Twitter, X, whatever is slowly becoming more and more unusable by the day, ever since November 2022. Several times I’ve heard people ask “where are visual novel developers moving to?”, which is usually responded with “Tiktok” or “Tumblr”. But as of yet, we don’t really have any data on this.
As we get close to the one year mark since Someone took over Twitter, I decided to do a formal survey on this so we can see more definitively what social media developers are moving to.
Some notes before we begin:
- This survey was anonymous and was shared via my Twitter, Tumblr, and various visual novel developer Discord servers. It was open for about a week.
- Around 1/6th of the submissions were discarded due to high chances of them being bot responses, with very human responses such as “With the development of the Internet, social media also needs fans to support the development, which is abandoned by The Times for the independent development”.
- All long-form questions were optional. All multiple choice / checkbox questions were required.
- 55 developers took the survey, 56 including myself. This is the final count after discarding the bot submissions.
- Sites like Patreon, ko-fi, and newsletters were not considered as social media platforms for the purposes of this survey.
social media before the buyout
The first section of the survey is about devs’ social media strategies and efforts before the buyout and transfer of Twitter in November 2022.
which social medias did you use to promote your game(s)?
Our first question is which social media platforms devs used to promote their games. This was multiple choice where devs were to checkmark each site they used prior to November 2022.
Twitter was the clear winner, with 94.6% of responders having used it before last November to promote their games. The thing that surprised me was the amount of people using Tumblr before last November—I was under the impression that developers only began migrating to/back to Tumblr after Twitter’s acquisition.
Discord is in 3rd place at 46.4% of responders using it before last November to promote their game. I included Discord on this survey as it’s not just a messenger app anymore—with features like searching for servers to join and community servers, it’s become much more like a social media platform so I’ve included it here.
TikTok was surprisingly low to me, with only 12.5% of responders having used it before last November to promote their games. I published an article in June 2022 where I interviewed various visual novel developers on how they used TikTok for promoting their games, as 2021-2022 was when TikTok was really taking off for game developers experimenting with the platform with viral success at times. The leap from text & image formats to video formats has definitely been a pain point expressed by a lot of developers, though, so it’s not very shocking that many refused to make the jump to try TikTok at this point.
what was the social media you used MOST to promote your game(s)?
With the second question I wanted to figure out which social media devs spent the most time on for marketing their games. Because this is about the single social media devs used most, they could only choose one answer.
Twitter – 75%
Tumblr – 8.9%
Discord – 5.4%
Instagram, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, TikTok, Mastodon – 1.8% (1 person each)
A vast majority of users used Twitter as their primary social media marketing efforts before last November—and for a lot of devs, this was probably their only marketing strategy.
what was your marketing strategy for social media?
This was the first longform question on the survey, asking developers to give a general idea of what their social media marketing strategy was before last November. Here’s some of the responses:
Posting screenshots, tweeting about the launch and the game’s features, participating in weekly events like #IndieDevHourKristi Jimenez
Twitter was our main platform. Most of our posts around then were for tracking progress on the extended demo, as we had a dev-majority audience on Twitter!ingthing
My goals on social media have been the following:
1) Grow following – focus on hitting milestones for follower countsGabby
2) Build an engaged community – get people attached to our stories and characters, and then use that to spread more awareness for our games. This is a focus on comments, sharing fanarts, and rewarding players for their loyalty.
3) Boost sales – Make more people know about our games in order to boost sales.
4) Generate leads – be one step in the marketing funnel to get people towards out discord and our newsletter.
…There were a lot, a lot, of answers that were along the lines of “I didn’t have a strategy” and “I just posted and hoped for the best”.
social media after the buyout
The second section of the survey was focused on current social media efforts, what devs are focusing on now.
which social medias do you use to promote your game(s)?
This is the same question as before, but specifically about what devs are doing currently.
Prior to last November, 94.6% of respondents said they used Twitter to market their games—after the transfer, though, that number dropped to only 75% of respondents still using Twitter. Now, Tumblr is in the lead, having gone up over 20% among respondents. Discord is still in 3rd place with 48.2%.
