Getting Your Game Out There – Marketing 101

When you talk to game developers about marketing or community building, you’ll often be met with glazed eyes. So many of us are so busy concentrating on making a good game that we forget that we also need to let people know about it (I fall into the same trap). Otherwise, who will play it?

That doesn’t mean we think marketing, PR, and community building is unimportant. Quite the opposite actually. Many of us know that it’s important, but so many of us don’t know really know how to do it. Instead we kind of dabble around on social media, post developer blogs because we see other people do it and kind of float around in this marketing limbo. We read up on some tactics, but we don’t really get it. Of course, not all of us are like that. Some developers understand the secret sauce behind successful marketing campaigns. On the surface, it seems like they’re doing exactly the same thing you might be doing, but if you dig a little deeper you’ll start seeing the differences. Here’s a little marketing 101 on what successful game developers do to spread the word.

They Know Their Target Audience

marketing 101 pax east

Do you know who will play your game? Does your game appeal to casual or hard core gamers? Is it for mobile, PC or console? 2D or 3D? VR integration? All of these questions can help narrow down your target market i.e. your audience. You don’t need to change your game to suit a demographic, but you should be able to pinpoint people who would want to play your game. From there, you can then find out where they go to hang out online. Maybe it’s Twitter or Reddit. Maybe it’s Twitch. Either way, the more targeted your audience, the better your chances of getting noticed. The more you learn about them the better you can tailor your message by knowing exactly where they are and their preferred method of consuming content whether it’s through text, video or images.

The developers behind Punch Club (tinyBuild Games) is a great example. Rather than go to review sites, they went directly to Twitch to utilize the Twitch Plays crowdsourcing experiment. This allowed users to “play” the game by simply typing in commands. It was a genius stroke of marketing that brought in quite a bit of downloads. Will this work for your game? That depends on if your audience is on Twitch or not.

So how do you find your target audience? Ask yourself these questions:

  • What does your game offer to the audience that would interest them? Great art, music, new type of gameplay?
  • Who are your competitors and how do you stack up against them? How are you different?
  • What are the characteristics of your ideal customer? Make a customer profile and go beyond the standard demographics. Get into hobbies, likes and dislikes, etc. for a more realized vision of your audience.
  • What is the cost of your product? Will it be free or premium? How do similar games on the platform of your choice stack up in terms of pricing?
  • Who are your current customers? Even social media sites provide basic demographics on your followers so look to those to see who is already interested in what you offer.
  • Who are your competitors’ customers? Is there significant overlap? Are you noticing their customers are complaining about some features that you can provide?
  • Have you done your research? There are a lot of sources out there on video games. It might take a bit to go through them all, but it should be easier when you narrow down your platform and region. You can also do conduct your own through surveys though this part might be better for when you have a larger audience.

They Start Early


Image: Source

Most successful indie developers start building up hype long before the actual release of their game. This could mean showing of concept artwork or just sharing prototype ideas. Heck, you can even share ideas that didn’t quite make the cut and why they didn’t work. The point is, you want to get your company and game on people’s radar early on because you can build up your audience. The earlier you start, the more likely you will be to grab people’s attention and really stick in their memory. They’ll be waiting for screenshot updates or developer blog updates because they’re invested in your game. After all, they’ve been following you for 6 months or more.

The trick here is to only start promoting the game when you have something worthwhile to show. That means all of your screenshots or demos should be very polished. Google doesn’t remove old images and having some low quality images or videos can negatively affect your game. So what do you need for your game?

  • A website: something simple is fine that shows off some captivating screenshots, fun gameplay videos and general overview of the game itself.
  • Social media profile: It’s a must as it’s one of the best ways to connect with people and show off your assets.
  • A developer blog: while you don’t need to have one, it is a great way to keep people up-to-date and humanize your team.
  • Trailers: this comes later on, but trailers are a great way to get people excited. Make some teaser trailers in the beginning and then move on to some gameplay.

