Obey protocol or go rogue as you take on the role of a powerful A.I. in Starmancer. Build bustling space ports, secret laboratories, and ethically ambiguous human farms. Defend against starvation, sabotage, and space cannibals. Don't worry, you can always grow more humans.
We're not claiming to be experts or anything. We did raise over $130,00 for Starmancer. This was our first game and we have no professional experience of any kind.
I'll primarily be using images from our own Kickstarter. I don't feel too comfortable with using other people's content.
There's no way to guarantee success. I've done no "research" and I don't have any data to back up what I'm saying. I'll just share some of the principles that we used in our campaign. Maybe they'll help some of you.
If no one knows about your game, how can they buy it?
I don't really like the term "marketing". Marketing sounds like something that a fancy pants company does. I think that "exposure" is the better term. Your primary goal (at all times) should be to gain as much exposure as possible.
There are so many games being released every single day. Simply having a fun game, or a unique concept is worthless. Don't expect anyone to care about your game just because you put some sort of effort into actually creating it.
Social media is a grind. Don't expect to "blow up" overnight. If you can gain 100 twitter followers a month, great. Eventually, you'll have 1000 followers.
Ok, that said, here are some things that we try to do for exposure:
1.) Go to the (potential) players.
2.) Interact with people
3.) Consistently post content that people actually want to see
This is actually really obvious, but you'd be surprised at how many developers don't do this.
You have to go where your potential players actually are. You may have the best IndieDB page in the world, but do you know who uses IndieDB? Other developers. The average player does NOT spend their free time looking through random indie games.
Think of IndieDB as having your own website. It's a repository of information about your game that players can go to AFTER they learn about your game. It's not how people become exposed to your game.
So go to the players.
Create social media accounts on Twitter, Tumbler, Facebook, Google+, Reddit, and wherever else you think is relevant.
Tell people about your game.
By the way. You should cater your page for the specific platform. Our Twitter page looks like this. Anyone who clicks on our profile should instantly understand that it's for some sort of "space" game.
One of the biggest selling points of an indie game is that the developers are normal humans and not just some giant corporate money machine.
Indie gamers want to interact with a real human. Use this to your advantage.
Don't use "PR" style responses when you post and definitely don't use them when you're responding to potential fans. Be yourself. Be a human.
Once people start to know you, they'll start to trust you and like you. You're almost selling your "human-ness" more than the game.
By the way, if someone reacts negatively, don't respond negatively back. Remember, other people will read what you say. Use a negative comment as an opportunity to convince someone else that your game is awesome.
For example, we'll often have people say something like, "This game will never actually come out".
Our response is always something along the lines of "We're working really hard on it. Making a game takes time and it's just the 2 of us".
I'm not suggesting that this line is perfect, but it does serve to reinforce that we're humans and not just a faceless PR team.
No one cares about your game. No one cares that you spent all this time on it. There are thousands of better, finished games that someone can play.
Your job is to teach someone why your game is actually worth their interest over all of the countless other games out there.
Avoid boring text posts (within reason). No one cares that you "Worked really hard implementing X feature today!"
Show a screenshot of the feature, or don't bother posting it.
The ideal scenario is that every single one of your tweets is amazing. When you dilute your social media with low quality posts, your fans will stop caring when you post. It's also worth pointing out that new fans will want to scroll through your page. Don't bog them down with a bunch of low effort posts.
We found that 2 high quality posts a week were much more effective than 5 average quality posts.
From a pragmatic point of view, it's the screenshots that will catch the attention of new players. Posting screenshots also forces you to actually polish what you're working on. This is generally a good thing too.
For example, imagine that we had added "health packs". This image would be far more effective than a boring text tweet. It shows off old content for new viewers, and it places the new content in an interesting situation for your existing fans.
Most indie games become abandoned. By posting consistently you're establishing credibility in yourself and your game.
Find a schedule, and stick to it. You can even make a bunch of posts in advance, if you want.
We take around a month's worth of screenshots and save them for later. That way, if we're extra busy on a specific day, we already have the screenshot ready.
This is what our actual dropbox folder looks like. It's full of screenshots that we still haven't posted (but don't tell anyone).
Ok, that was a long rant about exposure, but seriously, do this.
The only excuse for not posting on social media is because your game is too ugly or unpolished. So polish it. Make it look presentable, and then present it.
