Marketing is hard, but you don’t need me to tell you that. If you’ve attempted any kind of long-term project, whether it be a Kickstarter, a commercial game, or just a big undertaking, you’ve probably said this line:
I need a marketer.every developer ever
I said that very line 5 years ago when I was making my very first commercial visual novel, That Which Binds Us. But when I said this, I didn’t really understand what I was saying.
We all need to do marketing for our projects if we’re making them for any reason that’s not just “I want to have fun”. But, the thing about marketing is that it’s a broad category encompassing several different fields…
Saying “I need a marketer” is equivalent to saying “I need an artist”. Pretty much anyone is going to tell you to be more specific! Do you need a background artist, a character artist, a concept designer, a GUI designer, something else? Just like there’s multiple fields of expertise in artists, there’s multiple areas of marketing.
So today, let’s get a better understanding of what these different marketing fields are.
To help us on our journey, Rimia will help illustrate the different jobs a “marketer” might undertake (note: this is not every job that can be considered “marketing”, just a handful). I’ll also stop to give comments on how you can work with someone in these fields to make both of your lives easier.
The first job we’ll look at is a Content Manager/Marketer. This role is someone who creates and curates media for a company, keeping the content inline with their brand and with the end goal of increasing awareness of the company. They will typically prioritize driving potential customers to non-social media platforms such as a website or Steam wishlist. They work closely with a Brand Manager, if there is one, to keep the image of the company intact (where a Brand Manager is the person who makes sure the content and copy going out is in line with the image the company wants to maintain).
Look at Rimia, she’s having fun recording TikToks!
For most indie studios, this job will be combined with the role of a Social Media Manager/Marketer.
A Social Media Manager/Marketer is what most people think of when they say “I need a marketer”. In larger corporations, this role belongs to the person(s) in charge of the social media handles for a company. They post the content they or Content Manager/Marketers create, respond to comments & direct messages, and focus on driving engagement on that platform as well as getting potential customers to their main landing pages (such as a website or Steam page).
Social Media Manager/Marketers should understand the platforms they work with. This includes any tagging system, how visibility works on the platform, what the platform’s userbase culture is like, and any new features coming out.
This is Rimia reading the TikTok comments after she posted a new video…
When looking to hire a Social Media Manager/Marketer for your studio, you might be inclined to find someone with marketing experience. However, I argue that it’s important to consider people within your niche who may not have the experience but are passionate.
If you hire someone who only has marketing experience and is new to visual novels, you run the risk of them not understanding VN subculture. A common problem we have when new people enter the VN sphere is they come in with their own misconceptions about VN players. Sometimes these can range from “surely VN players get tired of reading and want breaks” to “don’t worry VN players, this isn’t like those bland dating sims”.
In general, a Social Media Manager will need a solid grasp of your game(s), assets to work with, loglines & key terms for your game(s), and guidelines to follow for how to post.
For most small indie studios, this is their only marketing role.
If a Social Media Manager is the only position you can hire for, then you are responsible for the rest- how do you want to shape your brand identity, how do you want others to perceive your studio/game(s)? Marketing should be a collaborative effort, so work with your marketer and team to decide these things.
A Public Relations Manager, or PR Manager, is the outfacing person responsible for the image of the company and any communications said company gives out. It’s their job to create press releases for news outlets and players. They work closely with a Brand Manager, if there is one, to keep the image of the company intact (where a Brand Manager is the person who makes sure the content and copy going out is in line with the image the company wants to maintain).
If there are any fires, the PR Manager is the person(s) to put out the flames publicly.
Marketing Rimia is ready to give a speech whenever ♥
Most small indie companies won’t have a PR Manager but it is good to get multiple opinions when it comes to releasing public statements, especially if you find yourself in the unfortunate circumstance where you have to put out a fire.
A Community Manager is someone who fosters a community centered around your game(s) or studio. Their goal is to engage your fans and keep them interested in your ongoing and future projects. Years ago, a Community Manager would be someone like a forum moderator, but nowadays it’s more commonly a Discord moderator.
