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Marketing for an indie game is challenging. A lot of indie game developers publish their games on Steam or Itch and expect a huge number of views/downloads on a single day. But that won’t happen. And it never will. You have to put effort into marketing. But the secret is where?

I got in touch with Ehmprah, an indie developer who created a Tower Defense game called, “Core Defense”



He has just recently published Core Defense on Steam, July 30th 2020 and as of writing this now, it’s August 3rd 2020. Half a week has gone by and we will learn his success story of marketing an Indie Game.


 

Ehmprah has open a reddit page and for the first 24h of his game being published on steam, many people on reddit has asked him questions about the success of his game. I’ll pick out topics that are important to his success.


I’m a solo indie dev. My new game just made $3k in the first 24h on Steam. Ask me anything!


Where and how did you promote your game?

  • I post a lot on my personal Twitter (#screenshotsaturday!)
  • I have a press list to which I sent out news, press releases and review keys
  • I had a hand-picked list of influencers whom I contacted via mail (to no avail alas)
  • I used dodistribute, Keymailer and Woovit for key requests
  • I posted to IndieDB and several forums regularly
  • I had a prelaunch demo on Steam whose organic Steam traffic converted nicely into wishlists (I wrote a blog post about why a prelaunch demo makes sense)
  • The game was developed with a community-driven approach, so the Discord server and the community were crucial
  • I did an Indieboost campaign for the Early Access launch on itch.io and spent about $200 on sponsored influencer videos
  • Before the Steam launch, I used Woovit to send out keys to influencers, got featured by a few smaller ones but no big reach here
  • Also did a Keymailer ad for $100 two weeks before the launch which netted about 80 key requests and a few videos, again not much reach here though
  • Spent a lot of time perfecting the store page to nail that first impression and make people look beyond the graphics
 
 

Which of these marketing options would you say was most effective at conversions overall and additionally, which in was most cost effective?

The demo was most effective by far I think. I have a very small marketing budget, and none of the things I did for money felt like they made a huge bump. They certainly contributed but I think doing the basics right, which you can do for free, will get you a long way.


But how do you get people to play your demo when nobody knows your game exists?

It’s all organic Steam traffic. Other than a little press release and some social media posts, I did not put effort in marketing on the demo whatsoever. I’m still netting 26k downloads and 3k wishlists off that. (This statistics is only day one of his release)


Did any of the press, and review keys you sent out respond back?

A handful smaller outlets, yes, but nothing big unfortunately.


How’d you pick outlets for your list?

I basically added every outlet I found and or knew of to my mailchimp list. Every time I’d discover some new blog via Twitter for example I’d add them to my list. But this is tedious business, especially as most people and outlets don’t wave their email addresses around.


From what I’ve see on Steam you do have a demo attached to your main game since June 4th, so what was the impact on wishlists from that?

Negligible. I added that just for the Steam Game Festival, which brought me zero visibility and wishlists. The prelaunch demo was where the action was.


How many wishlists did you have upon release?

It had 3500 wishlists before the release.


What was your wishlist conversion like? (what % roughly of wishlisters bought the game)

6.5%


How long was the steam store page public before launch? And did your demo help the wishlists grow?

The store page was public for six months prior to the release, with a widget leading to it from the itch.io early access version. The demo netted me around 3k wishlists, so the majority of wishlists I had before the launch!


How long have you been working on this project?

A year roughly. Worked on the concept for about 3 months then started developing last September. Had a public alpha out for about a month before I released it as early access on itch in mid January.


How did you decide the pricing?

At first I aimed for a $15 price point, but got feedback that this was a bit steep given the underwhelming graphics. Funnily enough I now read in reviews that people gladly would have paid double. The price gives the game extra visibility due to the Steam store page section “Under $10”, which is a nice sideeffect.


Did you use any pre-made assets? Or did you do it all by yourself?

In fact Core Defense is a spin-off from my first game Coregrounds, which was a PVP tower defense game, which was unprofitable and shut down early in 2019. I had all the assets from the game lying around and wanted to recycle them into something useful because I had paid for them. Apart from the recycled unit art, music and SFX I did everything myself.


Did you do any market research before starting the development?

I didn’t do a lot of market research before and only a bit during the development, mostly to see what other people are doing so I can steal some ideas.


How many hours a week do you think you spent working on the project? Any tips to make the most of limited time?

I manage around 8-24 hours per week, depending on what life throws at me. The limited time enabled me to really focus on what’s important. And to keep it simple.


How did you organize yourself during development? Did you have a tight schedule on how you worked, and hour or two every day, ad hoc whenever you could?

I work a part time day job, three days a week. The remaining two days and several evenings a week I would spent developing the game.


Could you say something about how disciplined you were during development?

I was very disciplined during the development, because I just love that stuff. I had a two month marketing phase before the launch during which I didn’t develop the game and that was a drag. Procrastinated much, discipline went through the floor.


In terms of scope and size of project, was this something you decided on as you started, or did you just work on it and tested different ideas until you were happy?

I am a sucker for good concepts. I think things through and then do that again and again until I am confident the thing works. Of course there were many things that had to be tested, but the core game was set from the start.


At what point of the development did you decide to gather and/or involve a community?

I gathered the community from the start! Core Defense being a spin-off from my first game Coregrounds for which I had a Discord server, I could easily get the first 50 players for the alpha from there. That was a nice boost for the start and from there on out I promoted the Discord where I could and, most importantly, was very engaged with the community and let them build the game with me.