While the top three places stayed the same, some of the other options rose significantly. The most notable change was Cohost rising to 19.6% of use from its prior 3.6% usage before last November. Mastodon, Instagram, and TikTok all saw a slight growth as multiple members joined those sites as well.
For us at Studio Élan, we didn’t join any new sites for our marketing mix as we were already on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, TikTok, Discord, and YouTube (with occasional Reddit posts).
what is the social media you use MOST to promote your game(s)?
The highest answer for this question is still Twitter, with 35.7% of developers (20) saying that Twitter is where they put most of their effort into marketing their game(s). Notably though, this is a drastic decrease from before last November, where 75% of devs (42) said it was the social media they used most to promote their games. Before, it was a landslide. Now, the answers are much more varied.
For us at Studio Élan, Twitter is still our primary social media as that’s where we have the most followers. However, we have started shifting more focus onto Tumblr and TikTok.
Tumblr is still in second place, this time with 30.4% of devs saying it’s their primary social media. Previously, only 8.9% of devs reported it was their main social media.
Twitter – 35.7%
Tumblr – 30.4%
Discord – 8.9%
Mastodon & Cohost – 5.4%
TikTok – 3.6%
Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, Instagram – 1.8% (1 person each)
Two people answered that they don’t focus on any site in particular whether because of burnout or lack of time.
which social media do you think is the BEST for promoting game(s)?
Just because it’s a site you spend a lot of energy on doesn’t mean it’s the site you think overall is the best for marketing games, so I asked which site people think is best overall.
Personally, I think TikTok is the best social media for the awareness stage—that is, reaching new eyes and getting the word out there about your game to people who’ve never seen it before. One of the best (and worst) features of TikTok is how it shares each of your videos to strangers who it thinks will like the video, which most other social media platforms just don’t do. If you’re trying to keep existing players engaged and updated, I think Tumblr is the best as it allows for long-form content like devlogs.
A majority of people, 33.9%, responded saying that Twitter was the best platform for promoting games. This number is surprising to me, but we’ll dive into why developers think this in the next question.
Twitter – 33.9%
Tumblr – 30.4%
Discord – 10.7%
TikTok – 8.9%
Reddit – 5.4%
Cohost – 3.6%
Mastodon, YouTube, Instagram – 1.8% (1 person each)
One user responded saying they weren’t sure.
why do you think the social media you picked is the best for promoting games?
The previous question was required, meaning developers had to give an answer for which social media platform they think is best for promoting games. As a follow up, I wanted to get in-depth answers from people on why they chose what they chose.
A lot of people on Cohost, are, by default, very interested in: weird games, small/”unpolished” games, explicit political themes, fully text-based interactive fiction, games/VNs with a retro presentation, and all of this drew me to Cohost as a user alone, even before considering dev efforts. Cohost also has, by design, features to ease the social pressure on the number of shares/likes. It’s slower & homely. Finding people with similar interests from the start makes interacting less daunting and talking as dev…much more natural & easier too?Rastagong
Our largest following is still on [Twitter], we get the most engagement on there, easier to reach new players than tumblr where it’s harder (for us at least) to get reblogs. Youtube is just for posting our trailers at the moment and reddit only for major announcements.anonymous
I have received the most attention and interaction from actual players on Tumblr. Twitter was and Mastodon is better for connecting with other devs and influencers for networking.anonymous
I think redditors are 1) older on average, meaning they are more likely to have funds to pay for commercial projects without balking or having issues with price 2) if you find the right subreddit to market your game in (like marketing an otome in r/otomegames, you are theoretically directly reaching thousands of people you know will be interested in your game. All other [social medias] rely on hoping the algorithm places your content in front of the right people OR having an established audience already.anonymous
To target redditors, you just need to show up with a product that can convince consumers to invest their time in it. In my experience, reddit has been the easiest place to get conversions.
There were quite a few responses that were along the lines of “[Twitter] is where we get the most engagement”.
