When should I start marketing my indie game?

When should I start marketing my indie game?

You are an indie developer about to release your first or second game. You have thought about almost everything: design, programming, art, sound… Release day is approaching fast but there’s one little thing you forgot on your planning – and now, as the game is closer and closer to appear in front of the whole world, you think it is time to think about PR and marketing. Well, let us tell you one little secret: you made a big, big mistake.

We don’t want to sound arrogant: of course, marketing is not more important than other areas, and product comes always first – without a good game to begin with there’s no point in marketing. But, often, indie studios tend to think of it as some stuff you have to do in the final months just before release in order to improve sales. But that is a huge (if surprisingly common) mistake: in our opinion, you should keep marketing in mind since day 1. Let us present our case…

Marketing starts at the design table

One of our mantras is that marketing starts at the design table. When you start thinking about your next game, you have to ask yourself some questions. What kind of game are you trying to develop? Is there an audience for that game? What other similar games are in the market right now? Is this setting popular enough amongst gamers? Marketing will help you sell your game by knowing your audience, their tastes, desires, quirks, and behaviors. And we are not just talking in terms of age, education or income but about other important stuff: what games do they play? Do they enjoy Early Access games or they prefer waiting until full release? What about free to play vs full price? The games they like, do they have an extensive paid DLC strategy or they offer free content on a regular basis?

Once you know who your audience is and how they behave, you can start considering ways to approach them. Does your game need a thriving community? Discord is a perfect option to gather them all around. Does it have lots of humor? Influencers and youtubers will help you spread the word more quickly than traditional media (who are often looking for more serious experiences). That is marketing: getting to know your audience and finding the best ways to reach out to them and engage with them. And these are only some minor examples of how different games and different audiences require different approaches. It is not as easy as sending a press release announcing that your game is out in two months and it’s great and everyone should buy it, pretty pretty please.  

Every game needs a hat

If you start your marketing strategy from the very beginning of the development process you can have an accurate portrait of your audience, identify risks and opportunities, work on a communication strategy, and start to build up hype once you decide to announce the world you are working on something. To begin with, all that will help you to stay focused on the kind of game you want to make, making it harder to get distracted or stray from the path. And of course, it makes it easier to see from afar good communication opportunities for you to improve your brand awareness, to work on your social media presence, and to reach out to media outlets and influencers to introduce them the game – in short, you have time to build your brand and make your game known instead of trusting everyone to a last-minute media blitzkrieg. Doesn’t that sound better than just rushing everything into the last two months before the commercial release?

Perhaps even more important is the fact that you need your game to stand out for something. Of course you know what makes your game unique, but the audience doesn’t. You need to let everyone know, to highlight that thing that makes your game different – and marketing helps you to identify that strong points, that uniqueness (or to realize in time that it lacks it and work towards fixing it!). Honestly, we don’t mind if it’s the setting, the narrative, the art style, the game mechanics or its business model. But every game should have something that makes it stand from the crowd. Here’s a small anecdote as an example: our CEO, Antonio, always wears a black fedora hat when he attends game events or meetings. You may like it or not, you might find it out of style, but you sure as hell are going to remember him if somebody mentions that guy with the hat

Useful, right? Then keep it in mind: every game needs a hat, and marketing helps you to decide which one suits your game best. One thing every experienced developer agree on is that marketing is an essential tool for development. So, why shouldn’t you trust their judgment?

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