AltDevConf: Effective PR, Marketing & Community Management

Effective PR, Marketing & Community Management in the Indie Games Space
by Erik Johnson

Why This Stuff Matters to Indie Devs
  • Exposure: People need to have heard of your game in order to buy it
  • Reputation: (with press, peers, customers)
  • Longevity: People are ready to support you in big ways, if you can get their support, it can help you stay in the industry
Establishing a Community
  • Build a connection with openness, respect and accountability
    • Ocean Marketing debacle - this guy was a jerk to his customers, and he and his company got destroyed on the internet: don't treat your customers like dirt
    • Control yourself. 
      • If you think you're going to respond poorly, cool off. Don't take things personally, which can be hard if you've poured yourself into a game
      • Learn to drop bad habit defense mechanisms
      • Don't respond to trolls
    • If you respond correctly, you can establish a connection
    • Use trackers like Google Alerts. Keep your eyes open for comments about your company/game
    • Long term consistency will result in community members being evangelists for  your company - word of mouth (organic marketing)
  • Create & Maintain Community Landings
    • Website, blog, forums promote discussion between players & between yourself and players
    • Be active, give your community new information
    • Twitter, Youtube, Facebook, Reddit, Google+, IndieDB, N4G
    • Decide which ones make sense for your game
  • Give Members Reasons to Stay
    • Open development - share information about process, how game is coming along
    • Public alphas/betas
    • Wolfire Games (http://www.wolfire.com/) as example: 1-2 updates a week, always video logs. Gives community something to get excited about
    • Get a feel for your community. What are they into? Be creative, interact with them
      • Contests, game nights, book clubs. 
      • Seems tangential, but strengthens community. They want to hang out with each other
      • Are they testers? Modders? Content creators? Give them options to their tastes
Seeking out Mention & Coverage
    • Online publications are a good place to start, but you can also look to print media, podcasts, local media
    • Reach out to industry peers know - it's a friendly industry, people will want to help you out if you're making something cool
    • Research where to locate a potential audience. What publications cover your audience? Who will be the most open to talking about your game?
  • Dealing Specifically with the Press
    • Be unassuming - They probably don't know who you are and what your game is about. They are helping you by covering your game, be grateful
    • Be frank - avoid PR speak. Journalists get a lot of that -  being forthright will make it easier for them to talk to you
    • Be generous - Tell them you are available any time for interviews. Give exclusive screenshots, provide download keys that they can give away to their readers.
  • Organic Marketing
    • Open development - blogs, forums, alphas, wikis for extensive details. Give them lots of landings to browse.
    • Crowd sourcing concepts can be really effective
      • Players can point to something and say "I suggested that, and was credited" - they will tell their friends
      • Be mindful of how you process feedback
    • Word of mouth (best thing ever) 
      • Minecraft is a great example - Youtube played a HUGE part in Minecraft's success
Drawing up & Building an Effective Marketing Plan
    • Malleable marketing throughout the process. Need to be able to tweak plans
    • Trial & Error - experiment. Usually most of the things you're going to try aren't very high risk, so you have room to find what will work best for your game
    • Know what's appealing about your game
      • Might be something you didn't expect
      • Critical that you understand in order to effectively market it
      • *Note on trailers: Get to the meat as soon as possible. Don't start trailers with long-winded intros
    • Trust your instincts!
  • Take Risks, Get Creative
    • No risk, no reward
      • Humble Bundle (when it started) is a good example of a risk that paid off (pay what you want). Right now it's leveled off, but keep your eyes open for opportunities like this in the future - you don't know what's going to catch on.
    • Experiment with pricing - bundles, sales, promotions
      • Ideal to tie it into game content (but be careful, because it can backfire)
        • SuperCrateBox - tracks collective number of crates for all users - content is unlocked for all users when milestones are reached
      • Loyalty discounts
  • Know When to Shut Up
    • When have they had enough?
      • Know when you've reached the saturation point - try to stop before that
    • Press members don't want daily updates - maybe fans do. Keep your audience in mind
    • Let players discover some things for themselves. If they find it, they'll want to pass it on. 
Major Items to Consider
    • Price point
      • How does your game compare to everyone else's? 
      • If you participate in sales/promotions, will you be able to make enough money?
      • Be honest with yourself about the content you've created and time you've spent
    • Platforms
      • PC/Mac has a lot of options.
      • Some rules about contacting distributors:
        • Need to make good first impression
        • Don't do it until you're ready, you might only get one chance
Other Routes for Exposure
    • Exhibiting - conventions, festivals
      • Risk/reward. It's expensive, but can really pay off. You get a 1 to 1 interaction with your players - collect a ton of knowledge about what's working and isn't, what's confusing, etc. if you have a keen eye
      • Good idea to do when your game is already out - so they can see it at the convention, and then immediately buy it (instead of forgetting about it)
    • Kickstarter 
      • Also sites like  http://www.indiegogo.com/ &  http://8bitfunding.com/
      • Kickstarter is all or nothing, so be realistic about how much you're asking for. Figure out how much money you need, and how much you really think you're going to get for your idea. If you don't think you can make that much, don't do it. 
      • Can get a ton of attention if you have an idea that is really creative
Overarching Themes
    • Be accountable, be upfront, don't be a dick
      • It goes a long way if people know you're not bullshitting them
    • Staying involved with the community gives you more opportunity to stick around as a presence in the industry
    • Be willing to take risks
    • Know when to adjust, or even be quiet.

Q: Is there any fallout from launching a Kickstarter campaign and failing to meet your goal? 
A: With Kickstarter, it's all about your concept. Be honest with yourself - will the concept and idea sell? Something to think about - if you don't hit it big, it's like a mini marketing bubble for those 30 or so days, which can be very stressful. In general, don't enter the arena unless you're very confident. Also, there can be fallout if your game/app really wasn't in a state to be shown yet.  

Q: How do you go about setting a Kickstarter target?
A: Research! Look at how projects succeed or fail. Figure out how much you need, and if you don't think you can get it, don't go on there. 

Q: Should you avoid PR speak altogether, or are there some circumstances where it's ok?
A: Avoid it altogether. For everyone. It doesn't belong in the indie game space. You know when you're talking to someone that is actually knowledgable about a game, and customers respect that. If you're getting interviewed, you should be able to answer questions. If you have someone outside of development is that is doing your community management, get them as involved as possible in what you're doing, so that they are knowledgeable as possible.  

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