I have a feeling the majority of people who voted Twitter as the platform they think do best did it because it was a required question and Twitter is the only site where they’ve gained any traction. Keep in mind, though, that a lot of developers’ Twitter followings are a majority other developers, not players. For new devs it’s easy to make a Twitter account and connect with fellow devs. Connecting with players, though? That’s a much bigger hurdle.
So I fear that a lot of the responses (not all!) for these two questions boil down to that—people haven’t been able to reach out to players hardly at all on other sites but on Twitter they at least can connect with devs easier, so they voted for that.
about how long have you been using twitter to promote your game(s) or for game dev?
A majority of developers have used Twitter for over 2 years, with only 21.5% of developers saying they had used Twitter for less than 2 years. This means that a majority of developers who responded have used Twitter for months prior to the buyout.
Used Twitter for…
Over 5 years – 23.2%
4-5 years – 19.6%
2-3 years – 32.1%
1 year – 16.1%
A few months – 5.4%
I have never used Twitter for game dev – 3.6% (2 people)
has your social media marketing strategy changed since elon took over? if so, how?
This was another optional long-form question that developers could respond to if they wanted to. I’ve included quite a few responses here as there were over 30 responses to this question.
I’ve stopped using twitter almost completely and don’t bother posting art or gamedev there at all anymore. My posts on mastodon and tumblr seem to do slightly better than they did in the past, so I’m focusing on them for nowanonymous
Not using hashtags or leaving a link to my game in the replies. When creating posts about my games on Tumblr, I make a brief overview with five images, four at the start and one at the end. I’ve seen success with a majority of my game launch posts, with some reaching 100+ notes.Kristi
Since November I’ve had various other motivations to market differently than before (including my Kickstarter and the release of the OSAS demo) but I have overall shifted my weight from solely Twitter/Discord to Tumblr, where I’m taking a much more colloquial tone in attempting to connect with our audience. Twitter was great for things like announcements, but it didn’t encourage a lot of engagement or branching into player spheres for us. Tumblr has a wider variety of posting styles and formats which I think benefits us because we can be more intentional about how posts are presented.ingthing
It has, quite a bit.
What worked on Twitter before rarely works well for us now. I would be able to drop anything and it would get a nice amount of attention and engagement, but now we’re shifting focus to use more videos, less links, and other small changes on Twitter.
Twitter is still one of our main platforms, and I will still use it for as long as I’m able, but engagement has tanked in the last few months. I’m putting more of an emphasis now on TikTok, and have seen great returns from it.
I’ve yet to pick up any of the other ‘new’ sites – but I am somewhat interested in trying them out if they pick up some speed. At the moment, I don’t see it to be a great use of my time to go where there aren’t a lot of fans or people. Having other devs around is great but as a business I need to be where I can connect most with fans.Gabby
With Tumblr’s blog culture, I began to compile updates and think about making devlogs more rather than regular once per day posts. Discord meanwhile has the fast-paced chat form, so I spread myself out into server with mutuals and my respective target audience, posting in the [appropriate] channels and also becoming part of their communities.anonymous
Yes, I noticed a great loss of visibility in my Twitter posts, which led me to look for alternatives. Before I put links, now I put them as comments. I don’t use the tags as before either.Kagarisoft
I opened a Tumblr and now use it together with Twitter (have been using it actively now since last November). This opened up the ability to do asks, which are a lot of fun, and also write some longer posts. However, the general engagement and reach is much less than Twitter, and barely any of my followers moved to Tumblr when I announced it even a few times, so I can’t get rid of Twitter. It still has the most visibility and reach.
I would say I generally use Tumblr similarly to Twitter and just post the same things there with the exceptions being asks (which can sometimes take a while to do, and sometimes I do longer posts than on Twitter, particularly for announcements, etc.) I also tried Blaze one time, and though it did give me a decent number of notes, it didn’t really do much for more followers or ppl playing the game that I could tell (and even led to me receiving some acephobic anon asks) so I haven’t done it again.anonymous
I’ve went from sort of prioritizing quick posts on Twitter to prioritizing other social medias. Twitter still has people on it, but I think it’s become clear that it may not be practical to continue using it long term. I don’t feel like any of the Twitter-knockoffs are particularly valuable for my needs, so I’ve been pivoting away from the more corporate Twitter style posting and towards more personal blog-style posts on Tumblr and Cohost.