They Hustle


Most game developers, whether AAA or indie, understand the importance of getting out your game in front of people when it’s in a playable state. While social media can certainly do a lot, the best thing is to actually get in front of live people and have them try out your game. Not only can you talk at length about it, you can also see people’s reactions to it and even see potential pitfalls you can fix in the future. While smaller conferences are a great place to get started, you really want to save up the money for the big conventions like PAX. These can cost well over $10,000 but you’ll not only be meeting with gamers but also media outlets and even representatives from Steam, Apple and Google.

Even if you can’t afford to exhibit (or perhaps your game gets rejected) it’s still a great idea to go anyway. Besides speaking to other indie developers, you can also hand out flyers, buttons or CDs for your own game to other attendees (though this might be considered suitcasing so be sure to look into the guidelines for each convention before doing this).

But it isn’t just about conventions. You need to think outside the box when marketing your game. Look at other ways you can promote your game outside of the virtual sphere. Is your game about zombies? You can probably find events in a city near you that feature them. What about an escape the room game? A lot of cities now have real life escape the room events, so why not work with them to promote your game? Got an endless runner? Maybe you can hand out your flyer to the audience at marathons. There are a lot of options to choose from. Of course, they require research and stepping outside of your comfort zone. With that said, people will more likely remember your game and company if you do these kind of guerrilla marketing tactics.

They Know How to Social


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Hey, I shuddered too just using the term ‘social,’ but it’s true. The best game developers understand the nuances of each platform and tailor their messages to fit each one. It isn’t just about the text but the attached images or videos that accompany it. They know exactly what hashtags to use (#gamedev, #screenshotsaturday, #indiegame) and of course interact on a personal level with both their followers and potential followers. By keeping it personal, they’re building a strong relationship with their audience, which of course leads to better results once they release their game. Of course, some companies already have such brand recognition they don’t and can’t respond to everyone individually. That’s one of the main benefits of being an indie studio – you can reach out to everyone personally. It takes a heck of a lot of time, but you reap the benefits in the form of a loyal gamer…so long as your game is good of course. One of the best things to do is to use a social media manager like hootsuite. Not only can you manage most of your profiles, you can also schedule your posts and keep track of targeted keywords.

Of course, being good at social media management is much more than just posting a tweet or Facebook post. It’s about understanding the analytics. You’ll need to be able to look at the data on each of your post and not only see which posts are doing well, but also understand why. The why is the tricky part as the analytics don’t necessarily tell you. It just gives you the numbers so you’ll need to figure out why one tweet is doing better than another. Maybe it’s the use of a certain image or gif or maybe it’s because a larger company shared your post. Either way, you’ll want to keep a close eye on the numbers. It can show you what you are doing right and, when put together with your customer profile, can even predict behavior for future posts.

They Have an Email List

email symbol on row of colourful envelopes

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Email marketing is not dead. In fact it still remains the most successful marketing tool in your arsenal. People who have already signed up for your email list are already interested in your game and company. That means when you send out information on an update or release, these are the people who are most likely to click through and make that purchase. So build up your subscriber list stat! Email marketing services like mailchimp make it super easy to create different lists, see open/click through rates and even make an eye-catching email.

Sounds easy right? Well, it’s not quite that simple. You have to convince people to sign up for it by providing value to them. So what will they get in exchange for being a subscriber? Is it beta testing? Or perhaps a discount code for when the game is released? Maybe it’s free wallpapers? Whatever it is, you want to reward your subscribers with the idea of exclusivity. They’re getting something that other people won’t get. So come up with some kind of reward. It doesn’t have to cost you any money and you don’t have to do it for every email you send out.

Speaking of emails, how many should you send out? You want to make sure your subscribers don’t forget about you, but you also don’t want to spam them with nonsense. A good rule of thumb is once a month, but  you can always do less if you don’t think you have enough information to create a newsletter every month. Just keep it consistent. Make sure your social media profiles are on each email you send out. And if you want to increase your base, reward people who refer their friends with some kind of prize. Again, keep it simple. It could be an amazing wallpaper or a percentage discount for every x amount of people they refer. Get creative! (By the way, sign up for our newsletter as well!)


