Prologue

For those of you who don’t know what the Humble Indie Bundle is, go to this website. In short, it is a pay-what-you-want offering of five indie games. Pay however much you want, even $.01, and you get the five games. It has been wildly successful; there have been three Humble Bundles in the past, and they have collectively raised almost $4 million.

Let that sink in for a moment. Pay-what-you-want, and they raised $4 million.

The cool part is that when you purchase the bundle, you can choose how to distribute your money. You can send all of the money to the indie devs, or you can allocate part of it to go to charity (Child’s Play and the Electronic Frontier Foundation). You can also allocate part of it to go to the Humble Bundle website to help pay costs for hosting the bundle. All in all, it is a very intriguing experiment.

Guilt-Free, or “Free” Guilt?

To date, I have not purchased any of the Humble Bundles. Why? Well, in every bundle so far, I already owned at least some of the games, and there were usually a couple that I wasn’t interested in. That meant I would only want one or two games out of the bundle, which makes it a harder sell.

Of course, that’s one reason why the pay-what-you-want model works well for people like me. I can pay whatever I think is fair only for the games I want out of the bundle. If I only want two out of the five games, and I’m only willing to pay $2.50 for each of those two games, then I can pay $5 and call it good.

But I’m left with this guilt. $5 is just so… cheap. If I’m not going to pay a fair amount for the games, why should I insult the developers by buying the games at all? It feels… wrong. I should be paying more. But I’m not so sure that it’s worth that much to me.

I suspect that some of you might be in the same boat. You want some of the games in the bundle, and you want to support indie devs. But you don’t want to pay that much for the games, or you don’t have that much money to spend. You don’t want to feel guilty for paying a pittance, so you don’t bother buying anything.

You Should Do It Anyway

You should buy the bundle anyway. Seriously, you shouldn’t feel guilty for paying so little. The developers (and the charities) would be happy to take your money, regardless of how little it is. That’s the point. That’s why they’re in the bundle. They understand that not everyone is going to pay the same, and some people are going to pay very little. Again, that’s the point of the bundle. Pay what you want, and enjoy the games guilt-free.

Think about it this way. If you decide not to buy the bundle, the developers/charities get no money, and you don’t get to play the games. Everybody is unhappy.

But if you do buy the bundle, the developers/charities get money, regardless of how little it is, so they’re better off even if you pay only $1. And you get to play some awesome indie games. Everybody wins.

So go ahead. Pay $1, $5, $20, $50, or however much you can afford or think is fair. Pay what you want, then enjoy some kickass indie games. I did, and I’m looking forward to playing Crayon Physics Deluxe when I get home tonight. You should, too.

Marketing Momentum

Jun 28, 2011

There was a post in the r/gamedev subreddit asking whether anyone had released their own games, and what the hardest part was about bringing the game to market. You can find the discussion here. I made a response, and I thought it would make a decent first post to kick off my blog, so here is my advice on marketing and PR for indie game developers:

If you can get the PR ball rolling, then don’t let it stop. If your game has enough content, keep releasing content to keep people interested. The indie game market is flooded with games, and it’s hard to get noticed. Once you break through that at all, you don’t want to lose any momentum you can get. Just keep releasing information and staying in contact with games websites until release, because once they stop talking about it, nobody will care about your game any more.

If your game doesn’t have enough content to keep up this momentum, then don’t release information about your game until shortly before you release, or possibly even after release. Smaller casual games (with a few rare exceptions) usually only receive one spike of public attention, if any at all, so don’t count on anything other than that first initial hit of attention.

This is a huge mistake that I made with my game. I had a few websites covering my game, and several forums (including Something Awful) had clusters of people chattering about my game, interested in seeing it come out. I use Google Analytics to track visitors to my website, so I watched the direct results of this coverage. Sadly, the excitement over my game has died down, and my initial opportunity is lost. I still have a few contacts that I can dust off when my game finally releases, but I wish I was ready to ship back then.

Oh, and one final note. In case you hadn’t noticed, I consider marketing to be absolutely essential to the success of any game, and this is particularly true of indie games. This doesn’t necessarily mean advertising (from what I’ve heard, advertising tends to be a waste of money). Marketing simply means getting in touch with people who would want to buy your game… if they knew about it. As I said, the indie market is flooded with games, and you have to stand out. I have a Twitter account and kept tweeting about my game with XNA-related hashtags, and I got lucky with a couple websites who contacted me for an interview. This started my PR snowball rolling; once someone started covering it, several other websites wanted to cover it, too.

So the important thing here is to start talking about your game. Make sure you have a website, and probably a blog. Start releasing information, whether it’s gameplay tidbits, screenshots, or even better, videos. Make Twitter and YouTube accounts, and probably a Facebook account, and start making interesting posts about your game. Use the right hashtags to get people’s attention. Try sending information about your game to the right websites; larger websites won’t pay attention to you unless your game is really special, so focus on special interest websites who would give extra attention to your particular niche, if you have one.

I’m starting to ramble, and I haven’t even gotten to my final point yet. The reason why marketing is so essential is because when your game gets released, you show up on the New Releases list. For most developers, this is the only coverage they will ever see for their game. You absolutely must make all of your sales here. This is the best opportunity you have to make it into the almighty Top Downloads list, because you’ll get an initial injection of sales simply by being on the New Releases list. Capitalize on this by pressing your PR harder than ever before. Tell everyone that your game is released. Make up a press release, and tell every (relevant) website that your game is available. This is the moment for which you’ve been building up your PR momentum. If you’ve done it right, all of your PR will result in that first boost of sales to hit Top Downloads.

I can’t speak for other platforms, but on XBLIG, hitting Top Downloads is required if you want to hit sustained sales, because after you fall off the New Releases list, it’s really hard to keep selling copies, since fewer people will see your game. (Of course, if you’re *really* good, you can hit the Top Rated list, which is the Holy Grail for XBLIG developers.)

Anyway, I’m rambling again. The point is that you really need to try and maximize your PR coverage for the first day/week of your release, or all of it will be lost. There are stories of some developers who have resurrected their game from the ashes, months after initial release (these three posts detail one such story). But that doesn’t change the fact that the time window surrounding your initial release is still your best opportunity to maximize the success of your game. I suggest you take advantage of it.

TL;DR Marketing is required for indie game developers. Once you get PR momentum, don’t lose it. Try to have coverage of your game peak at the time your game releases.