I don’t have a separate brand account for posting about my game’s development on Cohost, but I have found it to be really fertile ground right now. I made a similar post on Tumblr and Cohost; the Tumblr post did good… but the Cohost post did good, got reblogged by a couple of biggish name accounts, AND got me 10 followers on a 60 note post (not that Cohost shows you any numbers, I just hand counted lol)
I’ve been kind of trying to get my team to help post on non-Twitter social media platforms, but for some reason that’s been sort of a difficult gap to cross. I suspect the thought of making long form content that’s still marketable is harder for them.anonymous
I’m now semi-inactive on Twitter. A lot of folks still refuse to move off it, so I post major announcements and links to our monthly updates on there still, but I don’t post much and I try to encourage folks to follow us on other platforms.anonymous
We’ve tried to focus more attention on tumblr and driving people from twitter to tumblr, but it’s just not the same.anonymous
Not really – the changes to Twitter have not affected my post interactions at all. I think this is largely in part to my community building. I think if you are making something people want to interact with, the interactions will come if they are warranted.
Many indie devs are not actually creating content that builds hype for their games — they are making posts that target other devs. They may not come immediately, and it will feel like a slog for a time, but if you are making something that people WANT to interact with, then the engagement will come.anonymous
There was a variety of responses for this question— some developers expressed concern over Twitter’s changes; some weren’t eager to change their strategy; some admitted they didn’t have a marketing strategy; some have given up on Twitter almost completely; some are still using Twitter daily.
Among the answers, there was a general unease over the social media landscape. For the people who said they had a marketing strategy, most said they had changed their strategy due to Twitter’s changes, even if only somewhat.
For us at Élan, our strategy shifted to moving our Twitter followers to other sites and fully reviving our Tumblr. We’ve had a Tumblr for years as a side social media that wasn’t updated very often, but after Twitter’s buyout we’ve started posting to it every other day.
One thing that kept coming up was a surprising amount of developers saying they had no marketing strategy to begin with. I’d like to make an aside to share this social media marketing strategy template I made, a small step towards making your own strategy for social media.
where do you see social media going in the next few years? how do you think these changes will affect indie devs?
This was the last (formal) question of the survey and the last long-form question. I thought it’d be interesting to hear what other developers think the future holds for social media.
I think it’s very possible that casual social media users will just not bother signing up for a new website or that none of the alternatives that popped up (like bluesky) will get anywhere either for lack of users or because they implode pretty quicklyanonymous
I feel like the negative influences of Twitter will affect other platforms down the line, significantly impacting independent creators for the worse.anonymous
Given that there’s seemingly no “stable” social media platform these days, I can see devs starting to rely more on storefronts like Itch/Steam and their own communities on places like Discord which are more specific to their audiences. It may or may not encourage players to be more proactive on those platforms, and I think it’ll be even more difficult to do outreach from an indie dev standpoint from here on out because there’s still no concrete answer as to where players are shifting their attention as far as social media goes.
Every site has its own idiosyncrasies (such as Twitter’s bite-sized attention span and Tumblr’s resistance to outright advertisement) which I think will only emerge in time for newer platforms, which means a lot of what devs might know from marketing on Twitter alone will have to change in order to stick any sort of landing on new platforms.ingthing
I think there will be less breadth of reach, more difficulty in reaching new people, but small, dedicated fans will intentionally seek out and stick with artists they like, regardless of platform, as long as those platforms are palatable to themnick
To be honest, I think Twitter won’t be going anywhere. At the moment the userbase is a little fractured, and people are going all over, then returning back to Twitter. I believe until the site goes completely down, people will still be using it.
However, it’s only going to become harder and harder to market on social media (especially Twitter), and I think this will hit new indie devs the hardest. It’s always been hard to start a social media account and be a new dev and try to get attention, but I do think it was easier a year ago.
