Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Knowing where to aim : The PR conundrum

PR and marketing for indies is not easy. I would suggest there are a number of factors determining how tricky they find it:

  • Your age (young hip trendy kids know a lot of people through school./college etc, probably wider game-playing circle).
  • Your time in the industry (I know a lot of people who I’ve met voer the years at conferences, meetups etc).
  • Your personality (shyness sucks here. outgoing people make more contacts).
  • Your attitdue to PR (If you hate self-promotion, that will count against you a bit).
  • Your numbers. (4 people teams have 4 times the time, the friends and the contacts).

Of course, this can all be adjusted and overcome, but it’s worth realising not everyone starts from the same position. I guess I win on time in industry and attitude, and outgoigness, but suck on numbers and age.

Given that it’s not an equal game, there is also the issue of where to concentrate your limited PR/Marketing firepower. Here are a number of alternate strategies.

  1. Make the game so awesome everyone just HAS to tell everyone about it. Forget about PR. (this *can* work. ever seen dwarf fortress get promoted?).
  2. Blog like crazy, Build up a huge blog following who will buy and promote the game for you.
  3. Social network! run a popular facebook page or twitter feed you promote everywhere. Hope the virality works for you.
  4. Advertise! Actually spend money on banner ads. (This works, everyone says it doesn’t but they don’t stick with it. I *know* it works.)
  5. Reviews! Be and grovel for coverage from every journalist in the universe. Hope reviews drive traffic to your site.
  6. Sales channels! Make your game available from everywhere, and hope people see it enough, and check it out.
  7. Press-the-flesh! Go to conferences and shows like E3, PAX and so on, and actually talk to real-life gamers about your game!
  8. Forums – Talk about your game on any indie-friendly forums you can find, try to encourage discussion of your game on all the big name web forums, and sites like reddit etc.
  9. PR-firm. Hire someone professional to do all this for you.
  10. Youtube. Try to get those influential lets-play style video-bloggers to talk about your game.
  11. Cross-promote. Work with other indies to do guest blog posts or stuff like showmethegames

All these methods have advantages and disadvantages. I’ve tried them all (except hiring), to a greater or lesser extent. I wish I could tell you I knew which ones really work the best, and it depends on your personality in some ways. I am paranoid about being called a shill if I mention my own game on a forum. I live in the Uk and am an eco-geek so don’t fly to E3, Pax etc. The semi-autistic bit of me enjoys the number crunching of running ad campaigns. Your mileage will vary.

In general I think it makes sense to focus your PC on a specific area, otherwise you are going to just ‘bounce off’ and get no measurable results, like most indies do with advertising. I am time-limited, and work on code-heavy games, so my time is super-limited. Plus it’s just me. As a result, I’m thinking the time-intensive (social networking/conferences) stuff may not work for me. One of the main sources of PR for my stuff is actually this blog. If you scan the archives you’ll know I’ve blogged a LONG time, and this blog is surprisingly popular. of course, the blog predates the social-networking and youtube-videos explosion, so that’s not to say those aren’t better channels. I have facebook pages for gratuitous space battles gratuitous tank battles and redshirt, but I don’t have the time to really promote them as much as I should (feel free to like em!). I’m always re-assessing my priorities, but the answer keeps changing.

What do you use (if you are a dev) and as a gamer, where do you first hear about new games?



6 thoughts on Knowing where to aim : The PR conundrum

  1. Interesting post.

    Any details on what ad campaigns have worked for you? What sort of ad budgets are you working with and what’s your measurable ROI? I mean, how do you measure your “I know it works”?

  2. I’ve blogged a lot about various advertising experiments, so searching here for adwords should turn up quite a few. You can get your purchase-confirmation pages to tie back to google adwords ids, and thus confirm it was a true ad-led sale, and do various other analytcis to measure the relative quality of traffic from each campaign and even each placement.

  3. Any thoughts on “marketing momentum”? Recently I did a preview trailer for my game that wound up previewed on Gamespot, 1up, Gamespy, some others, and I’ve had several people tell me that this means I need to finish the game ASAP before people forget. But I work full-time, so I move at a slower pace, and I’d planned to finish it next year sometime.

  4. As a gamer looking at my own behavior I would hit up major websites (gamespot, ign, rockpapershotgun, bluesnews)

    Marketing can only take you so far anyway, if you have a good product then you can worry about visibility. Nothing kills a product faster then bad reviews/bad word of mouth. Rage suffered a lot on the PC side because a lot of PC gamers read reviews and Rage did horrible numbers across all platforms because it was just bad. And that is a big AAA company.

    Truth be told many indie games got lucky sales wise (minecraft especially). Minecraft had crap marketing but did sales by word of mouth. IMHO, making a good game that a diverse group of people like is better for you in the long run then focusing on marketing.

    At the end of the day gamers ask themselves – was this a game worth buying? Many gamers have buyers remorse after placing blind faith in a franchise or on the rare occasion when the more discerning gamers impulse buy.

    Truth be told I haven’t been enamored by most indie output, imho, indie games are basically a timewarp back to the 80’s/early atari days. Since the ability of humans developers to crank out games productively hasn’t really changed when you look at how standards have been raised.

    Tools and game asset production tools have to undergo a fundamental revolution that is going to be decades in the making to make games easier to make with less people and less money.

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