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.