Marketing for indies “Code Hard. Market Harder.”

A while back I was lucky enough to interview Vivy Zhao, Business Developer for ChangYou + 17173, a huge gaming conglomerate in China.

During that interview, she said something that stuck with me, and that I kinda made my own to explain what every indie studio’s attitude towards marketing should be. She said “Work hard, play harder.”

I say: “Code Hard. Market Harder”

Yes, telling the world about your game can be harder than it looks. There is a lot of ground to cover and simple tasks -twitting, posting a devlog, keeping a community- can quickly pile up and become unbearable.

Specially when you’re also coding. And doing the art. And having a day job. And keeping the cat alive… I think everyone can get the point by now.

Being a team of two for “Blacksmith” meant that marketing was looked after just enough so that if you googled “Blacksmith game” you could easily find us.

We replied to comments and posted pictures, but we didn’t have a marketing plan, a content calendar or a defined strategy. Or we did. It was called:

“Dando palos al Agua”

A Spanish saying, literally translated to “To hit the water with a stick”, referring to actions performed blindly to which one still expects a good result.

Now, we achieved some results, but obviously not what we were expecting. If this strategy was any good, there would be far more success stories out there than there currently are.

So, stop working on the game for a minute, and dedicate that minute to actually thinking about how you are going to sell your game. How will you reach your target audience? Do you even know who they are?

I know it doesn’t feel like a priority, but you can spend 10 years creating your own engine and then 5 more making the most amazing MORPG that the world has ever seen… but what good will it make if nobody knows about it?

“Make the best out of what you’ve got”

OK. So you want people to know about your game and, even better, to buy it. How do you go about it? Well like I said, create a marketing strategy. A realistic marketing strategy.

Define your target audience and figure out a way to reach them. Do they use twitter? Do they go to conventions? Knowing who that person you want to buy your game is will help you make this decisions.

Once you do, narrow it down. There is no point in building your strategy around five different social media if you’re not going to be able to take care of them.

Trust me: providing fresh, valuable content regularly can be quite daunting, even when you’re fully devoted to it. When what goes into it is only a tiny portion of your time… well. It just won’t happen.

You’ll stop posting, your community will get bored at your inconsistency and leave and they’ll forget about your game because there are other 5000 or so being published that year. On Steam.

So, again, be realistic. If you are sure you can commit to one tweet a day, then do that. You can always add more workload if you feel you can handle it, and use applets like IFTTT to automatically repost your original content from one social media into another to widen your reach a little bit.

“Content is everything”

Why do you, as a gamer, buy a game? What makes you wishlist it? Was it that great YouTube video that you watched the other day? Or was it a GIF, humbly posted at some reddit thread? Did someone recommend it?

Content, my friend, is everything. But not every content, no. It needs to be original -and if you repost, please, attribute-. It needs to be relevant. And it needs to be given freely to everyone.

Keeping a devlog is a great way to generate original content, related to your game, that can be relevant to some of your target audience.

It can also work as a measurement for yourself as a developer: Otis says that keeping Blacksmith’s devlog during those 2 years helped him measure his progress in a very linear way.

“In the beginning…”

So you’ve defined your target audience, set up a marketing strategy and spread out your planned content in a calendar. Now what?

Now you implement it before you even start working on your game. “But Maly, we’re already two years into development and people know about us!”

Good! Then do some more of what you’ve been doing, hopefully in a organized way that is a part of that marketing strategy you just designed.

But if you can, think about marketing even before you write the first line of code.

I know it may sound like you’re deviating from the really important thing, which is making games. But, I believe what really matters the most is that you can make games in a sustainable way. Only games. No day job.

Creating a marketing strategy before the game itself can help you achieve that, and avoid silly mistakes like… naming your game “Blacksmith”, which was literally a nightmare for SEO.

“What now, my love?”

It’s up to you. You are the one who decides what you want your community to do. You want them to sign up for your newsletter? To wishlist your game? To share the content?

Implementing your marketing strategy alongside development can help you improve your game in ways you never imagined thanks to feedback from the community.

Chances are you’ll also find people willing to help you with translation, testing in different OS, and even promotion: YouTube can be a scary, but also a lovely place.

We still have a lot to learn. We’ve recently started working in our new title and, as the announcement date closes in, nerves settle in a more permanent way.

There’s also a lot to do from now to release date. But we’re happy to know that we now have some direction, and to share this very simple guidelines with you, our community.

But we also want to know about you: have you ever made a game? What about marketing? Do you have any magic trick when it comes to it? Let everyone know in the comment section below!

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