Gaining fans for your game? A marathon, not a sprint
26 miles of happy community smiles.
This newsletter is another broader discoverability one (look ma, no stats!), after the last one was fairly well received by small & medium devs who read these missives. And I think broader strategy - and execution - is very important. So we’re back.
It’s sparked by a conversation I had with someone a few weeks ago. Their yet to be released game - though decent-looking - hadn’t really sparked interest. And their Steam wishlists & social media followers weren’t picking up.
They were definitely tying their fortunes to a trailer they had prepared, and they were hoping this trailer would radically spike interest. Now, if the game hadn’t been announced or shown at all, perhaps it might come with the ‘shock of the new’, and spark people’s imagination.
But in general - and this is the theme of this newsletter - there is no silver bullet in having people find your game. If you’re relying on one thing to change your fortunes radically - you’re using the wrong strategy to develop & market your game. (Or your strategy is hope. Which isn’t a strategy.)
But what is a strategy?
If you’ll forgive me for lapsing into marketing-speak for a second (and I’m a business guy, not explicitly a marketer), most good strategies for getting people to find out about your game are multichannel.
Which is to say, you should try to find many different ways for people to find out about your game, and keep pushing them all simultaneously, and regularly throughout the development cycle of the game.
I’m going to pick on Brace Yourself Games’ Industries Of Titan for a second, since they have a regular but non-scarily complex ‘discovery’ schedule for their game.
The game was announced in August 2017, and just came out in Early Access on the Epic Games Store in April 2020. So it’s had a very long promotional cycle for an indie game. (Nonetheless, I think announcing your game and having good-looking media for it at least 6 months to a year from release is pretty important.)
I’ll pick out some of its arsenal that I think everyone should be using. I’m not including things like game trailers, since I presume you think you should make one or multiple of these!
Interactive community (Discord, forums!)
Providing a place for the community and devs to interact with each other is pretty important, in my view. Discord is very good at this, though it looks like Industries Of Titan has a web-based forum which is used somewhat too.
But overall, if you can have a well-structured Discord that has devs and/or community managers regularly interacting with players, you can gain all kinds of amazing things.
There’s word of mouth, dev feedback, help with testing & localization (if you want it!), and lots more. (Also, if you can incentivize players to join your Discord, like Industries tried above, even better!)
In-progress art GIFs.
Your game is - hopefully - visually interesting in some way. So I think GIFs are a particularly good way to show stuff off. (Screenshots, sure… but the Internet is a moving visual medium nowadays! Concept art or portraits are neat, though.
[Oh, and minor note - I’m not sure if Substack shows GIFs smoothly in embeds, so click through for the original if it seems jerky.]
Live streaming of development
When twinned with Discord and community, having regular live streams to show off new features - and allow people to chat with the devs in realtime - really helps the community.
Dev logs (or dev blogs!)
With the Internet increasingly becoming a visual medium, visual devlogs may be ultimately better than blogs nowadays. But both are good! And they don’t have to be as sophisticated as this one from Brace Yourself - just screen capture with a webcam can still be interesting to people.
Closed - or open - alphas and betas
I know it seems scary to get your community to try your game before release. But it’s a great idea, because you can find bugs, fix gameplay feedback, and lots more besides. You just need enough bandwidth & structure to properly deal with it all.
Industries of Titan chose a private NDA-ed community alpha, but you can also do time-limited public alphas or betas via Steam, free demos, separate Prologues (lol!), etc, etc. The game isn’t done, but if you’ve built a helpful player community, they will be forgiving of that fact - especially since it’s free.
Finally, I will note that Industries Of Titan has also based some of its discovery work around being at events like PAX and PAX East, as you can see from its news section. (Due to COVID-19, this isn’t available to anyone right now anyhow - so we can shelve that discussion on efficacy/ROI, phew.)
Anyhow, that’s just the public-facing side of things. I’m sure Brace Yourself Games are doing a lot of things behind the scenes - for example on press and streamer relations, which is also incredibly important.
But the important thing here is that you need to have some kind of schedule and stick to it. You ideally shouldn’t be, like, ‘oh, I’ll livestream a bunch’ for 3 days, and then give up for 6 months. Same for all the other methods of communicating.
There’s always more people to tell!
You might think, just because your Twitter followers have heard all about your game repeatedly, that this is the limit of the known world. And that’s just not true.
For example, even though Ragesquid & No More Robots’ Descenders is on Xbox Game Pass, has been out for a couple of years, and just reached the ‘2 million players’ milestone, there are constantly people finding out about it for the first time. Constantly. It’s a bit crazy, actually.
Concluding - it’s not always easy to expand your game’s discoverability sphere beyond ‘people you know’. And don’t forget - your game needs to do a lot of the heavy lifting here.
The above tactics won’t work if your game doesn’t look and feel competitive and enticing to people, too. But if you can twin great game & great outreach - then magic can happen.