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  • 5 Lessons Learned About Marketing With No Budget

    [12.08.20]
    - Drew McIntosh
  • So marketing is...Well marketing is marketing. Everyone says it requires a completely different skill set than developing a game does and that could not have become more obvious to me over the course of making Spaceslingers. So here I'll try to explain some of the hard earned lessons I learned while making and marketing Spaceslingers for $0:

    (View this post in all its original glory here: A Pre-Post-Mortem About Marketing)

    tldr; Bullet Points for the Busy Dev

    • Twitter is good for interaction but not good for clickthrough rates.
    • Reddit is ok, but people are jaded and hate advertising which makes it hard to self-promote (although if you do post something that gains traction, it'll generally have a good clickthrough rate)...Also be careful about breaking the much loved (or hated, depending on which side of the fence you sit) 10% rule: no more than 10% of your content should be self-promotional (and some subs don't allow self-promotion at all).
    • Facebook..I don't even know, maybe I was just extra bad at it, but nothing happened there. I think it's literally necessary to buy advertising from them in order to get your posts promoted. Organic growth did not happen in my experience.
    • If you reach out to media, it's gotta be targeted. I sent out a fair few emails, but the ones that replied were the ones that I kind of knew would probably reply, because what I was sending was right up their alley. Also make sure to have a presskit handy so that you can link to all the relevant information. This is mine (it's not the best, but it worked for what I needed): https://refreshertowel.games/spaceslingers-presskit-3/
    • Give people content, not just information. People generally don't care too much about "Look at this screenshot!" but they will care a lot more about "Here's how I achieved this specific look in my game" or something like that.
    • Above all, remember your audience is not fellow game devs. You've gotta try as hard as you can to find where the people who are most likely to enjoy your game spend their time/learn about new games and then promote there to them. Don't expect them to find you.

    lesson 1: Oooh, shiny!

    Flashy, beautiful stuff rules all. In real life and in games. This sucks, and it means that a lot of potential developers are going to be disappointed, but it's true. If you want to market stuff, it has to look good, gameplay/mechanics/coding chops be damned (not saying that it's literally impossible to market something that looks terrible with good gameplay or awesome mechanics, but it's the equivalent of jumping out of a plane without a parachute...Sure, it's possible to survive, but will you?)

    Unfortunately for me, I am not an artist, I'm a game designer. I tried my best with the Spaceslingers artwork, and while I'm proud of what I managed to achieve all by my little lonesome, a proper artist definitely would have elevated the look of the game. That being said, I was working within my specific budget and hiring an artist was 100% outside of that budget. I did what I could with what I had and if I had to do it again, I would go down the same route. Still, it did not make marketing easy.

    Probably the most marketable thing I did was take this screenshot of my level editor:

    It shows the gravity (the angle of the lines) and the time dilation (the colours of the lines) of a bunch of paths you could launch on. It's intriguing and science-y and a lot of people liked it. That being said, it led to roughly around 20-30 wishlists all up (based loosely on wishlist timings). Not much at all. In fact, nothing in the big scheme of things which leads me to lesson 2:

    lesson 2: Wishing for Wishlists

    If you want to make a commercially successful game, where you earn a proper compensation for your development time, the much quoted number is around 5 to 10 thousand wishlists. Once you start trying to market your own game, alone, with no budget, you'll realise how big that number is. It requires a consistent effort, day in day out, working with quality material to even attempt to approach that number. In fact, if you're working on the game more than you are marketing for the majority of development, you're kind of not doing marketing right. A 50/50 split between development time and marketing time is what is usually quoted as being necessary and I would go so far as to say marketing might need more time than that. As an aside, I did not approach that number of wishlists. But I learnt a lot about how I might try to next time.

    Now 50/50 split might seem like way too much time marketing but think of it this way: You've gotta find those wonderful points in your game, those unlikely, serendipitous, beautiful moments that showcase your game at it's best. You've got to find them multiple times a week (different ones each time). Then you've got to record them. Edit them into a flashy format (whether it's a gif or a youtube video). Make them really sparkle. Then you've gotta figure out what leads to the best metrics...Is Twitter good with video? How does Reddit handle screenshots? Are you likely to get interaction on Facebook by posting a gif? How many clickthroughs did you get from each? Was the 2-hour editing process worth that number? Etc, etc. Hope you're keeping tabs on all this stuff because I wasn't. I posted what I thought was cool whenever I found it and it was not an effective marketing strategy. Learn to read metrics and probably keep a database somewhere with all the stats.

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