Information about the actual Kickstarter page is difficult to generalize. Every game is different. It's also worth mentioning that there's so many factors outside of your control. Maybe a game like yours recently came out. Maybe Nintendo just announced some new game. Maybe people just aren't interesting in the genre you're selling.
Regardless, though, this is the rough order of events for success.
1.) Get someone to the page
2.) Keep them on the page
3.) Convince them to buy your game
This is the order that you should focus on. The most perfect page is worthless if no one actually goes to it. An average page with lots of views is much better than the perfect page with no clicks.
After that, you need to "hook" them. If they leave your page, you've failed.
Once they stay, you need to convince them to actually buy your game.
Here are some general tips.
1.) No one reads anything
2.) People will scroll through your page quickly
3.) People will get a "sense" of your game through images
4.) No one reads anything
We are constantly bombarded with new products all day, every day. We've learned to quickly filter out the junk that doesn't interest us from the products that we actually want.
If you actually read everything that you encounter online, you'd never get anything done. You'd spend all day on one page.
Did you actually read every word that I wrote here? Or did you just skim over it once you started to get bored?
This means that you need to sell your product without using any text at all. If you do need to use text, limit it as much as possible. That's not to say that you shouldn't use text at all, but the text isn't where you "hook" someone to your game.
You can use text to really "drive" the game home, but only after you've hooked them.
Here's a good example:
"Tyler is the programmer. He's from America and he likes to program. Tyler types in Dvorak and he's an ergo keyboard enthusiast. He hates hand-holding in games. His favorite game is Black and White".
Now, look at this text as it actually appears on our Kickstarter page:
Both examples have the exact same information, but the paragraph style is so much harder to comprehend. It's also much easier to miss vital information.
(Ok, that paragraph was fairly easy to read, but that's because I typed it like a robot. A real paragraph would have a bunch of "filler words" so that it flows better)
Don't place anything important in a paragraph.
I want you to go this page real quick.
Next, I want you to go through this page
Ok, ideally you did it.
I'm not going to make a comment on if either page is better or worse. I just want you to think about your actions when you actually went to the pages.
Can you tell me what's so great about Blasphemous and Flynn?
My guess is that you saw the images and read a few big words, here and there.
So you know that Flynn is some sort of casual platformer, and Blasphemous is some sort of hardcore platformer.
Everything else that the creators put on their page is meaningless. None of the words that they wrote are going to "hook" you.
This means that you need to "hook" the player simply by scrolling. By the way, the most valuable spot on your entire page is the top. Put the most "hookable" features on the top. Expect nothing in the middle to be seen.
Again, the specifics are up to you. I'm just giving you the reality--no one is going to initially read your page.
This basically means that every single word makes the entire page worse. You don't need to describe literally every feature of the game. Describe the most important parts of your game and let the reader's imagination fill in the blanks.
Our strategy was to use bullet points and bolded words to leave the reader with something. Ideally, you could look at this image and remember something about "jobs, skills, and morale".
People use images to figure out if they're actually interested in a game.
I would guess that 90% of what you know about Flynn and Blasphemous is from their images.
From a practical perspective, this means that your images can't simply be pretty. Every image needs to convey something to the viewer (and also be pretty).
Gifs are nice, but don't overdue them. You don't want to distract from the actual text (assuming that anyone reads the text).
A few amazing images are better than a bunch of mediocre ones.
Look at this epic gif from Blasphemous. It requires no explanation at all. You instantly understand that this is a hardcore platformer, with bosses, and gore.
I don't have much to say about rewards, because they're so game specific.
Physical rewards are nice, but make sure that you're actually making money on them. If it costs you $5 per shirt, and you're charging $10, you're barely making any money. And now you have to deal with physically mailing a bunch of shirts.
It's quite probable that the backer would have given you an extra $5 anyway (since that was the profit of the shirt).
The average Kickstarter backer donates between $25 and $35. Use this to your advantage. Price the best rewards around $30.
The purpose of rewards, by the way, is to convince someone to give you just a little bit more money. A $100 reward isn't intended for a $15 backer. The $100 reward is intended to get $10 more from a $90 backer.
This is the same principle used in every store. "For just X dollars more, you can get this amazing thing".
Try to create rewards that scale well. You have no idea how successful your campaign will be.
