Month: April 2017

EVERYTHING YOU DO OR SAY IS PART OF YOUR GAME’S MARKETING

It’s unlikely Time ran their cover treatment of Palmer Lucky by the man before deciding to move forward with it. I can’t imagine anyone who’s interested in the success of VR looking at that image and saying, “Yes, ship it!”

On thousands of sites, you can read about how ridiculous the photo is, how it spells the end of VR, and how many different animals Palmer is riding in the meme deluge that followed in the wake of the photo. I’m more interested in answering one question: what can we learn from this?

Something as benign as a silly photo likely won’t move the needle one way or another on your indie game, but it’s important to understand that anything you say or do in public is part of your game’s marketing. Anything. That means your personal Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram posts, things you say at conventions, slides you show at local game development meetups… in the age of fast and free information, it all quickly gets rolled up into your overall marketing message.

In the indie space far more than in AAA game development, the personalities of the creative forces behind games get tied up in the games they produce. It’s impossible to keep track of everything being said by the 500 people on an Assassin’s Creed team, but it’s easy to follow Notch, Phil Fish, or Paranautical Activity’s Mike Maulbeck.

This is a double-edged sword. It means you can show people that you’re a person just like them. People who follow and play indie games want this. They want to make a connection with a creator. In fact, pretty much everyone can appreciate authenticity because it’s so scary.

It also means that what you say or do can have dire consequences on your game’s bottom line. The aforementioned Mike Maulbeck learned this the hard way when he spouted some idle threats at Valve’s Gabe Newell and saw his team’s game pulled from what’s likely the most important digital game store for several months.

Marketing generally refers to the way you talk about your product, but, when the teams are so small and personalities are so important, your public personal identity also gets tied up in this. You don’t get to choose which of the things you say come back around to help or haunt your game. The Internet does that for you.

Think, too, about the non-verbal ways you communicate about your game. When Chair Entertainment used the name of novelist Orson Scott Card to promote 2009 release Shadow Complex, they likely didn’t expect his views on homosexuality to have any impact on the game. They almost certainly didn’t expect this to be a subject of debate surrounding the game.

They told Kotaku, “Card’s political beliefs sure didn’t come up during the game’s development.” Translation: We didn’t think about Card’s political beliefs when we made the game, and you shouldn’t think about them before you buy it. Unfortunately, this was an important factor to a few prospective players, and some of them decided not to buy the game as a result. Chair had communicated something to gamers whether they intended to or not.

You could interpret this post to mean you should never say anything for fear someone could be offended and drag your game through the mud as a result. That’s not the intent though. Instead, I’d simply like to make you aware that the things you say and do could have consequenses. You may be communicating messages you never intended. Keep your voice and keep using it. Connect with your fans and let them see you as a human being. As you do this, be aware that, as an indie, gamers see your game as an extension of you and vice versa. Be thoughtful in what you do and post, and you’ll avoid having to tuck your tail between your legs and retreat back to the cubicle.

STEAM GREENLIGHT PRO-TIPS FOR INDIE DEVELOPERS

Steam is the largest digital marketplace for PC games. It’s a very important channel to get your game into the hands of the most players. Greenlight is the mechanism through which games end up on Steam.

Unfortunately, the Greenlight system is mysterious. Valve is not at all transparent about what it takes to get your game accepted through the system. I’ve gathered a few nuggets to give you a leg up on the competition.

Get It Right From the Beginning

You’ll really want to have other ways to get users to your Greenlight page (See the next tip.), but the traffic Steam is sending your way is also important. That traffic is front-loaded. It drops off significantly as your game is on Greenlight.

That means it’s important to show your game in the best possible light from day one. If you’ve been sloppy in pulling your page together, the comments will show that making your already uphill battle a little steeper.

Send All Your Fans

Steam will send considerable traffic to your Greenlight page, but don’t depend on that alone. Notify your mailing list, your personal friends, and your game’s Twitter and Facebook followers. Send fans from your Kickstarter page over to Steam (and vice versa). When you get press coverage, make sure they mention the Greenlight campaign.

This will increase your chances to make it to the Steam store which means more sales and a better chance to start working on the next game after this one has run its course.

Add a Trailer

Most games that made it through Greenlight have trailers. You should too. It’s what people expect to see if you’re really serious about finishing your game. It’s going to be tough convincing Steam users that you can’t be bothered to put together a trailer, but you should be trusted to spend the next six months polishing the game up for them.

If you don’t already have a trailer you can use, make an awesome one.

Tell How Far Along the Game Is

The people who vote on Greenlight are more savvy than the bulk of people who play games. They can understand that games in development don’t necessarily look or play like completed games.

They’re going to be judging you based on where you are, so tell them. Be transparent about the state of your game. If you’re feeling really brave, answer some of the concerns they might otherwise address in the comments by telling them what you plan to change. Just be prepared for them to be upset if one of the changes you mentioned doesn’t make it to the final version.

Share a Demo

Just like launching a Kickstarter campaign, we are trying to reduce the risk of the player when they support us. In Kickstarter, we’re asking them to part with cash. The risk is that their money is wasted on a game that’s no good.

On Greenlight, we’re just asking for a click on the “Yes” button, so there is no financial risk. The risk here is that, by voting in lots of games that are no good, the players have diluted their own marketplace. It’s now a little harder to find the good games because more games they don’t want are clogging up the works.

Offer a demo to help them understand exactly what they’re voting for. For bonus points, offer a web-based demo they don’t even have to download and install. You’ll get 10 times the number of people to play it. This is not always possible, but some engines make it easy. Unity games can be played in the browser and a few engines can export to HTML 5.

Don’t Dwell on the Stats

When you list your game on Greenlight, you’ll have access to statistics that tell you how your campaign is progressing. These stats are important and can be a great source of learning, but no one has been able to draw a direct correlation between these numbers and being accepted into the store.