Indie Game Marketing: Growth Hacks for PC Games
Over 50% of indie games never make more than $4,000 on Steam. With the odds stacked against you, how do you succeed?
Strategic indie game marketing is the key. Competing with established game publishers is an uphill battle when you’re a relative unknown. You’re fighting against big-budget brands armed with historic gaming franchises which dominate the attention of your target audience. Without those budgets or awareness, you need to level the playing field—and marketing can do that.
But marketing your indie game is a problem of its own. You can’t blindly jump between different marketing strategies and hope one sticks. Similarly, placing all your faith in one tactic is a risk that rarely pays off. And sometimes the big boys win just by throwing more money at a problem. But if you learn to growth hack and optimize cost-effective marketing strategies early in your game’s lifespan, you’ll stand a real chance of success.
Growth hacks on how to market an indie game
Let’s break down the best ways to growth hack your indie game marketing.
Learn from indie games similar to yours
Do your research. Make sure you’re educated on recent indie game marketing campaigns that succeeded—as well as those that failed. Study what they did right, and determine whether a similar tactic could work for your indie game. Stay mindful of different game genres and target audiences as you research—tactics should be applicable to your specific genre and audience.
Fall Guys is a recent indie success that leveraged marketing to great effect. Its developer, Mediatonic, gave out beta keys to big Twitch streamers to play the game. Pretty typical we agree, but it wasn’t just streamers receiving beta access. Mediatonic provided streamers with additional beta keys to give away to their audiences, causing Fall Guys to explode in popularity as viewers flooded streams to win a key. Marketing plays like this aren’t revolutionary, but they’re extremely effective. And crucially, you can replicate them. But for every Fall Guys there are countless financial failures. From community neglect to placing too much faith in PR, you can learn just as much from studying failures in your game’s genre.
Expert tip: There are many useful resources dedicated to indie game marketing. IndieDB is an indie game news site where you can submit your game to be featured. There’s also Presskit, which was created by an indie game dev and lets you build press kit templates in under an hour. We’ll talk more about how PR can help your game succeed later. And while HubSpot isn’t specifically catered to game marketers, it’s a fantastic resource for marketing in general.
Start creating a buzz around your indie game far before the launch
Indie game marketing shouldn’t be an afterthought. While you can still leverage marketing to explode a game that had a quiet launch, optimizing your pre-launch strategy can significantly increase your chance of success. Getting yourself on charts and trending lists is a fantastic way to generate pre-launch hype and have an audience eager to purchase on day one. Approximately 10% of people on your game’s wishlist will convert to sales at launch, highlighting the value of pre-launch interest around your indie game.
Pre-launch marketing can also help massively with funding. Limbo released a concept trailer four years before its official release. This trailer generated astronomical hype around the indie game, resulting in it becoming fully funded without the aid of major publishers.
Leverage the power of indie game communities
Community support can grow your game massively. While your own community and devblog are paramount, established indie communities offer massive value in the form of an audience, resources, and feedback—plus they’re always looking for the next huge game. Here are some major communities in the space:
Be conscious of how you’re going about your indie game promotion. The key to establishing yourself in these communities is by offering value. So while you should absolutely promote your indie game in these communities, don’t mindlessly spam. Look for opportunities that make sense to interject your game into conversation naturally, while providing insight and value to others simultaneously.
Established indie communities are great, but building your own is key. Creating an engaging devblog will allow you to regularly update readers about the progress of your game. Devblogs have many benefits including: strengthening your network, holding yourself accountable, and acting as a reminder of your progress.
Once you start generating some buzz around your game, having a dedicated community is invaluable. Regularly updating and communicating with your fans will build trust and loyalty, which in turn creates monetization opportunities. You’ll have an instant feedback system in place too, and your audience will feel like they’re along for the ride as you make progress on your game. Building in public from pre-launch is never a bad idea. For example, the creator of indie game Ooblets communicates offers, exclusive access, and game updates to her 49,000 Twitter followers.
Establishing a community around your game also amplifies your word-of-mouth marketing. Although word-of-mouth marketing occurs naturally, its impact shouldn’t be understated: approximately 84% of people act on recommendations from friends and family. Creating engaging content and pushing it across your social channels is something you should be doing anyway, so let word of mouth do the rest. You could also create a referral program where users unlock beta access by sharing your game with their friends, rewarding them for their word-of-mouth efforts. Often overlooked, global giants such as Airbnb have used referral programs to great success.
