Marketing is rapidly becoming more and more necessary as part of game dev- but why?
While maybe not immediately recognizable, good game design has striking correlations to good marketing- another essential piece of game dev that is sadly overlooked too often. According to Polygon, 2,964 games were released on Steam in 2015. That number increased to 4,207 games that were released in 2016. That number again jumped to 7,672 games being released in 2017 just for Steam. Each year it seems the number is almost doubling, meaning it is absolutely becoming harder and harder for consumers to find your game and it is absolutely necessary to make that first impression count- and if it doesn't, then you need to rely on good, heavy marketing to make sure you get more than just one impression from people.
Why is My Marketing Not Helping?
Indie games typically fail at marketing for a number of reasons, ranging from "somewhat avoidable through research" to "do you even know what game dev means?":
- Not targeting the right audience
- Not reaching enough eyes
- Not marketing long enough before and after release
- Failing to market before release (the common "my game is releasing tomorrow and I forgot to market it!")
Not targeting the right audience- you just can't market enough to sell decently if you're not marketing to the right audience. If you're making a mobile mystery point and click game, then your main audience is going to be middle aged women. If you're making a side swiping action game like Temple Run, then your main audience is going to be bored middle and high school students. Marketing outside of these ranges can work, but you should already be seeing the vast differences in some gaming genres. With the addition of mobile gaming to the market, more and more "non traditional gamers" are now adding money to the market, meaning the market is expanding even in these ways. Check this guide I wrote for finding your audience.
Not reaching enough eyes- posting a couple tweets every few weeks and maybe tagging them isn't going to suffice even if you're Ubisoft or EA. Some surveys have said that it takes three impressions before consumers build an idea and recognize a brand- this means that effective marketing consists of posting frequently and posting in multiple places. It is for this very reason that more prolific indie game companies hire people just for marketing, as it truly is a full-time job. Those emails don't send themselves, and a lot of times people don't have a good grasp on what effective marketing consists of.
Not marketing long enough before and after release- this point is a bit more controversial, as some people will have differing opinions on this. Some will say you should start posting and announcing your game the moment you have any shred of assets to show off, whether it be an extreme prototype screenshot or a concept art sketch. Some will say you should wait until you have a good collection of assets ready to share, such as a trailer or even a demo. Personally, I believe there is a nice middle ground that can be found that changes for each game. As an artist, I always start with the art, so I can make art assets as needed. However, for companies such as those run by friends who are programmers and writers instead of artists, they have to depend more on their artists for when they can announce their projects and might lean more towards mock screenshots. Whenever you feel comfortable that you have enough assets and a good idea of what your game is, start marketing.
But what does this have to do with marketing enough after release? Well, let's say you magically get your game out there. Congrats, you gave all your personal info to Valve and now it's on Steam. Do you just go to your next game? Do you move on? ...Somewhat. You should definitely move on, yes, but you should also try to not drop the game and run. There will be bugs. That's inevitable, no matter how much proofreading, beta testing, and sleepless nights. There will always be people in your genre who don't know about your game. Tweetdeck is a great tool for post-release marketing, as you just schedule tweets and leave. Try to check social media accounts frequently though, as people like being replied to.
Failing to market before release- whenever someone says "my game is releasing tomorrow and I forgot to market it", a marketer dies on the inside. As previously said, marketing should be viewed as a natural and necessary step in the game development and publishing process, so it is absolutely mind boggling to hear of people who release a game and then decide to dip their toes into marketing, despite the fact that they should already be waist deep into marketing by the time of release, if not neck high. If you want to even try to make your deposit back on your game, you must begin marketing months before release. Most games won't make their budget back, let alone get in the green money-wise, but that's another story.
So... How do I "Market"?
That's a good question we'd all like to know! ...But let's go over some basics.
Be active on social media- if you make a social media account for your company and/or game, try to keep it up to date. There are plenty of scheduling websites that can help you queue posts so you don't have to remember to post daily. As well as being active on social media, you should also aim to make sure you're using the websites to your full advantage, as each site functions a bit differently.
Start marketing as soon as you have enough to show and keep at it- start marketing once you have a fair amount to show and know what your game is. Graphics are the best way to catch people's eyes, of course.
Contacting reviewers- game news sites and blogs are a great way to further reach people who are potentially interested. Don't worry about being declined- 9/10 they'll ignore/not reply to your email instead of sending one back saying why they don't want to review it. Of course, don't target sites that review only android games in the hopes that they'll review your Steam release- don't waste your time like that. Try to find as many sites as you can to email that allow devs to email them, as for the most part you won't get responses back. These sites get a lot of emails every day, and they have to pick what to and what not to cover. For story-heavy games (visual novels, RPGs, more general games, etc.) I have an ongoing spreadsheet that lists a lot of PR websites and YouTube channels- feel free to use it or even add to it.
In an essence, marketing is getting people who want to buy your game to know about your game. You definitely want to hone in on your audience and make sure they know what your game is, but in general the goal of marketing is spreading the word about your game.