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  • 5 Lessons Learned About Marketing With No Budget

    - Drew McIntosh

  • lesson 3: Where's the Audience?

    How do you reach your audience? I had the most trouble with this. Spaceslingers is kind of a puzzle game, but it's also kind of a speedrun game, but not really fully either of those. It's not action perse, but it does have tense moments. It's also comedic, really difficult when you are new at it, and the concepts it explores do not come naturally to people (can you guess what path a ship would take when it bounces between two blackholes and then goes near a hypothetical "whitehole"? You can't? Welcome to 99% of the human race!)

    Trying to explain what was fun about it without actually having people play it was really difficult and I had a huge amount of trouble with crafting a message that really sold the game. I definitely should have thought a lot more about this before diving into the development. But, like most indies, I was smitten with the idea and just started doing it.

    Unbeknownst to me, at the time, there are a lot of puzzle games being released on Steam, and they have a very low earning rate (look at the first graph on this page: fact, just read that whole site, it's excellent). Now, Spaceslingers isn't really a pure puzzle game, more a speedrun physics puzzle game, which is a little bit different I guess, but in any case I was launching a game that was in a highly populated genre with a very low earnings potential. Which is bad (or rather, it would be bad if I was relying on Spaceslingers to do well, but that wasn't my primary focus...My real goal with it was to learn how to release a commercial game which I accomplished). If my goal was pure profit, then I definitely should've done more effective market research before deciding to push through with Spaceslingers.

    Even when I finally had what I thought was an effective message for the game, the question arises: Where do I post it? Starting out as an unknown indie developer, you don't have facebook or twitter followers, you don't have a subreddit waiting to eat your game up, the internet does not care about you at all. So what do you do? Post it on game dev forums for all your developer friends! Or rather, that is the exact opposite of what you should do. It's by far the easiest course to take and I think it's the path a lot of aspiring developers take (including myself in there). After all, who's going to be the most willing to like a well crafted menu system, or a showcase of that awesome scrolling text system you coded from scratch? Fellow devs are! But actual players won't care...Players want to know why your game is going to make their life awesome after they buy it. I learnt about this trap while I was doing the marketing research, but I still fell into it a fair bit. It's just too easy.

    What you should be doing is talking to as many players as possible who like the genre of game you are making and finding out how they learn about games. Are there any secret subreddits you didn't know existed? Is there a random forum out there where those players all congregate to share news? Is there a specific hashtag the players use when looking for new games? Find your audience because they won't find you. If you don't find them you'll just be screaming into the wind and maybe, very occasionally, a passing leaf will be blown off course by your incessant yelling and land on that wishlist button. But that won't happen nearly enough to make anything approaching a profit without good messages targeting your specific niche.

    lesson 4: The Right Tools

    Make a presskit and have a centralised place that you post everything online to. Mine is this website (although I didn't get that right; I moved over from a standalone Spaceslingers site to RefresherTowel Games as I neared launch, which definitely had an impact on traffic I had built up). However, a presskit is a great thing. Write one. Right now! Have a read of mine here: but also, I just blatantly copied Vlambeer's presskit() design, so go over there as well and learn from the true masters.

    Having a presskit was super helpful for me, it gave me a great way of mentally collating information, it let me immediately and easily share information about the game to any press who were interested. In fact, it's the fourth most viewed page on my site, sitting just behind the Spaceslingers page itself, and it's ahead of the Spaceslingers devlog (which surprised me, as I assumed most people would be more interested in reading about the development than checking out an official presskit document).

    By keeping all this information in the same place, it makes it much easier for people to find your game, rather than finding one piece of information on forum X, another in twitter thread Y, another on site Z and finally links to your game on your facebook profile. Organise and centralise and give people a consistent place to visit again if they are interested.


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