They Get Lucky


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Yes, there is some luck involved to having a successful game. Sometimes the game idea you have aligns perfectly to what a huge portion of the gaming population wants. Sometimes technology comes along that allows the game you wanted to make a reality. Or sometimes a new platform appears that has hardly any competitors. Look at Angry Birds. They became hugely successful because they were one of the first games that really utilized the touch screen on the iPhone. And really, they were one of the first original games available. Of course, we can’t all be the first one to jump on a new platform. So what can we do to increase our odds in such a saturated market? In essence, we need to have a little luck on our side. While we cannot completely control it, we can increase our odds of having a successful game by researching our genre, playing our competitor’s games, listening to the complaints of current gamers and then seeing how our game addresses these issues. Once you find that hook push forward with it and illustrate why your game is different from all the others available and tell your audience in as many ways as you can. And if you’re lucky, they’ll start noticing.

At the end of the day, marketing is an entire full-time job by itself as is community management. For small teams, this list might sound daunting, but if you do one thing on this list then I suggest really understanding your audience. This doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice your vision of the game to suit them, but you should have an general idea of who you want to play your game. After you have a strong image in your mind, the rest – social, video and blog creation, etc – should come more naturally.





Work in the Game Industry Without Making Games

A couple weeks ago I was invited to speak at a Game Industry Panel hosted by the Wharton Korean Undergraduate Business Society at University of Pennsylvania. I was joined by two other panel members who have both worked at large game companies like Riot and Blizzard. The idea of the panel was to two-fold: discuss our experiences at our companies while also providing an overview on different ways people could become involved in the game industry without becoming a programmer or professional gamer. you can watch the video below:

Although I touched on a couple opportunities, I feel like I wasn’t really able to convey the plethora of options available to people. So long as you have an entrepreneurial spirit and know how to leverage your strengths, there’s really no limit to what you can do even if you don’t want to make games. The thing is, game developers often forget about a lot of important aspects outside of the actual game making. Things that might seem obvious like good marketing and contracts often get pushed to the side because it doesn’t seem like an important component of the game. While it might not be for a single person team who doesn’t really care if they make money or not, things get more complicated when you increase your team size and revenue. For this reason many developers fail because they don’t really understand the business outside of game development and that’s where I think we’ll see a huge growth in job opportunities.

So below are some more ideas as to how others can get involved in the games industry without making games.

Game Promoter

game promoter
Photo by Sebastian Bularca at Creative Coast Festival

If you love talking to people and want to show off games, then you could become a game promoter. There are a lot of game conferences that happen worldwide that there’s no way a team could possibly attend them all. This is where you could come in. Basically, you would offer to promote their game at these events for a fee to cover travel/lodging, booth expense and food. We met a company that did this at Indiecade East. They showed off 3-4 games at their table and provided information on them. While they weren’t as well-informed as we would have liked, that just means there’s plenty of room for improvement.

It’s a good idea to start off small then work your way to larger events. Try to find events near you where you wouldn’t have to pay for travel and lodging at all to keep your expenses low, at least in the beginning. When building up your client list, reach out to developers whose games you really love and believe in. It will make it that much easier to promote their games and talk about them since you’ve already played them. Of course, when you do get some people, make sure to ask them as many questions as possible about the game and its development so you can answer these questions when someone asks.


Localization Expert


I touched upon this a little bit, but I think it’s worth mentioning again because I think there’s some pretty huge opportunities here. A lot of developers create games for their country’s market and expects the game to do just as well abroad. Often this isn’t the case due to different cultures, expectations, top mobile OS of the country, how people pay for in app purchases and just general wealth. For example, in Asian countries gamers spend money to progress through levels faster because they don’t want to spend too much time on difficult puzzles. In contrast, US gamers enjoy the challenge so won’t pay for the ability to skip levels. Instead they pay for upgrades or costumes. As another example Asian gamers are more likely to make in app purchases if the payment is charged to their wireless account instead of on their credit card. This is the complete opposite of European and American gamers.

