Game development is one of the fastest-growing creative fields today. The industry is fairly young, but it is one that generated $91.5B and expecting even more growth. Mobile, online, and console games comprise a majority of that revenue, but computer games and other platforms have their place. With more game-making tools on the market and platforms to gather a fanbase and sell games than ever before, indie developers can grab even just a fraction of a percent of that impressive revenue and make a good living.
Despite these impressive statistics, indie developers frequently lack both the resources and know-how to really market their work. Content marketing is just one way they can alleviate this without crippling their budgets.
What’s an Indie Developer?
Indie developers are game developers who do not receive a majority of their funding from large publishers. It used to mean no publishers at all, but this definition has become looser in more recent times as indies have more funding sources available to them today, such as The Indie Fund and “indies funding other indies” movement popularized by Double Fine, Stoic, and other successful developers who do not solely depend on publisher contracts from AAA (also called frontline) publishers such as Activision, EA, and other large public companies.
However, most indies use their own savings and/or wages to slowly fund their games or rely on high-risk personal capital like credit cards and taking early distributions from retirement accounts. Thus, marketing budgets often tend to be an afterthought as they are very cash-strapped. Indies are very small teams or just one person, and do not have in-house marketing departments like AAA studios.
How Indie Game Marketing is Different
There are many different ways to sell games: and when it comes to indie games outside of the mobile sphere, traditional methods (namely paid media) tend to fall flat. Grassroots are where it’s at. There’s literally thousands of games that get released every year and simply hurling them into the social media stratosphere and getting a press release will only go so far.
While social media and press are important, the heart of indie game marketing is direct outreach to the types of people who play similar games to what the developer makes. The hard part is keeping the fans interested when games take a long time to release, as indies have limited resources and often need to work another job or hustle on top of making the game.
Inbound marketing is most likely to ensure strong release date sales in that unknown cavern between sign-up and release date. Content marketing plans that encompass email campaigns, blogs, and other materials are the best ways to help indie developers cultivate a fanbase and sell their games.
Best of all, helping indie developers market their games can actually be a lot of fun. There’s a lot less clinical and professional sounding copy involved (unless strictly talking shop with other industry players) and more ways to really flex the creative muscle in coming up with content that builds up fanbase engagement.
How Can Content Marketing Help Indie Developers?
- It can significantly add to the game world. World-building is paramount to building a lasting game franchise. Back in the 1980s and 90s, computer games often came with manuals, extras, and items known to gamers as “feelies”. Games used to rely on retail and came on several floppy disks back then, so it was difficult to fully flesh out the game world as a simple matter of disk space. Publishers used printed goods for maps, hints, and character backstories, as it also served a second purpose: piracy protection. Today, indie developers rely on digital distribution and sometimes use printed goods like comic books and graphic novels to merchandise the game and add to the world but content marketing has eclipsed feelies for the most part. Using blogs and proxy Twitter accounts taking on game characters’ personalities helps players connect with the world, as can newsletter and site content.
- Grassroots feel, which indie game aficionados crave. People who support indie developers generally feel gun-shy around traditional ad campaigns that are directly trying to sell something. Good content marketing incorporating the game world and/or developer’s life and presence makes a more emotional appeal to the fans to keep supporting that developer’s work.
- More cost-effective than traditional ad and PR campaigns. Indies lacking marketing background are unsure how to allocate their limited marketing budgets. Content marketing serves both world-building and inbound marketing purposes, and can also be used for outbound marketing if appealing to similar audiences.
- Helps build hype before the game gets released without giving too much of the actual game away. Incorporating the game’s story and world into content marketing efforts helps keep fans excited, and draw new ones in who get curious upon seeing a blog entry or lore page, and shows off more of the game without giving too much away in the demo.
5-Star writer Rachel P is an indie game developer, writer, and consultant. Her blog/consulting business is tailored to professional development for indie developers and other creative professionals. In addition to serving clients in need of professional development and work-life balance, Rachel also works with companies who wish to do business with game developers and professional sector workers who need assistance in acquiring and retaining game developer clients.