Spreading the word about your indie game and working smart

Spreading the word about your indie game and working smart

It was around 3 years ago when I started working on Stickman World, when I first started there were so many things I had to do that in many instances were overwhelming, for instance, I began coding like a monkey non-stop and I loved it but when it was about marketing I was honestly clueless of what the process was or what was going to generate the most exposure for me, of course I did simple things such as creating a website, social media accounts, one for my game and one about me, but I wasn't really thinking on the big picture, I knew what had to be done but none of my attempts really generated a big impact with social media.

After a few months I dedicated my time on game code, I was doing so many cool things, working on the game story, getting level design done, music production began, and I was in Unity3d most of my time, well guess my game website was outdated, social media didn't have any new entries for months, and no one even knew who I was so I had barely any followers.

What did I do to change things up?

As everything you must have visibility about every single little thing you do, you MUST track everything and when I say everything I really mean everything, I do feel very strong about this because this is what changed my life and in particular I was smarter when working on projects. The process to get better at tracking your projects will ultimately change the way you think, change the way you approach problems and also help you track your time and ultimately create a framework that will help you understand the scope of things, track your work, and of course keep your motivation going so that you can always be excited no matter how much time you have. When I started on this I was honestly pretty sad that I was able to just work on game development a few hours a day, but after following a framework I believed in to be best I was always super motivated and work was getting done in all aspects such as coding, marketing, level design, music, sounds, everything just started to flow just until I knew the goals I was aiming for. The following is a break down of different phases or steps I follow when I work on any kind of project.

Prototyping Phase

You may already know what you want to build but it is very very critical to build something you can honestly achieve, don't lie to yourself, make sure you are building a game based on your resources. If you're one or two people you may want to consider building a smaller game and it doesn't need to be super basic but it has to be short enough than both of you can complete in a timely manner or at least know what your capabilities are based on the prototype you built. One thing I would recommend is trying to avoid creating beautiful art as on in this stage you want to just use basic primitive shapes and get your idea to a stage where you can play it and prove to yourself and peer that the game is enjoyable and mechanics make sense. In this phase even though is super early I would start thinking about marketing, you may say well I don't have much done but the best feedback you will get from the game community so start early. Now let's move to the next phase, I like you to start thinking and doing tasks related to your brand and get you going on the marketing strategy for your indie game, this is necessary because we need to get your brand built before you move on to more complex tasks and keep in mind that I am not necessary saying this is not complex but it is important to start as early as possible.

Branding Phase

  • Website - Built your website and reserve your domain, if you are a developer is more likely you can get this done quickly and please don't get to hangup on making something complex here, all you need is a very nice landing page containing a few links such as story about your game, a gallery, prototype videos section or even linking to Youtube right from your site, a newsletter subscription - you could use mailchimp which works very well to let your subscribers know how your game is going.

  • Hosting - Get a solid hosting and update DNS entries for your domain, I would recommend you get a solid hosting where all you have to worry about is to keep your site updated. If you are crazy like I am about development you may want to host your own website or code your own site - I'm a fun of Django which is what I used to built all of my websites and then used Digital Ocean to host them in a Ubuntu box, however do this if you have time otherwise use wordpress on something of that nature and let the hosting be managed such as when using Hostgator where they worry about updates and you only just worry about updating your website.

  • Branding - Before going further, think about your own branding and at this stage make sure your game name, domain, site theme are consistent with everything you build from now on, for example if your game is named "gamename" your site domain would be "www.gamename.com", your twitter handle @gamename, facebook page facebook.com/gamename, instagram name @gamename, and all the colors, backgrounds, and a some portion of the layout are all somewhat consistent. Why should I worry so much about this? honestly you don't have to do it but it is critical to have a consistent look and feel and also having your fans have to remember a dozen ways to know who you are in different mediums.

  • Social media - Yes you have to worry about it, for example I get most of my traffic right from Twitter, this doesn't mean you can't start from another medium but whatever you choose make sure you are consistent, make sure you let your fans know what's happening and create all of your social media accounts at this stage - then go back to your website and make sure your footer or header have links back to your social media as this will help you in building new fans.

  • Newsletter - I briefly mentioned to use mailchimp before but this is critical enough that is worth talking about it. Here you will want to make sure your fans can easily signup to your newsletter, embed a newsletter on a location that is very easy to find and also once you've collected enough emails 50 > more you may want to create a template in mailchimp which you will use to let your fans know about important events. For example, when Stickman World launched I created a very professional email which included both iOS and MAC links for them to download my game, before hand I also emailed them about milestones I'd accomplished and be sure to avoid to email your fans too often as you want to avoid to loose subscribers and more importantly to look spammy - keep it clean and professional.

  • Development Blog - I can't hesitate how critical this part is, I know it may seem like too much time and you may feel like you have way too much on your plate but it honestly doesn't take too long to write a 600 to 800 word article about what you are so passionate about, think of how much you enjoyed working on that feature, maybe you came up with the most awesome game mechanic then open your blog and write about it just like if you were telling your best friend how you accomplished it. Before I started my blog I used to be so worry about my writing skills, stop right there and start writing as it is the best way to practice.