Did you collect feeback about the game before launch? If yes, at what point and how did you do it ? Did you take that feedback into account ?

Yes! The game was developed with a community-driven approach via the game’s Discord server. User feedback was invaluable from the public alpha onwards.


Did you do any market analysis, and if you did, where did you get good data? And what data do you think is the most important?

Barely, I don’t have much insight to share here.


Do you think that facebook/youtue ads are a good marketing tool ?

Actually I’ve had success with facebook ads for my first game, but during the Stop Hate for Profit campaign I didn’t feel like throwing money at Facebook. I wanted to try YouTube ads but failed at their terrible UX, even had a campaign set up but clearly it wasn’t working, I got no impressions and at some point just gave up. I just wanted to quickly try that with a hundred bucks, but when it didn’t work immediately I didn’t want to spend more time on it.


And how long took you to finish the game?

I worked on it roughly a year. 3 months concept, 3 months until early access release on itch and the Steam release another 6 months later.


Did any YouTubers cover your game?

Yeah, several smaller channels picked it up so far. Around two dozen maybe?


What did you do right in terms of marketing?

  • making the game dead simple with a dopamine-rushing core hook but high replayability and strategic diversity
  • using localizor.com for crowdsourced translations (the community did 7 translations, just for Chinese I had to pay someone to do it)
  • doing a prelaunch demo (see my blog post on the matter)
  • doing early access on itch.io to then release a polished game on Steam
  • community-driven development: the game is SO much better thanks to all the ideas from the community, which I actively ask for and try to quickly implement
  • having a Steam page out as early as possible so people can wishlist the game (with a widget on itch.io to drive people to it)
 
 

Summary


Reddit did a great job in asking questions about how the developer made his success into his indie game.

It’s a lot of questions but I’ll summarize what I think you should do to market your indie game through Ehmprah’s expereince as well as my own experience (Yobob).

Organic Traffic from Platforms

Organic traffic means people visiting your site without having to do marketing. It’s natural and people find it on their own without you telling where to go.

  1. Create two steam pages as early as possible. One for the prologue page and one for your game. You’ll have to spend $200 in total. The benefit of doing this is that your prologue can get its own review. The steam community discussion will grow and you’ll have 2x more coverage than 1 steam page. Be sure to redirect your prologue page to your main steam game page.
  2. Create an Itch.io page and publish a demo game. Use a link to link back to your steam page to get more wishlist. The benefit of doing this is that you’ll have more exposure, and another platform you can utilize to gain organic traffic other than steam by itself.
  3. Expand your demo game to other platforms like gamejolt, humble bundle, gog, kongregate, newgrounds, gamers gate, game house, google play, apple store, amazon app store. Those are just a few. Make sure you redirect everything to the steam page for wishlisting.
Expanding Audience

Reach out to more audiences that are unable to play due to limitations.

  1. Go to localizor.com and have the community translate your video game. This will reach other audiences other than the English language.
  2. Translate your steam page. This will further increase your organic traffic.
  3. Open up a discord or some type of community and be involved in it. The word of mouth will spread within the community you’ve built.
Factors That Will Affect Your Growth

Any factors that will affect your organic traffic and reasons why you’re not getting any views, downloads or wishlist.

  1. Steam page isn’t attractive. Make sure the page is appealing and wants the players to wishlist the game. Don’t half ass thinking that, “I know my game is good. It’ll sell on it’s own.” They need to know, so show it. Add gifs, pictures, gameplay features, anything that you want to share to make sure that the game stands a chance in attracting your audience.
  2. Bad demo and poor reviews on steam’s prologue page or any other platforms. Make several edits to the game in order to increase the review rating. Use updates and announcements to fix problems. Gamers love to see a game being fixed.
  3. No website. No social media accounts. No active community involvement. If you’re not actively posting your progression, how would you attract new audiences to play your game? Post on twitter, instagram, facebook, create blogs, youtube your progression. All of these platforms are a great way to generate more organic traffic.
  4. Reach out to influencers that like to play your games. Youtube, twitch, twiter.

This process of gathering a following takes time. It’s not overnight that you’ll gain a million followers that want to play your game.

Marketing an indie game is extremely hard and takes a lot of time for it to grow. Be sure that you consider spending at least 2 months for marketing your video game. If you market it during the release date of your game, it’ll most likely result in low sales.


Developer Interview



Are your profits still growing? And how much have you made now?

I’ll be sharing those numbers in a detailed blog post by the end of this week on frgmnts.blog!

After learning and applying your marketing strategy, would you repeat this all over again? And what would you add more to your marketing method?

I would definitely do it all over again, focusing more on things that worked well (the demo for example) and less on things that didn’t (forum posts for example).

Did your news and announcement on your steam page affected your growth?

Yes, especially with cross-promotion between my failed first game, the prelaunch demo and the actual game itself. 

What advice do you want to give to the young and new developers that are about to publish their games?

I’ll have to quote the reddit AMA again here: read and learn as much as possible, start making games and expect and power through failure. 

Is there anything else you want to add?

Thank you for sharing this knowledge – it’s through communities like r/gamedev and posts like yours that I learned all that stuff! 


I’ll Be Following this guide in my own video game

I’ll update my stats, the process of getting wishlist, and how Harvest Island is growing based on the Ehmprah’s experience. As Harvest Island progresses in it’s game development, I’ll also be sharing my experience of how Harvest Island is doing in terms of marketing. Be sure to read Harvest Island’s blog and be on the look out for Harvest Island Marketing updates blogs.
 

Wishlist Harvest Island

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