I think we’ll see more people move over to Tumblr and TikTok, though TikTok is not the answer for everyone. It has a certain audience, and you need to be able to entice them, and video content doesn’t come easily for everyone. I believe this will also push a lot of indie devs to bring their audiences to platforms they have control over, like newsletters. I’m a big fan of newsletters, but without a steady stream coming from social media, they can be hard to take off.
I’m hoping in the next few years we’ll see one competitor in particular be the go-to. As much as I would like to try all of the different social media sites that have cropped up, there is only so much time in the day and as an indie dev you have to focus on what works. At the moment, even with the reduced engagement, that is still Twitter for my studio.gabby
I think Twitter is actively hostile to artists and creators, and something else will have to fill that void. I wish it was Tumblr, but it’s hard to find that same exposure there, and Instagram has problems of its own. Discord is helpful, but it’s a very limited scope. Unfortunately, I see a move to things like TikTok, which as a small creator feel very inaccessible to me because I don’t have the knowledge of video editing or the time to dedicate looking for trends to follow because those are usually the only things that get views.anonymous
I think a community-centric marketing would become the go-to for indie devs.anonymous
Twitter still seems to be the place that has the most reach and none of the other new options have showed any real possibility of getting big enough to rival it. I’m so tired of making new accounts on new platforms and don’t have the energy to handle more than I’m doing now, so I’m mostly just waiting to see what happens.anonymous
I think socmed as we’ve known it (mid 2010s were probably its golden age) will completely change. I think a lot of people are craving smaller communities, and are actively seeking them out. I think their will be a return to forums / smaller blogging platforms. I don’t see twitter/tiktok/instagram being the chokehold they once were in the next 2-3 years. A lot more people are taking the plunge by making their own hosting sites.
I think socmed copycats will be around (bluesky, cohost, matasdon) but i don’t know if they’ll have the same power as twitter/tumblr once did. Tiktok is the trendmaker now but I can easily see that heading down the vine route.anonymous
I think it’s hard to say. There are a variety of social media being promoted to replace Twitter and it’s hard to say where it will go currently. I do know as someone who doesn’t have a following, Twitter is still the best place to get traction that I’ve tried.anonymous
In a time where social media is becoming more and more corporate, I think it’s also becoming more and more obvious that these large platforms do not have our best interest at heart.
I’m sure one of the Twitter clones will eventually ‘win’ the Twitter clone war and become the most popular Twitter clone. I’m not sure that it will ever accumulate the userbase that Twitter had, in fact I suspect it wont. If nothing else, I think this means that we’ll see more diversity in the sites that people are using (for the time being).
I think it’s a good time for indie devs to learn about self reliance on the internet. I’ve noticed an influx of people setting up their own websites, which I think is always going to be the safest bet for people. Hopefully that continues to get more popular in time!anonymous
I think devs may put more attention into Steam + Itch.io communities in lieu of other socials. I have seen a big improvement in devlog traffic on Itch.io and I think Steam will anticipate this. Some of their recent changes (like encouraging thorough blog posts whenever you update your game) may be in response to Itch.io (or player complaints??). It would be more [efficient] for devs to be where the players are, instead of beckoning people from mobile-based platforms with largely mobile potential players (instagram & tiktok being very mobile-oriented). Twitter once catered to both desktop & mobile, which made it better for developers. Desktop-based players spend a TON of time on Steam and the steamdeck will improve this for devs.anonymous
I honestly don’t see it changing much. Everyone will either begrudgingly continue to use twitter, or one of it’s ‘replacement’ sites will take over (bluesky seems to be gaining some traction). I’m betting on the former.anonymous
Just praying Twitter hangs around or a better substitute comes along. Tumblr feels great for interacting with fans you already have, and it’s great to be able to write longer blog posts for those interested, but it’s just not effective enough at finding new fans / players (in our experience). At least not when compared to how one good Tweet can get you a hundred new wishlists & followers in one go.anonymous
It’s probably gonna be a little challenging to indie devs who wanted to strive, but either
b) don’t precisely know their own genre, because they don’t know where to dive,
c) don’t interact a lot and only post update when they have update for their game, because afaik somehow except for Twitter/Facebook pages, SNS culture is more of ‘give and take’ rather than ‘only give’, so if the account is kind of passive it’s harder to gain traction
I suppose… at one point in the future indie devs who have the dream to go big will be faced with the hard truth that they had to also put time in marketing and networking without having someone need to blatantly tell them thisusarin
I think it will become further fractured while shiny new sites with new promises come along, but people will find it difficult to leave Twitter, no matter what happens.anonymous
The use of socmeds to market will continue to be a necessary annoyance. Organic growth on Twitter/insta/Tumblr when you are starting from 0 audience, fresh on the market, will take diligence, consistency, and luck for most people, no matter how good their game is. It will often feel like throwing letters into the ocean until an account with an audience chooses to engage with your posts. I think this has always been the case and will continue to be the case.