Can you handle 1000 people ordering T-Shirts? Can you handle 1000 people designing missions?
This is an issue that we had. We didn't want to charge someone $200 to design a mission, but we also didn't want 1000 people to design a mission.
This is a pet peeve of mine.
Kickstarter does not have a very helpful interface.
If you have a crazy chart on your page so that backers can understand what rewards they'll get, you've failed. No one wants to do homework just to figure out how to give you money.
Remember how no one reads? Well this includes backers. You could write in all caps "THE SHIRTS ARE NOT AVAILABLE IN GREEN" and you'd still have a $1000 backer asking you if they can get the shirt in green.
Again, this is largely Kickstarter's fault. They don't have a good interface for displaying rewards.
You want a good project image that makes your game stand out on the page. You want someone browsing to notice your game.
This is also the image used when someone links your game on social media.
This is what a viewer sees on Kickstarter. Iron Harvest and Starmancer stand out (in my opinion). Iron Harvest uses really pretty and colorful art. Starmancer has big text that you can't miss.
Here's something to consider.
Youtubers want a demo of your game so that they can show it on their stream.
Backers will give you money without a demo, but Youtubers will help to promote your game.
So just make a nice looking demo. The game should already look nice if you've been posting on social media.
We didn't make a demo before the campaign started (because we thought it didn't matter). So we had to scramble during our campaign to get something playable out there.
Does the press really matter? Maybe. We had a PC Gamer article, but it only generated around 40 backers (the actual number could have been higher). Let's say that 200 people backed the game because of PC Gamer. That's only around $6,000 (if they all donated $30). That's not nothing, but it's also not much compared to your entire campaign goal.
You should focus more on "grassroots" than on the press. The average person doesn't go to obscure gaming websites.
That said, you should absolutely contact the press. Exposure is exposure, after all.
You can find all sorts of contact lists for indie press. These change all the time, so there's no point in me including a list. Write a quick pitch of your game, save it.
Every few days, email literally everyone on that list.
These people get lots of emails, so you need to hook them immediately. Don't write your life story. Convince them that their readers would want to hear about your game.
I don't consider Youtubers to be "the press". You can if you want to, but I don't.
Youtubers are maybe the best way to spread awareness for your campaign. They have a huge audience who only care about indie games. You also get the undivided attention of their viewers.
Search Youtube for indie games and any game related to yours.
Get the contact info for all of those youtubers, and send them a message.
Nothing bad can come from asking them to make a video about your game. You never know, even really big youtubers will make videos of tiny indie games. From their perspective, they want to be the first person to talk about some new hit game. They're also usually gamers and they actually like games. They'll even market their video, basically doing your work for you.
You'll need a demo or footage for them to use, though.
I just searched "indie games" on Youtube. All of these channels are people who could potentially talk about your game (maybe not GDC, though). Don't forget to filter by "new" as well. A small Youtube channel is better than no Youtube channel.
Remember how people don't read everything? Well, they don't actually watch entire videos either.
If your video is too long, people will stop watching it.
The video might be one of the most important things for your page. It needs to sell your game. No one cares about your "heartfelt" pitch. They want to buy your game, they don't care about your face.
If you can present your face in a way that seems "relate-able" then do it. Otherwise, show your game--not your face. You should have more than enough content where you don't need to show off your face.
That said, if you have a good speaking voice, by all means, do a voice-over. If you don't have a good speaking voice do NOT use a voice over.
Iron Harvest has a really good video. They show off their game and studio with a really good voice-over. If you can pull it off, go for it.
Once Upon a Coma has a really good video too. He uses music to really sell the atmosphere and he did such a good job with the "personal" approach.
By the way, I'm not suggesting that you shouldn't show off your team or face, but do it tastefully. People want to know that there's a human behind the product, after all. But sell the product first.
Thanks for reading this. Once again, I'm not some "expert" or anything. I'm just 1 part of a 2 person indie team. These were the principles that we used for our own campaign. Maybe you'll find them useful.
Our basic rules for a successful campaign were:
1.) Get people to your page (exposure)
2.) Keep people on your page (good page design)
3.) Convince them to buy your game (good page design)
There's not a magical formula that you can follow for success. Try to follow a few set of principles and let them guide everything else that you do. They can be different from our principles, just be sure to have some sort of guiding idea.
Kickstarter is a lot of work. Take the time to do it.
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