So you have some money for marketing! What should you spend it on? In this post I want to spend your money! But only on the stuff that is worth it.

The assumption here is that you are a small studio. You are probably working on your first or second game. You have some money either from that first game or because you got an endowment from a government arts council where there is usually a set amount that must be allocated to marketing.

Let’s go shopping!

Minimum required

When you sell on Steam you must prove that you have spent money on your game. “Asset flippers” on Steam have caused shoppers to become highly attuned to sniffing out “trash” “low effort” games. Shoppers can tell when a game hasn’t been invested in even if they themselves are not artistically minded. It is kind of like when you walk into a fancy hotel you just have a gut feel that “this place is expensive.” Even if you know nothing about interior decorating or upholstery or floral arrangements, you just get a subconscious feeling that you are in a nice place. You as a game creator need to evoke those same subconscious feelings in your audience.

The marketing items in this section are all about that “expensive” feel. There is minimum quality bar you must surpass to prove to shoppers that you are serious. There is this subconscious agreement between you and the shopper: “I have spent money making this game because I believe in it, so you should invest a bit of time to consider buying it.”


Steam calls the cover art of your game the “capsule.” The capsule is the equivalent of the cover of your book and people definitely judge a book by its cover. The capsule will be seen by more people than any other marketing object you create. If your game gets into a festival, your capsule will quite literally be shown to millions of Steam Shoppers. 


I am serious – people can tell. If you try to save money by using a screenshot from your game as the capsule (even if your graphics are beautiful) people will assume you are also skimping out on other aspects of your game. 

Also don’t do your own lettering for your game’s title. People can tell. 

Please! You really should spend money getting a good capsule. If you have a bad, unprofessional looking capsule it will impact all the other marketing purchases that I list below. This is because all the money you pay to get people to your store page will make them say “eh, what’s wrong with this game with the amateur capsule art?”

In fact, even if you don’t have marketing money set aside, you should pay for a professional capsule. I know they are expensive but if you are going to the hassle of making a game, you need to put the effort into putting together a nice capsule. So do whatever you can to save up enough to hire an artist: mow lawns, run a lemonade stand, walk dogs. Whatever you can to do to make it happen you should do it.

How to find a capsule artist?

Go to artist portfolio sites such as Artstation or Deviantart and do searches for “cover art” or “cover illustration.” Most artists don’t use the Steam term “capsule” so don’t bother searching that term. Reach out to them. See what their rates are and if they are open for work.

Look at other games in your genre with good capsules. Track down the development team and ask them who did their capsule art. Most capsules are designed by freelancers who are not a full time member of the team so you might be able to hire them.

Expect to pay $250 minimum all the way up to multiple thousands for top of the line artists. 

For more info on capsule are see these posts

Announce Trailer

Your trailer is another marketing asset that proves that your game is “expensive” and you have invested money in it and it isn’t some knockoff asset flip. 

Spend money hiring a trailer editor after you have finalized your game’s art style and have enough art that you can show 3 separate “environments” and maybe some UI. Basically you need to show that your game has depth and variety. If all your art looks the same people will assume your game is an asset flip and you didn’t spend money on more art. This is another case of generating that “expensive” feel for customers just like in a fancy hotel.

Trailers are also great because when you have a new one you can reach out to press folks and say “new trailer” and some of them will cover you.

For more information on trailers see this post on MVP trailers by Derek Lieu.

Extra visibility

All the activities in this section will boost your visibility and have a pretty good to very good return on your dollar.

Online festival entrance fees

Online festivals with Steam featuring are the number 1 way to get a ton of visibility for your game. You will get thousands of wishlists depending on the show and your placement. 

Most festivals are free but some do require a fee of around $100 to $1000 to have your game shown in it. On the official HTMAG discord we track every single festival and the entrance requirements. I added up the access fees for every festival we track and it is $3000 per year. So that is a good ammount to budget for online shows. But that is a safe price tag and would apply only if you were accepted into every festival (you won’t be).

Side note: Only pay entrance fees to festivals if the organizers can guarantee that they will have Steam featuring. If not, I wouldn’t pay any money because the visibility is nearly 0. It is all about getting on the front page of a featured Steam page. Some of the shows like The Mix cost around $500 USD which is a lot but totally worth it (again provided they guarantee Steam featuring) because it is highly curated which means less competition and more wishlists.

Launch Trailer

The big milestones on trailers are the “Announce Trailer” and the “Launch Trailer.” You can get some press coverage at both milestones if you have a nice trailer. So paying for a trailer can give you entry into this. 

Same trailer pricing as the “Announce Trailer” applies here.

Paid Advertising

To be honest I don’t know if you will get a dollar for dollar return on paid ads. In my experience, each $1 paid in ads yields 1 wishlist. Paid wishlists probably convert at a lower rate 1%-10% depending  on the cost of your game. If you do the math real quick, you can see how hard it is to grind out a profit. 

But I do think ads keep your game from sinking to 0 wishlist per day state AND they could have a long term effect if you are thinking long term and are releasing multiple games. 

Also, sometimes you have left over marketing budget that must be spent (aka government grants) so paid ads are a great way to burn through that.

Regarding platforms, here is my advice on what works:

  • Reddit – This ad platform is pretty simple to configure and conversion rates are good.
  • Facebook paid ads – Complicated but the conversion rate is decent.
  • TikTok – I have no direct experience with paid ads but I heard they are good.