If you live in or are familiar with the hot markets right now (China, South Korea, Russia, India, Brazil) you should offer your services to localize developers’ games. Not only will this include translation services, you will come up with the best monetization strategy, changing the gameplay to fit the country and possibly even changing the graphics to appeal to the market. I spoke with a Chinese localization expert at PGConnects and she informed me that they didn’t even give the developers final approval on changes. Why? Because often the developers would not want to make the necessary changes to actually fit that specific market. While I think you could be more benevolent than that it really depends on how well you know your stuff.

Plenty of game developers are looking for translation services. Just hop on a Facebook Game Developer group and offer your services. You’ll be sure to pick up a couple takers.


Game Lawyer

If you’ve got your law degree and want to help out game designers with contracts, then become a game lawyer. In essence, you’d more or less be an entertainment lawyer but with a focus on games. Most of your work would cover IP laws, drafting up contracts, creating privacy policies, ensuring child-friendly games are COPPA compliant, forming companies and looking into things like end user agreement and software licensing. While it might not be glamorous, there’s a dearth of qualified lawyers who have an interest in helping and representing independent game developers.

With that said there are a couple in New York City, most notably Christopher Reid. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t start your own practice. And if you live in another gaming mecca like San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, etc. you likely won’t have too much competition.


Ad Network Provider


There are literally hundreds of ad service networks for mobile, but they all offer more or less the same thing. You can choose from banners, interstitials or videos and then place them at certain parts of the game. Some have gotten a bit more enterprising and offer more interesting ways to get people to watch ads or purchase in-app purchases. One of the most popular ways I’ve seen is through a kind of gambling mechanic. Players can spin a wheel or something similar for a prize. The first play is free, the next is free if you watch an ad and the last one requires the use of real money. Developers can set up how often players can get a free spin (once a day, once a week) and then customize prices. It’s an interesting idea that will definitely see traction in places like Japan. Japanese gamers love the gatcha mechanic so I think this strategy makes a lot of sense.

With that said, I think this space needs to expand and get even more creative. For a lot of games, the ad experience is kind of this separate entity from the game. Some games like Bitcoin Billionaire do a great job of incorporating ads into the actual gameplay, but you still have to watch a video or have banner ads that have nothing to do with the game. I want to see better ads. I want ads that actually make sense in the game. For example, it would make sense to have the logos of advertisers on racing cars. They could pay for a sticker and you could place them on specific cars. Since this practice already exists in the world of Nascar and other racing events, it wouldn’t seem that out of place. Other sports game could do the same thing with Gatorade having a product placement in football/basketball games and so forth. It would definitely require more work and a better grasp of a developer’s games, but it would make the ads better and more effective.


PR/Marketing/Social Media etc.


One of the biggest downfalls of most game developers is marketing. At this point most of us know we need to do it and we understand how important it is, but we just can’t work up the effort to do it properly. We’d rather just work on our game and tweak it forever. If you’re a genius at marketing or even someone who really understands the complexities of social media, you’re an invaluable person to pretty much every indie game developer. They need someone who knows exactly what to say, which screenshots to use and how to make an amazing trailer. And if you’ve already got a big presence on social media and forums, even better.

This is a highly visible role and you’ll likely attend events in the developer’s stead so you really want to make sure you really love the game because you’ll pretty much be living it 24/7. It doesn’t just stop at tweeting. You’ll be responsible for reaching out to press for reviews/interviews, writing blog posts, creating the newsletter and more. And of course, you’ll want to make sure you have close ties with the development team and know everything that is going on.

Does this sound like a lot? It is! But if you love writing and interacting with the public AND developers then this is the perfect job for you. If you want to find clients, just ask people if they need some help with their social media. Better yet, offer suggestions on how you can improve their engagement rates and increase their followers.




