A couple of things have been on my mind in the past few days:
- Dominic Mason's interesting take on promoting indie titles, on the Against All Expectations indie gaming/development podcast.
- Cliffski's post on the attention span of consumers, and the difficulty of fitting the explanation of relatively complex material within that.
Essentially: Without the financial backing of publishers, covering ad campaigns and getting boxes on shelves, how does an indie developer ensure a necessary level of exposure? How do you capture people's interest, and encourage them to learn more about your project?
Back in the days of the Unreal Tournament mod scene, working on SAS, our marketing strategy was pretty basic: We'd ramp up to every release with a stream of news posts and media, cross-posting to the major UT community hubs or modding sites. Later on (as we gained some traction) we made a note of any site that gave us coverage and added them to our press contact list - ensuring they were dropped an email for all future updates.
It felt like we had that end of things pretty well covered, and perhaps for the time we did, but online marketing has evolved massively in the last few years. The dominance of social media is particularly interesting, as there is no real cost to entry. It leaves me wondering how we would fare given a second shot to launch SAS, in this environment, five years on.
Constant engagement with your audience coupled with an open approach to talking about development is key to maintaining interest (echoing Dominic's sentiment), and social media services like Twitter have made that a lot more effective. Good communication will build greater loyalty in your fanbase, and ultimately generate more positive word of mouth about the game. Still, this is a slow and steady growth strategy, and isn't going to solve the make-or-break nature of indie games - the long tail.
I think video content (YouTube, specifically) has contributed heavily to the success of many recent, big hitting indie titles. To illustrate, the most popular fan-made Amnesia reaction video has been watched a total of 3,083,347 times. That's 1,828,366 more views than the most popular trailer for the game. One of the many fan-made Minecraft videos has racked up an immense 7,940,930 views, and it's not even particularly far ahead of the pack. There's a number of other good examples, but these two cover both ends of the spectrum:
- Amnesia's attention stems from the reaction players have to the game, and how that comes across in the recordings. Hearing someone in hysterics with fear because they are being pursued by a fleshy, angry mess of polygons is immensely entertaining. It's all about the person playing the game, and their experience.
- Minecraft's attention has come largely from the amazing, inventive things people have built in the game. There's no real personal investment or interest in the player, just the "holy crap is that a 1:1 model of the Starship Enterprise?" moments. It's all about the game, the technology, and what you can do with it.
In both of those cases you have fan produced video content that effectively highlights the core selling point of the game, generating a huge amount of exposure. There's no reason why you, as a developer, can't attempt to do the same for your project. Getting that kind of monster 'viral video' success is practically impossible intentionally, but you can push some of the same buttons. After that it's up to you to get that video in front of as many people as possible - a task far easier than convincing them to read an article or download a demo.
I think video holds some answers for Cliffski and his issue with attention spans, too. Having worked as an animator, doing technical product demos amongst other things, it's notable how easily well produced video content can translate complex ideas in a short space of time. The last part of that is key, as you usually only get about 3-5 minutes before someone mentally checks out on you. Yet another reason why video will always be growing in importance as a marketing medium.
So here's what you have to ask yourself: What is your 'Starship Enterprise' moment? What part of the game will invoke the most extreme reaction? How can you get that across in a 3-5 minute video, that also gives people some idea of how the game works? How do you get this in front of as many people as possible? Finally, assuming you do build some momentum, how do you build a strong, positive relationship with your newly interested following?
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