These DON’T work:

  • Youtube – Too hard to configure. Don’t start here with ads. If your paid marketing skills are really dialed in then try these.
  • Google Search Ads – Don’t bother on these because nobody searches for games in the search bar. Nobody searches “I want a metroidvania” or “what is a new metroidvania” instead they use recommendations of streamers and their friends and discords to find new games.
  • Twitter ads – they don’t work. Nobody clicks on links on Twitter.
  • Facebook “boosted post” – Don’t work, it is a suckers bet. Focus on building ads for Facebook.
  • Instagram – Instagramers just don’t click on ads for games.

Additional advice:

  • If you do paid advertising, budget for an online class on how to create and use the platforms. You are burning money if you don’t know the meta strategy of ads. I don’t have any advice on which class to register for.
  • The secret to ads is to start by spending small amounts every day like $10 – $20. Test, observe, and increase money only after you can prove they are resulting in wishlists.
  • Don’t “burst” your ads where you spend your entire budget in a few days around your game’s launch. Again read the previous bullet. Ad platforms work by slowly showing ads over the long term. Don’t dump a bunch of money on a couple days. This isn’t the Superbowl.

PR Company / PR Freelancer

First off, I don’t think every game should hire a PR company. Hiring a PR person is a multiplier. They just amplify your game’s potential. If your game is a perfect 10 that gets a ton of attention, hiring a PR person will amplify that 10 to a 100.

But that multiplier effect also works if your game is a 0. If nobody is interested in your game or it is in a genre nobody wants your game from a marketing standpoint is a 0 or a 1. So if you multiply a 0 or a 1 you get a 0 or a not very big number. No PR person can convince someone that they should buy a game they are not interested in.

I know of several instances where developers were frustrated that nobody was picking up their game so they spent a lot of money on a PR person. The PR person did all the right things and showed it to all the right people but because the game wasn’t that interesting the press outlets and streamers still said “nah I am not going to cover it my audience woudn’t be interested in this.”

So you need to stop and be honest with yourself. I WOULD NOT recommend hiring a PR person if you aren’t seeing any traction with your game. Here are examples of not seeing traction:

  • If your daily wishlist rate is like 0-2 wishlists per day.
  • If some days you have more deletes than additions.
  • If you send your game to youtubers and almost everyone ignores you and the few small streamers who do play your game aren’t that excited. 
  • If you apply to a bunch of festivals and you haven’t been selected.
  • Your tweets go nowhere and never get any likes or retweets.

If those seem to describe your scenario, hiring a PR person would not be worth the money. Ultimately your marketing success comes down to your game and they can’t turn that around. You will be frustrated with them, they will be frustrated with you. It won’t be fun.

An experienced PR person / firm can cost you around $5000 for a decent campaign with influencers and press.

Consulting and Feedback

When you hire a PR person you are paying to have someone go out into the world and represent you and your game. That is not all that they do. You can typically hire marketing folks just to review your marketing plan, or help you make one, play your game, give you feedback on your game, or help you decide the viability of a genre or making a game.

You know how I said a PR person cannot turn a 0 game into a 10 game? Well many PR people won’t tell you that your game is a 0. That is not a knock on them. It is just they aren’t getting paid for advice, they are getting paid to promote you. Hiring someone specifically for strategy and project based feedback is where you can find out how to improve your game.

Essentially you are paying for a second set of eyes or hiring someone with experience. It is like hiring a guide to get you through a jungle or a Sherpa to help you get to the top of a mountain.

Most PR people also offer this service but you have to ask for it. I do offer this service. You can book 1 hour of my time and ask me anything and I will give you my honest advice about what I think and examples of where that has worked or hasn’t. If you are completely lost I also offer a deep step by step roadmap of what I would do from beginning to end.

Derek Lieu has a similar service for trailers.

If you don’t have the full budget for a PR campaign, consider reaching out to your favorite PR person or firm and ask if they provide feedback and consultation instead of a full PR campaign. It might be more affordable and provide you more of what you need.

Physical Festival Booths

I know I know they are so fun! You get to see your name and all your hard work on a big sign and you get a big booth! It has always been your dream to see a game you made swarmed with eager fans.

If you want to spend money on a festival booth for the glory and the fun, do it. Spend thousands and thousands of dollars to fly out somewhere, and lug your stuff, and spend hours on your feet. That is fine. Do what you want. But it won’t result in a bunch of wishlists or visibility. Visibility at in-person festivals are bottlenecked by the number of people you can talk to in a day (it is in the dozens) compared to the 100,000s at online festivals. 

Sorry to be such a buzzkill.

BUT attending an in-person show might be good for building comradery with influencers and fellow developers. SO I would recommend you go to a couple of trade shows as a participant and just hobnob and mingle around the show booths. Introduce yourself to all the other devs there. Hand out biz cards. Find out what streamers, influencers, press are at the event and arrange to meet up with them. Buy a bunch of people lunch and drinks. Don’t send your whole team. Don’t splurge on a booth. Save your money.

Also don’t try to convince yourself that spending the money will be worth it because you can “playtest” your game. Festivals are the worst place to playtest. You can do a good playtest for nearly nothing and the results you get back will be more honest and actionable. To see how to get player feedback cheaply read my post here. And then this other playtest blog post.