by Joshua Rigley
One of the greatest challenges facing indie game developers is finding effective ways to promote our games. With this article, I intend to offer some tips and advice that may help you in your goals. With that said, let’s get started.
One of the biggest problems that get in the way of promoting your game is the fact that most indie games are never finished. Most of the time, we tend to overestimate our ability to get seemingly simple tasks done in a game, or we try to make RPGs that are absolutely massive, and get burned out early in development.
Before I go any further though, do yourself a favor and read this article.
That isn’t a “read once” kind of article. That’s a “read every day” kind of article. Bookmark it and read it every day. You’ll be thanking yourself later.
Now, let’s get cracking.
An easy way to combat unfinished games is to practice iterative development. Here’s how it works:
- Break up your game into small, simple “chunks”. For RPGs, you could call them “chapters”. A chapter consists of a small part of your RPG’s overall game play. It can be a single quest, for example. Or just one town.
- Rather than trying to create the whole game at once, just focus on creating the first chapter of your RPG. If it’s small and simple enough, you could achieve this in an hour or two using RPG Maker.
- Once it’s finished, release your RPG chapter to the world.
It may not be a comfortable idea, to put an unfinished game out into the world, but it can have some big benefits. For example, you can build up an interested fan base early on in your game’s development. It may not be big at first, but even just 5-10 loyal fans can have a huge impact. For one thing, your fans will offer you encouragement and help hold you accountable so you will actually finish your game. For another, you’ll gain valuable feedback that will help improve your game early on, so you’ll catch big problems in your game’s design early.
Pro Tip: Try to implement “cliff hangers” into the end of your chapters. This will give your players a very good reason to watch the development of your game and continue to play it as you release additional chapters. For an example of this in action, check these guys out: http://www.youtube.com/user/elementanimation. Watch some of their videos (especially “An Egg’s Guide to Minecraft”). That will give you some ideas for what to put into your cliff hangers.
It never ceases to amaze me how powerful YouTube is for promoting games. Popular titles like Minecraft and Slenderman can owe their massive popularity to people doing let’s plays on YouTube. You too can harness this marketing powerhouse, with the right approach.
Here’s a step-by-step blueprint to help you find success on YouTube:
- Figure out which games are most like yours, and search for people who have played them. Let’s say your RPG is largely inspired by Final Fantasy IV. What you would then do is go to YouTube and search for something like “Let’s Play Final Fantasy IV”. Do this for as many RPGs that are like yours.
- Make a list of all the YouTubers who have done a let’s play of games like yours, and the best way to contact them. A spreadsheet can work well for this.
- Contact these people and ask them if they’d be willing to do a series for your RPG. Tell them that your RPG is like another RPG they have played, but that it has X differences (“X” being whatever makes your RPG unique/better from the one it’s similar too).
That’s it! You’ll want to keep track of how they respond to you (yes, no, no response, etc.) to keep things organized. Also, bear in mind that there are different ways to contact YouTubers.
You may be wondering how important a YouTuber’s subscriber count is. The answer to that is; it depends. Someone with a very small amount of subscribers may not be able to get you a lot of new players, but some of their viewers can be other YouTubers who do let’s plays. In addition, if a YouTuber has hundreds of thousands of subscribers, it’s not likely they’ll do a let’s play of your game, but it never hurts to ask.
Like any marketing technique that’s worth doing, this can be a time-consuming and frustrating process. But with patience, you could end up getting thousands of players from this strategy alone.
Pro Tip: Be sure to include the url to your website in the title of your game. Why? Most people who do let’s plays will often spend several seconds talking about a new game they’re playing before they actually play it. And while they’re talking, their viewers will see the title screen of your game. That’s some prime real estate there. Take advantage of it.
The RPG Maker Web forums are a great place to get feedback on your game from other experienced RPG Maker users. It can also be a way to forge alliances with other RM users, which in turn can get you a load of players.
Most people will simply post a thread in the RPG Maker forum telling people about their game and that’s it. That’s fine, but it’s not as effective as it could be. Here’s a few tips on how you can leverage your efforts and get the most from the RM Forums:
- Spend a few minutes every day to post meaningful feedback on other people’s threads. Spend at least a few paragraphs telling them what you liked most about the game, and offer a few suggestions on how it could be better. This is a great way of starting off a relationship with RM users you don’t know very well.