Rimia here is putting stuff on a corkboard because a Community Manager is also in part responsible for delivering any news or updates to said community.
For a small studio, ideally every main member should help out a bit with Community Management– not so much the moderation side, but rather the community engagement side. Fans can be hard to come by, so it’s good to converse with them when you can.
Copywriting is writing materials for the public, commonly called copy or sales copy, that are usually for advertisements. The role of the Copywriter for games is to draft up the words you see on game pages, websites, possibly blog posts, and more. They should have a good idea of how to pitch the game to potential players.
Rimia is quickly (and carefully) coming up with the best game store pages! (wish she could do that for mine)
For most indie studios, this job usually falls onto the PR Manager or team lead.
An Influencer Marketer is the touch of contact for the studio and outside partners who aren’t the press- they’re influencers, people (or small groups) that have cultivated a fan following of their own. These can include social media influencers, bloggers, YouTubers, Twitch streamers, any and all of the above.
In this position, the marketer reaches out to people who are in similar niches where their audiences will be receptive to hearing their opinions on your game. The most obvious example of this would be contacting an otome game reviewer to play your otome game.
The Influencer Marketer works with these influencers to ensure they’re able to accurately talk about the games they’ll be talking about. This may include providing press kits as well as any other material they’ll need. Lastly, a person in this role should search for and research potential influencers to collaborate with where it’ll be beneficial for both their brand and your studio’s branch.
Rimia’s found an up and coming actor to help her promote a visual novel about an up and coming actor! …What a coincidence…
If they have one, most influencer outreach will be done by the PR Manager or general Marketing Manager.
wrap up pt 1
I’m a strong believer that marketing should not be left to just one person- there’s so many facets to proper marketing that need discussion. Marketing, for small teams, should be a collaborative effort, especially in regards to the team lead and the marketer. You as the team lead should know your game better than anyone else- help your marketer help you.
Somewhat controversially, I’m also a strong believer that a team lead for indie studios- for any small business- should understand marketing fundamentals and have a decent idea of how to run a business. It’s a learning curve, sure, but you should learn how to pitch stuff to others and get people invested in your ideas. You are the common denominator and should care the most about your projects.
There’s a strong difference between letting a marketer work without much oversight because they have a clear vision and there’s trust in them versus letting a marketer do whatever because you, the team lead, have no idea what you actually want. When you hire a writer, do you let them write whatever, or do you give them a summary of the story, work over an outline with them, discuss the characters? If you’re unsure of what you want, discuss it with them and work it out.
Consequently, as part of being on a small team, you will have to juggle a lot of hats. Your person for marketing might be primarily a social media marketer but also have to reach out to press, do graphic design, etc. This is fine as long as you are upfront about what you need. Indie game dev requires people to wear lots of hats, some big, some too small to fit, but most importantly you must know what hats are yours and which you’re sharing with others.
The worst thing you can do, regardless of what role it’s for, is to not talk to your teammates. Transparency is key!
wrap up pt 2
I’ve heard the phrase “I need a marketer” time and time again in dev spaces and when I ask people to elaborate, they’re left speechless. My goal with my articles has always been to demystify marketing- to make it both more accessible to people and get more people interested in taking it up as a skill. I hope this article gives some clarity on how to specify what you’re looking for if you end up reaching out to a marketer.
The past couple of months I’ve been working on Lost Lune, a shounen-esque post-apocalypse visual novel for the Winter VN Jam, an annual VN game jam I cohosted this year. While working on it, I’ve also worked on different things with it that others can use (this is very vague intentionally!). The first will be my next pack of free to use action CGs which might go up on my second itch.io account by the end of the month. The second? I’ll be making a blog post about it very soon…
Until next time, take care! And as always, if you have any questions about marketing visual novels, feel free to join Devtalk, a community for visual novel developers.