  • Content update frequency - As much as you can, I recommend at least writing a blog article once a week, your social media a lot a lot as you should be a leader in whatever niche you are focusing on, for example let people know how your game is going, get engaged it tweeting and using famous hashtags for example every week I use #screenshotsaturday #gamedev #madewithunity in twitter, even in LinkedIn I am constantly posting to let my professional connections know that I am not just all talk, instead I have real work to show off. Try to keep your website updated, I added a social media timeline on my game websites to keep content updated automatically, I also upload game images even when they're not complete, however I update them as soon as I have the final shoots.

  • Kickstarters / Indie Websites - Do it if you can, get a kickstarter going or even start your steam page early on as this will help you get your traffic channel started. For example if you get your kickstarter funded early on you may be able to hire a content manager and instead of worrying about everything just make sure you have a strategy plan and the person who you hired knows your vision and it is well trained. I'm a super controlling person which is good and bad, I want to make sure the content uploaded is as best as it can be and it represents what my brand is about so you may want to ensure the new hire knows and understand your goals which is very important that you're mentoring him/her in early on.

  • Be truthful and show your passion - You've to have passion for what you're building, even if is super early on and you only have two blocks moving don't let this bring your motivation down and instead think on the end goal and how amazing and passionate you're about your game. Passion is crucial as people would know by what you post if you've passion or not on what you're working on.

What I've just described is honestly not a perfect formula for your indie game marketing but what you need to do must have consistency, keeping your niche informed is the best way to build your brand and people will love what you do as long as you show your passion.

Tracking & Working Smart Phase

When I first started working in my other game which by the way I haven't finished yet, I wanted to make very long levels, have dozen of game mechanics, many enemies, and do all kind of crazy things, well after all it turned out to be a nightmare, I was always stress on how much time I was taking to complete just one level, even worse than this I'd trained someone else to do what I did and not only he got stress but also he ended up dropping from the project just after one week of work. At that time I did not have goals, well I knew I wanted to complete the game and ship the game on the Xbox One platform but I didn't have a path in place which is what brought the project to not been completed on time - many may see this as a failure but honestly I'm very happy it happened, it made me realized how much I had to learn and how much dedication and good planning really takes to complete a game.

What I just mentioned is not a bad story after all - with failure came success and to tell you the truth what I am about to describe is what what worked for me! my other game Stickman World has shipped to iOS and MAC and just thinking about what happened 4 years ago really motivates me and helped me understand what I am about to describe.

  • Use Agile - You may already heard of Agile methodology or already use it in your own job but applying it to your own game is a key to successfully keep you motivated. Why do I say this - well a good approach to agile is create a MVP (minimum viable product) by the end of your sprint (a set of time in which you will have to deliver x feature). The idea here is that you will create a list of requirements for your game, once you know exactly or roughly what you want, you will create stories which will have a description on what you're trying to build and within those stories you will have a list of tasks, make sure your stories are not so big that you can not finish them within a short period of time. Let me give you a realistic example to how I would track or organize a project or even better how I did it with Stickman World
    • Choose an Agile type software such as Trello or any other software such as Jira or Version One - it honestly does not matter what software you use just pick one as we just need somewhere to track our progress and out of all the three I mentioned Trello is the simplest and also free.
    • Create a board for your game. A board is what should contain all of the stories related to your game. I would recommend breaking it out into multiple buckets - first and foremost a backlog column, then an in progress, and done, you can honestly break it up as much as you want but keeping it simple worked well for me.
    • Keep your board up to day! this is critical - I want you to start looking at your board as a guide to what you need to do for your project, if you finish something move it to done, if you are working on something move it to in progress, why? this to me will help you know how much you or your team can accomplish in a short period of time and by the time you finish the two weeks sprint you can show off what you've completed and foremost you will get the excitement of accomplishment and focused you had by tracking your work.
    • Create a new board which I like to call Epic Goals - here you will set yourself for success, you may want to try to release your game to PS4 but you are too early in development to do so, instead set that goal in mind and with the Epic goals you can start thinking about all the large tasks you have to accomplish, for example you may want to start applying for a developer license but you know in the back of your head that it may take a while to do so but at least you can start the process and have direction by having it down as a story. Think of all the long term goals you may want to achieve and add them to that board - to share one I think about everyday is that I want to have a largely recognized game studio, I know it will take a while but I remind myself of it everyday, by the way look at your goals everyday and keep them updated as well.

Well I hope you had a good read on some of my recommendations and I want you to know that there is not perfect formula but creating good habits and creating processes applies to small scale indie studios of one person or to large studios, the key is starting to do so and please don't be the guy who just opens up their game engine and goes off without any direction as you will find yourself quitting way too quickly, trust me I have been there!


Thank you for your time and don't forget to subscribe to my newsletter, also be sure to find me at @dilmerv and stop by and say hi as I love to chat with everyone.

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