PR is not something you wanted to do when you signed up to be a game developer – it’s not your passion, or you’d be working for a PR firm by now. It is necessary however, unless you’re happy making games for yourself that nobody else will play. This isn’t a guide on how to do PR, because I’ll be the first to admit that I suck at it. Instead, this is a guide on how to use the tools around us to reduce the time marketing a games takes, so we can spend more time making great, new, original pieces of art (or explosions).
It’s about content
There are so many different arenas for getting your game in front of prospective players: Screenshot Saturday, indie game reviewers, Let’s Players, forums, the list goes on. One thing they all have in common? They need content. You’ve got to have something to show them, whether it’s a new build for the reviewers and let’s players, to screenshots, gifs or videos for the forums. If you don’t have anything to show, nobody’s going to take notice, but making screenshots, gifs, videos, builds – this all takes a lot of time. Save some of this time by reusing your stuff. Posted a new screenshot to Screenshot Saturday? Put it on your twitter feed, post it on your blog, add it to your press kit. Act smart, keep a folder of your content for each game, and then when you need to send out images, videos, etc., it’ll all be there.
Before I started thinking about it properly, making a set of screenshots for Screenshot Saturday took me 2 hours. That’s 2 hours of my time out of every week. Now, it takes maybe 15 minutes. How? I take the screenshots as I’m going along. Anytime something interesting happens, a new feature, a particularly crazy bug, a cool new high score, I snap a screenshot. I don’t end up posting all of them because nobody wants their twitter feed, or their reddit post filled with your images. Pick the best ones and move on.
Often with Screenshot Saturday, Feedback Friday, new forum threads or sending your game off to reviewers or LPers, you’re going to have to include a description of the game. If you’re writing it out every time, you’re wasting hours of your life. Keep it saved in that folder of yours. Seriously. Sometimes you might need slightly longer or shorter versions, depending on the medium. Save those too. It’s amazing how many times I’ve had to enter the same description for one of my games.
Stream! Streaming your development and play-testing nets you wonderful returns (even if you’re silent when you do it). 1) You’ll have people watching as you code, suggesting improvements or just keeping interest in the game at a high level, 2) You’ll have copious quantities of video to edit and post as trailers, gameplay videos, dev highlights, etc. All of this while you’re working, only adding the video editing time to your trailer making.
If you’re not using version control I will come to your house and sing horribly at you until you do. There is not a single good reason not to be doing it, especially when your baby’s on the line. But while you’re there, committing away with your funny little messages, do you know what you’re doing? You’re passively writing a change-log from one build to the next. When you post to Feedback Friday, update your game on your site, or send out a new build for review, attach your commit messages (and maybe edit them a little bit, because nobody writes good commits).
As you start to get a bit of a following, you won’t be the only person producing this content. Reviews, previews, let’s plays, streams, funny pictures and gifs, memes, fan art. Your fans and the indie reviewers out there will start making their own PR content for you. Now, I’m not saying you should plagiarise, but if you see a cool bit of content made about your game, share it! Share it with the world. And make sure you credit the creator, because when you do – you’ll have made a fan for life out of that person. Keep sharing the work of others alongside your own work and soon you’ll have a never-ending stream of varied, interesting content.
It’s about presence
Spread your game as far as you can
You should have a regularly updated website and dev log. Don’t have one? Get one. Web hosting and domain names are cheap. Really cheap. If you really, truly can’t afford one then wordpress.com or blogger have your back. Give it a nice look and make sure it’s got a Content Management System on it to make updates easy for you. Do everything you can to make it easy to tell the world about your game, because you’re going to be doing a hell of a lot of it in the future.
Do Screenshot Saturday and Feedback Friday. Seriously. Traffic spikes.
Review sites should be getting your game every time there’s a major update. Pixel Prospector has a great list of game sites and let’s players. Remember that they rely on getting great games to continue reviewing, so don’t be shy in emailing them. Make sure you also check out one of the many guides to writing a press release, to make sure you don’t put anyone off your future games.
Platforms are important too, not least because they act as marketing tools in their own right. Is your game freely available from your site? Cool. Unless you’re planning on earning millions through ad revenue it should be on IndieDB too, and GameJolt and any of the other platforms out there. Not freely available? Then put it on all the stores! Humble store, Desura, Steam. Always make it as easy as possible for people to get your game.
TigSource forums are a great place to put up your game, but just like with Screenshot Saturday, remember that you’re expected to respond to feedback on fora. Spend some time doing this, because people who you connect with are much more likely to seek out your site and keep up to date on the game.
Be social! It feels like there are a hundred social networks out there, and ideally you should be on every single one of them. Have a Facebook page, a Google+ page, and a Twitter handle as a bear minimum. Link to these pages from your blog, try to work links to all your different content platforms into every post (without annoying the reader). Remember, even if a social network only has a couple of thousand users, that’s still a potential couple of thousand fans.
I could sing the praises of Buffer forever, but it would give me a sore throat. Tired of managing all your social networks individually, or relying on their own spotty inbuilt sharing API’s? Then Buffer has your back. If you share anything with Buffer it will wait until the perfect time to post, and then post to all of your social networks. This means you can have posts queued up for when you’re asleep or simply out, and you can spread out your updates instead of spamming twitter with a hundred screenshots.
If This Then That is the greatest internet tool since Yahoo Pipes. it’s a simple condition->action system where the inputs and outputs are the various APIs of a multitude of web apps including Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, RSS, the time of day, etc. Got a game out? Send out reminders to your social networks by regularly sending a link to it to Buffer. Automatically post on Twitter and Facebook when you write a new post on your blog. If you favourite something on Twitter, then automatically share it to facebook. The possibilities are endless.
It’s no good having all of these accounts filled with tumbleweed posts. You’ve got to keep updating and you’ve got to be interesting. Automation can help with this, but you still need to make at least one update for it to be copied to every other network. Sometimes this will feel like a chore, but force yourself to do it. My regular Thursday blog post is always followed by a spike in page views, and the spikes are getting taller with every new post.
Write down thoughts as they come to you, compile these together with a smattering of the English language and you’ve got a rudimentary post. Flesh it out with some research, some pictures and there you have it. I can’t pretend this won’t take a long time, but it’s worth it. People are interested in news, updates and insights. We’ve captured news and updates, but the insights will keep a reader engaged.
It’s about you
Don’t over automate. Don’t. Nobody wants to tune in to your twitter feed to find five sparse messages reminding them to play your game, posted from IFTTT.com. Communicate with people. Retweet interesting or amusing insights from other developers. Respond to people, talk to them. At the same time, make sure you’re not too formal either. While technically you may be a company or a brand, an indie game developer is a person or small group of people, first and foremost. Keep people aware that you’re not a corporation with suits and casual Fridays, remind them you have a soul. People will connect much better with a guy called Nick who likes Firefly and finds farts funny than they will with Udell Games – Play our latest game in your browser now!
Got any other tips for making the PR process more efficient? Think I’ve said something stupid? Think something else? Tell me about it in the comments below!