Do you love looking at raw data and turning that into beautiful charts and cohesive reports on what tactic is working and what isn’t? If you said yes then you should offer your services as an analyst. While it might not sound glamorous, like everything else it’s incredibly important for developers. Most understand the basics of analytics: length of play, bounce rate, exit screen and so forth. The problem is that many developers don’t understand what it all means and how to solve these issues. Not only will you pinpoint exactly why players are exiting the game at a specific point, you’ll also provide different options as to how to improve it. From there you’d be setting up A/B testing to see what performs better.

This might be a difficult one to jump into as a freelancer, but it isn’t impossible. You could start a blog analysing various games and looking into what works, what doesn’t, possible exit points and how to solve it. Link to the developers and if they are impressed with your work you can offer your services to analyse their current games in progress for potential issues before it gets published.



You don’t need game industry experience to provide good advice on running a business. If you have experience running your own successful business, why not offer your services to those who are just starting out. Knowledge is invaluable as is advice on how to create a product  people want to buy. While there are plenty of articles on these topics, nothing really beats direct mentorship. Topics of interest for most indie developers is: how to raise money, how to present to an investor, help on creating business plans, marketing strategies, setting up a company, trends, networking opportunities and so forth.

Only become a consultant if you truly believe in the project and want to give them that necessary push forward.


Licensing Expert


Can I put a cover of a popular song in my game without paying a licensing fee? I don’t know how many times I’ve read this on the forums or a Facebook group. A lot of people have no idea about music licensing and how it works. If you do (or are willing to learn) and happen to have some contacts at these studios, you should absolutely offer your expertise and help. Not having the proper licensing for music can lead to huge problems (like being sued) so it’s always best to nip these problems in the bud.

It takes a lot of time and money to get the rights to use a piece of music or snippet of a movie in a different medium. Developers will need to fill out the proper paperwork and ensure they get it to the studios well before the expected launch date. In fact, this is probably the first thing developers should do if they even think about using a popular song. If you want to know more about what needs to be licensed in terms of music check out this link.

Again, this is something many developers don’t even think about. If they do it’s often at the last minute. The best way to get clients is to check forums and pages to see if anyone is asking questions about licensing. Or simply offer your services. It might seem simple to you, but for a lot of developers the process can seem very intimidating.



It might not be glamorous but even indie developers need to do their taxes. Let’s face it, most of us don’t really know all the ins and outs of the personal let alone business taxes. Understanding what can be written off as a business expenses and what forms to fill out can be intimidating. There’s a lot more accountants can do though. They can help indies choose the right structure when forming the company (LLC, S Corp, etc) and also offer tips on where to incorporate. All states have different requirements, rules and payments.

Of course there’s even more you can do. You can help keep track of their expenses, help them build a budget and just make sure everything is in order for the end of the year. You could easily start looking for clients around tax time and then offer your help year round to keep a record of everything. It’ll be one less thing they need to worry about.


QA Tester



This is probably the most popular way for people to get started in the game industry. In essence, you will be playing the game for 8+ hours trying to figure out ways to break the game. You’ll want to make sure you die in different ways (jumping off a ledge, exploding yourself with a grenade, running into water, etc). In every level. You’ll also want to just press a series of buttons together to see if a certain combination creates a bug. It’s a lot of work, but this is one of the few jobs on this list that directly affect the game. QA testers are the unsung heroes of games because they pretty much weed out all the obvious and not so obvious problems. While it’s impossible to catch everything, without good testers games would be even buggier.

Getting a job in QA is definitely competitive and the starting pay is quite low. With that said, you could start off just testing some games for indie developers for free (just ask for credit in the game) and build up your portfolio from there. To be a good QA tester you need to pay attention to everything you do and write it all out. Something like, I died and now my character is stuck in run doesn’t actually help. How did you die? What did you do before you died? Were you facing a particular direction? Were you holding down any buttons? What level? What did you die on? And so forth. You want to be as detailed as possible so programmers can duplicate the problem and so they have a better idea as to what code caused it.

There are dozens of other opportunities out there that I probably haven’t even thought of. The best thing to do is to speak with game developers and ask them what problems and issues they’ve encountered. From there see how you can apply your interests and skills to potentially improve this problem. Or better yet look at game development as a whole and see what you would like to change and do it!