Yes, marketing is yelling “buy my game” at potential buyers. However. most developers who are new to marketing stop there. In today’s blog, I am going to tell you about the other people you need to be marketing your game to because they will help you amplify your message and find even more potential buyers.
Most marketing advice says that you should be spending your precious few marketing hours by talking to press, Twitch and Youtube influencers, and potential fans on Twitter. That is all good but there are so many more types of people who will really move the needle when it comes to marketing your game.
The following 4 types of people have huge communities already and by marketing your game to them you can get your game seen by so many more people.
#1 Platform Holders
Platform holders are the people who own and operate the games marketplaces. Examples are ID@XBOX, XBOX Games Pass, Steam, Playstation, Nintendo, Apple App Store, Apple Arcade, Google Play Store. Yes you can use their online developer tools to upload and publish your game without having to talk to an individual human but don’t do that! These companies seem incredibly huge and monolithic but the stores are actually run by very small teams who are very passionate about games and really want you to succeed. These people decide which games to feature on their stores. They decide which games to mention on their social media, on their blogs, and in their newsletters. You want these people to know who you are and what game you are making. You need to be proactive and introduce yourself to these people.
Yes, Steam is very algorithmic when it comes to which game to show on the discoverability queue. But, many parts of Steam featuring are human-curated. For instance, in the Steam Summer Festival, Valve interviewed a handful of devs and they put their games in a privileged “Interview” slot. Check the “interview” section out on this Festival Page
How to market to them
My recommendation is to learn who the folks are on the platform teams. They are the people who write blog posts or give public talks like this one.
In the pre-covid days you could meet these platform folks at events like GDC or PAX. Typically if you had a spot at the Indie Mega Booth or the Indie Games Festival, platform holder would swing by to talk to you. Last week, I wrote about Davionne Gooden‘s GDC Talk. His game was discovered by a representative from XBOX Game’s Pass because he had a spot in the Indie Mega Booth. Read more here
Even if you are not featured at those events you can still reach out to platform holders and arrange to show your game. Do the detective work to figure out who they are and reach out to them on more professional networks such as LinkedIn.
But be very very respectful of these people’s time. Be nice. Do not assume that they owe you anything. If you are creepy and stalking them then they are DEFINITELY not going to feature your game. So be professional.
For more on this subject, watch this GDC talk by Nick Suttner where he describes how Platform teams operate and what they are looking for from you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SywogntMvkI
#2 Game engine companies
If you are creating a game with a proprietary, for-profit tool such as Unreal, Unity, or Gamemaker, you can leverage those teams to help market your game. Companies who make engines are dying to show off great games that have been made using their technology because it makes their engines look good.
Unreal even gives out money for games using their technology.
You want these development tools companies to know who you are because they are always running big promotional events and they need to know which games to showcase. You want to be on their short list.
Every year Steam runs a big sale for games made with Gamemaker. Here was the one from 2019. You know how the creators of Gamemaker pick which games show up there? They go to the Gamedevs who have contacted them in the past and they ask them if they would like to be included in the sale. You need to be on that contact list.
Unreal gives away free booth space at shows. Here is the one from GDC 2019. I can guarantee you that Unreal picked from developers who had previous contact with them.
How to market to them
You want them to know who you are. Start by contacting the community managers of these companies. Agree to write blogs documenting cool technical innovations you have implemented using their technology. Ask them how you can help them promote their engine.
Do the detective work to find the marketing teams at these companies on LinkedIn and Twitter. See who is writing the blogs on their websites. See who gives talks at conferences. Be proactive. Tell them you exist. Tell them how much you like their product (even if you have some quibbles about it.) Ask them how you can help them. Then do what they tell you to do and then tell them that you did what they told you to do. Be a good member of their community.
#3 Community moderators
Community hubs are huge fan communities around similar types of games. For instance, https://speedrun.com/ is a community hub for people who like to speedrun games. There are also countless discords built around different types of games. It is important that you reach out to the owners and moderators of these sites and introduce yourself. Tell them about your game. Tell them that you like their community. Don’t try to sell them on your game. You are just saying hi and making yourself known.
How to market to them
There are all types of benefits such as community events where they will let you talk about your game. Or they can help you find users when you need to run a beta. Many of these community leads also run an associated subreddit. It is always helpful to have someone who can whitelist your reddit post so it doesn’t get taken down for self-promotion.
You just want to be a known person in the community.
To find these people, contact them directly through the site. Message the moderators on their discord. Find them on twitter.
#4 Third-party software and hardware companies
The gaming industry is full of companies that make tertiary hardware and technology. If you partner with them, you can leverage their community.
Steelseries makes hardware that lights up in dazzling colors. If you implement their APIs they are more than happy to help promote your game. Look here for an example.
Think about the promotional opportunities here. Gamers who dropped a bunch of money on the specialized Steelseries keyboard, mouse, and headphones are looking for games that support it natively so they can use it to the full potential. You want Steelseries to recommend your game to them. I also see that Steelseries has a mailing list. Imagine getting your game promoted on their mailing list.
Intel also knows that gamers are the main buyer of their premium hardware so they have a whole department that caters just to promoting gaming such as this site.
I know several indies who got free booth space at GDC because they knew a guy at Intel who offered them a spot at Intel’s booth. You gotta know the person on the inside. Go find that person.
How to market to them
Reach out to the marketing / community leads at companies that make stuff for gamers. See if there are any partnership options.
#5 Fellow game developers
An indie dev making a game similar to yours is actually not your competition. Games are not like graphic design or accounting software where customers only buy from one company. Instead, gamers who like strategy games are probably going to buy a lot of strategy games. So feel free to buddy up with your “competition.” Contact them.
You can coordinate to make sure you are not releasing on the same week. You can compare notes on what promotional tactics, or forums, or streamers actually drove new wishlists.
You can even cross promote your mailing lists.
Philomena Schwab from Stray Fawn studios reached out to her fellow game developers and organized a “Swiss Games” Sale on Steam. You can do something similar with other game devs that share a common theme.
How to find these developers
On Steam, search by tag and see what games will be released in the next 12 months. See if you can reach out to them and see how things are going.
Of course hit them up on Twitter because game devs are always on Twitter.
It is hard to build a community from scratch. You must look for business partnerships where companies will let you market to their pre-built communities. The trick is you have to have a great game, be nice, easy to work with, show up when they need you to. You want to be the friendly face they think of when they are struggling to fill a slot in a promotion, or a booth, or a newsletter. You probably are going to have to talk to some people on the phone. That is ok not all marketing is on twitter or over email.
You want to be on that short list of these companies so they say “Oh you know what? There is a guy I know named Chris Z who is so nice, always responds, and people always say nice things about his games. Lets ask him if he wants to be part of this bundle” That moment is what this is all about.