Competition 23 ruffled a few feathers when it was announced: Apparently marketing an existing game is not something that many developers really want to think about, preferring instead to keep writing new and interesting prototypes and games for themselves. It’s not hard to see why this would be the case though, that fascinating process of “finding the fun” is the thing that most of us enjoy about game design, after all. But it’s equally not hard to see the unfortunate ramifications of this reluctance to think about your games’ exposure…
It’s as simple as this: Games that don’t get seen don’t get played. How are you supposed to create a better game with limited feedback? How are you supposed to test your game’s compatibilities with limited systems available to test on? And finally, how are you supposed to keep doing this if no new people see your games? (We all know that the real joy of creation lies in witnessing other people’s discovery of your work)
With this in mind, I asked the three Competition 23 winners to each write up what they learned on their venture into this strange and confusing new world of telling people what they did!
- Andre “Fengol” Odendaal’s already much touted Left 4 Dead: The Card Game not only won Comp 22, but claimed third in Comp 23 as well by dint of some last minute ninja marketing and extreme play sessions at the rAge show floor!
- Megan “Dammit” Hughes took second place by getting TF2 – Goldrush Puzzle Game visible on various forums, starting a blog, poking people on Facebook and seriously rocking Twitter.
- Rodain “Nandrew” Joubert’s intricate and addictive Onslaught of the Electric Zombies (or OOTEZ, as we started calling it over the rAge weekend) stole first place by really generating audible pings in quite a few places around the web, not least of which Indiegames.com and Gamasutra.
From Comp 23 I learnt that you shouldn’t wait for permission from the original owner to raise awareness for your game if you’ve used someone else’s material or intellectual property. There’s a good chance you’ll be flat out ignored and wait forever. I also learnt that with board games and card games you have to print the physical components as early as possible because these types of games are difficult to market without being able to demonstrate properly.
On the first point, I started the competition by sending a single email to Valve and waiting patiently for some kind of response before continuing with the competition. I never got a reply and when I eventually decided to market the game anyway I was so far behind the competition that I nearly missed demoing my game at rAge 2009 and the other issues of marketing a card game. I should rather have spammed every Valve account I could find saying I was going to market my game anyway and if they had a problem with it, they can get hold of me. At the end of the competition while looking for Valve addresses I also found various fan sites to the original game that I could have used to generate hype which I missed out on.
For my second point, if I had printed my card game out earlier I could have taken photos of the game in play to show people what it’s about or even made a short video to upload to YouTube for people to check out; without that, people could only stare at the artwork. Unlike a PC game which people can download and play for themselves, you have to physically print out and post your game to people which can be expensive, or have other people playing the game so that others can see what’s going on; a video would have quickly solved this problem. You should also print a couple of copies in one go so that if you lose pieces you have spares and your game can be played by different people at the same time.
Game.Dev’s Competition 23 was a unique opportunity for everyone in the community to go beyond their usual comfort boundaries and test out the murky depths of the internet, showing off their wares and getting some priceless feedback on one of their very own creations. Pity not everyone saw fit to try this.
If they had, they would have found it not the scary place that the rumours will have you believe. Sure, you will get less than constructive criticism from various sources but you’re unlikely to be needing therapy from that.
You would have also gotten your hands on the, otherwise somewhat elusive, feedback that is so vital in game designing. You’re designing a game for others to play, after all, and you may be spending huge quantities of time fixing things no one else cares about and ignoring what they do.
Facebook proved particularly handy in this department, allowing for instant chat messages, comments and discussion boards. The Facebook page also feeds updates into “fans” homepages and allows you to invite more people to become fans. It was the lack of this particular feature with made Twitter a bit more difficult to work with, being only able to follow others and hope they notice you.
Getting to know the locals who know the right kind of people to talk to is also vital here especially if you’re a bit lost in the indie game scene. These people can shower you with tons of good advice and, if you’re nice enough, they may even get you mentioned on a famous site or two. Social networking is vital for any kind of promotion, in any area, and game developing is no different.
A blog turned out to be exceedingly time consuming for the amount of attention it drew, but I would argue that in the long run they act as a hub of sorts and are a necessary evil any developer keen on promoting their game should have.
Finally, getting small local newspapers interested proved a breeze, and the resulting attention from people who saw the article was fun, though not necessarily helpful in boosting downloads.
Overall, the competition proved to be an interesting challenge, pushing the limits of what one thinks they can achieve and surprising everyone by leaving egos unbruised.
Nandrew makes it all sound so easy:
I tend to write about marketing and self-promo a lot, but I’m probably not a great candidate for actually converting that work into raw action. One can speak to marketing wizards, cite their advice and even compile their words into a nice (though haphazard) article, but courage and discipline seem to be required far more than handy tips and friendly advice.
Game.Dev’s Comp 23 acted as a valuable “excuse” for the work that I and several others did on marketing our games. Every time we wanted to do some promo, it was as easy as slapping an obligatory “I’m doing this for a competition” header onto anything that we wrote or distributed or set up. The feeling of liberation was amazing: here we were, doing what any other responsible marketers would do, but with the added joy of a “get out of jail free” card.
After all, we weren’t being self-aggrandising and we weren’t being particularly daring: all we had to do was point at a great big umbrella marked “Comp 23” and say, “But they’re making us do this!”
On top of that, I saw people doing their best when they banded together on marketing efforts: this became most clear when several competition entrants established Twitter accounts and duly proceeded to send invitations to one another. From then on, whenever anybody decided to tweet about their new title (tentatively, I might add), it was snatched up and broadcast by all other entrants, projecting the news much further — and much more boldly.
Given how things eventually turned out when hitherto-inexperienced marketers decided to make a concentrated push with their games, I’ve deduced a few very important things:
- Marketing your game may not necessarily turn it into an Internet firestorm, but it’s invariably better than no effort invested at all.
- Asking for help with your marketing legitimises your efforts — for you! Promoting yourself under the guise of a group, a movement or an interesting competition premise will ease your self-consciousness and allow you to push your game the way you always should.
- There’s nothing quite as impressive as a community of gamers all working together to punt one another’s projects. Even if you’re not currently marketing something yourself, it’s advisable that you keep an eye on the work of friends and volunteer your services: it’s way, waaay easier to promote work when it’s not your own, and it’s a useful primer if you’re still too nervous to advertise yourself.
Sounds like nobody had a bad time being horrible marketing drones, go figure. Interestingly enough, none of the entries that tried to first make a new game got around to promoting anything… Perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on the cogs of the hype-machine after all.