers) but they’re very anti-self promo. Why? Well, you just barged into their home yelling about your game and asking them to buy it or follow you on Twitter… let’s get to know people, first.
As I talked about in my panel, finding where your audience is will take research and testing your hypothesis. Where do you think they are? Go searching for them and be prepared to be wrong!
How do I find an audience for a VN that isn’t a dating sim?
This is a bit tricky but not impossible. Some of the most popular visual novels such as the When They Cry series aren’t dating sims- but they also weren’t released in 2021.
Your visual novel isn’t a dating sim. What is it, then? Is it horror? Is it drama? Is it a comedy?
Don’t worry yourself with what it isn’t, focus on what it is. Yeah, a lot of the major VN communities are into moeges and galges (moe art style games and BoyxGirl games), but they also have people interested in every type of VN.
How long should you market a Kickstarter before it goes live?
A question submitted to me by Jen, a friend. For this question, I’ll also be answering “what should I prepare before my Kickstarter?”
This question is similar to “when should I start marketing”. It’s a fluid answer, but for this I can give a more solid timeframe.
A crowdfunding campaign is you asking strangers on the Internet to give you money for your next great idea. It’s damn hard, a lot of work, and frankly very stressful.
It’s highly recommended to have a demo of your visual novel before your campaign starts. A demo shows potential investors (the people who pledge to your campaign) that you have a working prototype of your idea, you’re fully capable of creating something, and you put forth your own time/money into the project before asking others to fund it.
Before your campaign starts, plan out and draft your social media posts for the month of the campaign. Trust me, you will be so thankful you did.
But when should you start the pre-campaign marketing? A good benchmark is around a month before the campaign starts. This gives people a good window to get ready for it while not being too far in the future that they completely forget. Over a month might be too long, while a week in advance is too short. Anywhere from 2-5 weeks should be good- smaller campaigns can make do with a shorter timeframe.
Impressions? Views? Engagement? What matters?
Impressions are the amount of people who could have viewed your post or project. Views are the amount of people who did view your post/project. Engagement is the amount of likes, RTs, shares, comments, etc. that the post generated.
Impressions are good. Views are great. Engagement is what you want to strive for.
A lot of followers is cool and all for showing off, but if they’re not interacting with your posts then they’re just a number.
On basically every social media site, you can unlock analytics for posts to see how well they did. On Instagram and Tiktok, be sure to set your account to a Creator Account in order to unlock these extra analytics.
I’ve run out of content to post! What now?
Have you really?
No, seriously. I can probably think of some post ideas for you… oh wait, I already have.
If you have a lot of content that’s already posted, consider reusing some of it like how I did here.
If you’ve truly ran out of things to post because you’ve either stopped working on the game or stopped thinking about it (which do happen), then figure out some things to repost and space them out.
If you don’t have content to post because the game is on hiatus, you can just say it’s on hiatus. People will understand. Take a break and return to the game when the time is right.
Is it worth trying social media platforms/communities if you don’t have someone to help you get your foot in the door?
A question submitted by Baiyu, a fellow social media marketer who works on so many projects I can’t even list them all.
Is it worth trying new communities and social media platforms? Yes!
For new social media platforms, I create a personal account to play around with. When I started posting on Tiktok, it was on my personal account for artwork. When Reels became a thing on Instagram, I used my personal account to test them out.
Using a personal account gives me a lot more freedom to try out new features and get a feel of the place so I can understand how it works before making a strategy for it (or deciding it’s not worth my time).
As for communities, a similar approach is recommended. Be yourself and don’t be there just to shill your game. It’s always obvious when someone is in a space just to promote themself rather than have actual conversations.
You can also always lurk for a time and wait for a chance to contribute to a conversation (or see that the community doesn’t fit you).
What’s an important part of marketing devs should be doing but don’t?
Another question submitted to me via my marketing channel, and a great question to end this on!
I have 2 things I want to say, really… Have a great thumbnail for your game and don’t be afraid to try new things.
Have a great thumbnail
Your thumbnail is everything to the average browsing player. It’s the only thing most people see about your game and it’s the fine line between getting them interested and clicking on your page versus scrolling to the next game.
If your thumbnail doesn’t clearly show the vibe for the rest of your game, you’re already behind. This was something I talked about towards the end of my recent VNconf talk, where I mention different capsules on Steam and JVN logos.
Don’t be afraid to change your thumbnail and get lots of feedback on them! A and B testing has been a part of marketing for decades, which is the practice of trying different designs with different groups to see which one has a better response rate.
Don’t be afraid to try new things
Marketing is a bit like shooting darts in a dimly lit room. Knowing your audience and having a solid grasp of your product help make the room brighter, but it’s still hard to hit the mark every time.
Don’t be afraid to try new things! Mix things up by making videos or livestreaming. If you don’t like your branding, try adding a new color to the mix or getting a new logo.
If you convince yourself you “have” to do something a certain way then you’ll never be able to branch out and potentially learn more.
And that’s a wrap on my first FAQ article! I can write articles all day on different ideas I come up to, but sometimes it’s more helpful to get questions directly from people than coming up with them on my own.
Again, thank you to everyone in Devtalk who contributed questions for this, I tried to answer them all the best I can! If you’re looking for somewhere to talk about your VN and get advice from other VN devs, join us in Devtalk!