I don’t know that I can predict where social media is going, but I can say ideally, we will move further from short-form socmeds like twitter, and back toward forum-style interactions where VN audiences hang out and engage. I think centralized interest forums like choice of games or reddit (or discords dedicated to a niche) are the easiest way for just-starting indie devs to gain initial momentum and a chance to appeal to their audience. The caveat is, of course, that many of these places choose to place limits on self-promotion, and this is because these areas know if they don’t, it will no longer become a forum for fans to commiserate, but a place where every post is an ad–and then the fans will leave and flock elsewhere.
The only answer as ever is that indie devs must stay adaptable and focus on community building through the release of stellar products so their community continues to engage. AAA studios are not exempt from this adaptability, they are just able to pivot better due to more resources.anonymous
There was a lot of answers to this, with quite a few that said they were unsure. One element that kept coming back up was the hope for forum spaces and long-form content to come back as people move away from social media. For visual novels, this would be great, as we’re a creative, story-driven medium. A lot of us got started on Lemmasoft forums. Forums would be a great place for VN devs to go (back) to, but isn’t something that’s on the table just yet as players aren’t running back to forums quite yet.
Personally, I believe Twitter will continue to persist for a while longer unless there is some accidental short-circuit or database turned off. More users will continue to become more inactive, with some adding other social medias to their usage mix. But overall, I don’t see Twitter dying overnight unless it is literally taken offline overnight (it has become very buggy on my end, especially with trying to upload anything video or answering DMs).
Social media is absolutely moving towards video content as every website wants to replicate TikTok- there’s Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts, etc. There is a perceived high barrier to entry for video content that I hope developers will tackle head-on- I was afraid of making TikToks at first too but now I make them weekly.
My thoughts are pretty similar to what I wrote out last November– social media will always be volatile and that’s something marketers have to learn to navigate. Don’t put all of your eggs in one social media basket. Have a market strategy that doesn’t just focus on social media for outreach and awareness and engagement, and especially don’t have a strategy that focuses on only one social media platform.
For developers who are worried about ongoing Twitter changes, here’s some actionable items you can consider adding to your marketing mix or improving your strategies:
- If you’re worried about joining a social media platform, find other visual novel developers on there. What are they posting? How often do they post? Are these crossposts or posts just for this website?
- If you have games on Steam, look into entering upcoming Steam festivals. Some festivals aren’t Steam sponsored but still have a presence there- you have to know other developers to join these.
- Try entering bundles with other developers on Steam & itch.io.
- Revamp your store pages to get more passive views.
- When you write devlogs (you should be making them!), split parts up and use them as a basis for social media posts if you don’t know what to post.
- Cross-post devlogs onto Steam, itch.io, Tumblr, and other sites that allow long-form content. Even games that aren’t released yet can have devlogs (Steam announcements) on their Steam pages.
More than anything, I urge developers who feel overwhelmed by social media changes or expressed that they have no strategy to do more research into what they’re trying to accomplish and who they’re making games for. There will be people out there who want to play your game. But it’s up to you to find them.