Get gaming influencers to play your indie game
Researching past indie game successes can also inform your influencer marketing strategy. Once you identify similar indie games, check out which influencers created great brand integrations with them. If your budget allows, consider approaching these influencers to play your game too. Targeting the right influencers is crucial, a natural partnership where creators genuinely enjoy your game will pay dividends.
If you have a smaller budget, minimizing influencer marketing cost is critical. Focusing your influencer strategy around micro-influencers is a great way to do this. Micro-influencers are typically a lot cheaper than the biggest influencer names, but often have a highly engaged audience. Your budget might allow you to partner with multiple micro-influencers opposed to just one bigger influencer, which allows you to tap into potentially multiple different audiences. Micro-influencers also receive fewer offers from brands generally, so you’re more likely to secure their services given this reduced competition.
Indie developer Next Studios partnered with CloutBoost to strengthen their indie game marketing, utilizing micro-influencers to generate an impressive 270,000 views during the launch weekend of their game. Focusing on micro-influencers meant tapping into their exact target market, driving levels of engagement they may not have seen with bigger influencers.
If you’re unsure how best to connect with influencers and showcase your game, there are plenty of tools to help. Keymailer allows you to send game keys to creators, and they can reach out to you directly if they like the concept of your game. Terminals.io is an all-in-one PR platform which streamlines influencer outreach, press kit hosting, and more. Keymailer and Terminals essentially simplify traditionally complex or resource-heavy tasks, meaning you can allocate more time and money elsewhere.
Check out our breakdown of the importance of gaming influencers to a successful video game marketing strategy.
Make the most of your collaboration with influencers
Try to maximize the reach and impact of your indie game advertising. When it comes to your influencer strategy, encourage influencers to share your brand integration on their social channels, run competitions, and offer giveaways. Referring back to our Fall Guys example, giving away beta keys to users via their favorite streamers was a resounding success. This giveaway also encouraged audiences to truly connect with and become invested in the game—beyond simply watching.
Once you’ve maximized the influencer content around your game, promote it. Get your gameplay videos featured on gaming news websites, allowing it to reach audiences beyond your partnered influencers. You should also repurpose influencer-generated content (IGC) on your own channels. While your own branded content has its place, IGC increases brand affinity by 88% when compared to user reviews. You can repurpose across your website, social, and digital ads in order to target customers at different points in their buying journey. Social is a particularly ripe channel for repurposing, given 74% of people rely on social media recommendations to guide their purchasing decisions. IGC content is also social-first content by default, so repurposing on social requires minimal resources on your end.
Indie game PR
Leveraging gaming review sites can be a fantastic way of promoting your indie game. Consider GamesRadar+, TouchArcade, Game Informer, and GameSpot to name a few. Indie game Monkey Labour got a review on TouchArcade, resulting in a sales boom just as the game’s growth was looking stagnant. Even if the reviews aren’t perfect, getting your indie game in front of an audience is infinitely better than no audience at all.
But how do you get reviewed? Leverage industry connections if you have them. Pitching your game by email works too, you just need to approach it the right way.
CloutBoost can manage your indie game PR strategy and help you get press for your game. We leverage our industry connections and expertise to tailor a PR strategy specific to your game, meaning you’ll feature on news sites and social that your audience actually cares about.
Don’t stop when your game is on the market
While pre-launch and initial launch are huge for an indie game, you shouldn’t abandon marketing efforts afterward. Leverage the community you’ve built up and encourage them to spread the word about your game. Start seeing your game patches and updates as events and market them accordingly—new content is a great opportunity to re-engage existing users as well as capture fresh eyes. Submitting your game as an entry for gaming awards is another route to putting yourself on the map by reaching a wider audience. There are always ways to get creative and present your indie game in a new light, don’t let a slow launch discourage you.
As you can see, there are multiple ways to optimize your indie game marketing. Don’t compare yourself to big-budget publishers—recent indie game successes are proof that established brands aren’t the only winners. Remember to tailor your indie game marketing strategy; what worked for another game might not work for your game or your budget. Doing your due diligence and understanding the importance of pre-launch strategy can set you up for success. Combine this with a targeted influencer campaign and leveraging gaming communities, and you’ll have every chance of success.
CloutBoost is a game marketing company driven by data. With extensive connections and expertise in the gaming space, we can help you successfully execute your indie game marketing campaign.