The Challenges of Marketing on a Zero Budget

So you made this great game, invested your life, health, pennies, and future. Now to let people know it exists. Easier said than done, my friend. Here's what we've learned so far and what we're doing about it.

Reviews & Interviews

The game industry's best kept dirty little secret

Seems the reviews and interviews done by the big sites are paid for by the game's publishers! What!!!?? We were shocked to find this out. Why does no one talk about this? It should be illegal. It's down to the power of the big publishers. Corporate corruption. The almighty dollar.

Heh! Yep, I know. And here, as a gamer you thought the reviews and interviews were real. So did we. Well somewhat. We were sure that the reviewers were doing their jobs but it wasn't until we were solicited by an online distributor for a paid video review just how much of a paid job it was. And it was a fairly small site at the fairly modest price of $500.00 USD. And if we didn't like the review we'd receive $250.00 back! Fine if you have a marketing budget.

Here's a good test. Go to a major site, read the site review for a highly positive reviewed game and look around for advertising images on that site. Are they all over the background? Is the game featured in multiple spots? Are there little animated ads popping up all over the site? Now read the site review for a similar level game but less positive reviews. Compare the purchased ad space. No contest.

Then a conversation with a games recruiter friend clued us in on the high profile site interviews. You know those interviews you see on game sites where the site journalists interview game company developers and executives? Those are also paid for by the game companies and their publishers. Kind of eliminates the idea of fair publishing and any chance for an independent team to get any visibility on a zero marketing budget. Especially with all the paid for noise out there. Apparently it's known only to industry insiders, not the little indie like us.

Had we known this was common practice we would have gone about our plan in a different way. Having begun our game and IP development journey 10 years ago, we could have started with a game review site and done real reviews. In those 10 years we'd have created our own visibility and our own platform.

Visibility is the key most important factor in the success of video games. Visibility is an expensive commodity. The passionate game developer with zero marketing budget has to get creative and super industrious to find ways to viral market.

The Game

Knowing when to stop

That's the hardest thing with an ambitious project. When is it really finished? When is there enough gameplay? Is it optimized enough? Can we get one more feature in? Should we freeze it now and make the next features downloadable content or an expansion? Problem is, once the game is done, you need 4X the amount of time it took to make it, to market it. So stop making it and start marketing it, and if you can't stop making it, at least set aside marketing time and lots of it.

Web Site

To get people interested in your game you need a web site. Gamers, reviewers and game sites all need a place to easily find out about your game. The friendlier the better. Taking the time out to build the site might not come easy so it may take a few tries.

In between game development passes we'd set aside a weekend to build a web site. We secured the domain last year to be the home site for our new Krabbit game. In a weekend we put together our first Drupal site and had a PHPBB forum hooked into it. The site was a big step up from the old KrabbitWorld site but was a bit confusing for signups.

After switching engines and going for more of the game we wanted in the first place, we tried Drupal site #2. It was closer to what we wanted but not dynamic enough. It wasn't a 'designed site' so to speak, it was really just content hacked together. This time we had videos and screenshots and character profiles accessible from the front page but it didn't show enough about the characters at a glance. And KrabbitWorld Origins is about the characters.

We then tried a new approach, following some other game site examples and put up a background with the two main characters blown up to giant size behind the latest video. And that's what it looked like. A video on top of a giant picture. Even though there was a dynamic menu at the top it still just looked like a video on top of a picture. Not inviting whatsoever.

After getting the game out, bugs fixed, new demo etc. we alloted some actual web site design time instead of just hacking content together. Thus the new dynamic web site featuring a host of custom characters, social platform and forum links, blogs, featured content, etc, etc.. Finally a more gamey web site. Improvements are still coming, including more share widgets and polls which will encourage player feedback. Now when potential gamers and reviewers visit they can easily find what they are looking for.

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