- Reach out to people who have games of their own and tell them about your game. Offer to do a link-exchange on each other’s download pages if your games are a good fit for each other.
- Offer to collaborate with other people on their projects in exchange for a link to your game. This is a great way of gaining experience and promoting your work at the same time.
These are just a few ideas. With a little bit of creativity, there’s virtually no limit to how you can leverage the RM forums to help get the word out about your game.
Pro Tip: You can also do link-exchanges directly inside your game. All you’d have to do is add an extra option in the game menu which says something like “Other RPGs”, and when the user selects that option, it opens up a dialog box showing the name of other RPGs and their respective URLs.
Following up on promoting your RPG inside the RPG Maker Web forums, you can also search for niche forums that would be a good fit for RPGs. For example, forums about fantasy video games could be a good place, as well as Play-By-Post (PBP) Role-Playing forums. These types of forums are just text-based RPGs, and can be a great place to promote your game.
When promoting your RPG in other forums, there are a few practices you should follow to get the best results:
- NEVER spam. This means don’t make your first post a promo post about your game. This will get you banned. In most cases, the only place you’ll be allowed to promote your game is in your signature. If you’re not sure if it’s acceptable to promote your game, ask a moderator for clarification.
- Try to become a contributing member to the community. This can be a time-consuming process, and it may yield slow results, but successful forum promotion is all about building relationships with other people.
- Focus on helping people. If you show a genuine interest in helping other people solve their problems, they will show a genuine interest in you and your game.
“It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed.” – Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich
As with asking YouTubers to do a let’s play of your RPG, promoting your game in niche forums can be time-consuming and frustrating. But it can also yield results, sometimes in as little as 24 hours of starting. Plus you’ll get to meet some interesting people along the way.
Pro Tip: Here’s a fun idea for you to try out: ask the forum admin if they’d be interested in holding a video game tournament featuring your game. You can design a special level just for the tournament, and players can submit their playthroughs via YouTube. Use your imagination when deciding on what the tournament will be about and what the prizes will be.
This one is for the brave souls who sell their RPGs commercially. I imagine that most of you who do this already have an affiliate program for your game (or at least know what an affiliate program is). What I’d like to do for you is offer you some suggestions on how you can better promote your affiliate program. Here they are:
- Don’t be stingy with the commissions you offer affiliates. Ideally, you want to offer at least 50% of the sale price, especially for cheaper games. Getting paid 10% on a $5 game isn’t going to appeal to a lot of people.
- Promote your affiliate program in the RPG Maker Web forum (in your signature), and in other video game dev forums too. As with Strategy #3, hooking up with other RM users can be a great way to promote your game.
- Run a affiliate contest and let RPG devs, video game bloggers, and anyone else who might be interested in promoting your game know about it. People love contests, and with a hard deadline in place, bloggers and game devs will be jumping to promote your game (assuming the prizes are appealing enough).
If you are selling your RPG commercially, I’d like to congratulate you. It isn’t easy to take the plunge from hobbyist to pro indie game maker, and precious few indie game devs even try. I wish you the best of success in selling your game.
Pro Tip: You can recruit your players to promote your game too. Advertise your affiliate program as a way to earn some extra cash on the side. In addition to that, you can run a contest/tournament for your fans to help promote your game as well.
Well, there you have it. Hopefully this article will have given you some ideas on how you can better your promotional efforts. With that said, there are two pieces of extra advice I’d like to give you, and they are FAR more valuable than any of the strategies above, or indeed, any other kind of marketing advice I can give you. They are:
- Focus on ONE strategy at a time. If you spread out your efforts over multiple different marketing techniques, not only will you burn yourself out, you’ll end up spinning your wheels and go nowhere fast.
- CONSISTENCY IS THE KEY TO SUCCESS. Never forget that. In most cases, you won’t get results right away, even if you spend hours per day promoting your game. That’s fine. Just remember; you will get FAR better results if you CONSISTENTLY promote your game every day for 15 minutes, than if you were to spend several hours promoting your game sporadically over a few days.
Well, I think I’ve done enough brain damage for one article. I hope that you were able to get something out of it. If you did, tell me about it in the comments section below. Also, if you have any questions at all, by all means please leave a comment and ask me anything you like. I’ll try my best to answer all questions.
Thanks for reading, have a great day, keep staying awesome, and I’ll see you in the next article.