How to approach indie game marketing on a small budget

If you’re an indie game developer, you’re likely well aware that marketing your new game is mission critical to your success in this competitive industry. A huge part of achieving the results you want is getting your game in front of the right audience. With your target audience hanging out on so many different digital platforms —  and so many other people out there trying to market their game — you might not know where to start, or how to be sure you can cut through the noise. This can be especially daunting if you have a humble budget for indie game marketing. 

how to approach indie game marketing on a budget

Maybe you’re asking yourself: 

  • How do you communicate what really makes your game unique through your various marketing assets? 
  • How do you capture attention in a saturated gaming market? 
  • How can you create a strong community and develop effective social media channels to keep them engaged with your game and brand? 
  • How do you effectively reach gaming media outlets, or get gaming influencers to play your indie game?

In this article, we’ll share our answers to your most pressing questions — and even dish out 6 free tips on how to launch a successful game on a budget.  

Before we dive into our answers and tips, let’s set the record straight: there are plenty of advantages to being an indie game developer trying to market a new game. What you may lack in budget or direct marketing experience, you can make up for in authenticity, flexibility, and responsiveness. Because indie games are usually launched by smaller teams, you tend to have more freedom to test marketing strategies and approaches with agility. Unlike huge game studios or major gaming brands who have to allocate time in their launch plan for getting each idea (or use of budget) approved, you can enter the gaming market quickly and respond nimbly to trends on social media and beyond. 

That said, if you’re marketing a new game on a modest budget, you definitely have to be thoughtful and strategic so you don’t wind up wasting your precious funds on marketing strategies that don’t work for a game without a huge brand tied to it. The good news is there are plenty of affordable ways you can get the word out about your new game, and we’ll take you through them in just a minute.

But we all know that a good marketing strategy isn’t born in a vacuum — you have to know what your competition is up to.

the evolution of the indie game marketing landscape

The evolution of the current indie game marketing landscape

If you’re new to the scene, you may not realize how much the indie game development and marketing landscape has evolved over the last 15 years. You may know that indie games in 2005 and 2006 were mainly seen as an affordable novelty purchase to keep hardcore gamers busy as they waited for the real deal triple-A releases to roll out. In other words, it’s not until recent years that indie games started to see the love they deserve.This could be because of huge growth within the gaming industry causing players to branch out and explore new games in fringe communities — or a desire to try to master a new game before every single player catches on. And with over 2.2 billion gamers around the world (generating a whopping 108.9 billion dollars for the industry) by the late twenty tens, it’s safe to say that the gaming community has gotten quite competitive. This sizable and highly engaged market has produced tons of new interesting gaming niches and opportunities for indie developers to explore.

Another factor contributing to the popularity of indie games is that the three big gaming console companies stopped separating indie games from major releases in their catalogues, significantly leveling the playing field for getting discovered. However, this newfound accessibility of indie games combined with factors like Steam releasing about 8,290 video games in 2019 alone has made the overall gaming market more crowded than ever.

Unless you’re already an indie game darling like Stardew Valley, Minecraft, or Undertale, it can be really hard to stand out. That’s why it’s so important to figure out where you’ll allocate your marketing budget well before you launch your game. 

The following tips will help you do just that, and set you up for success becoming the next indie game darling. Never forget: tons of players out there now prefer indie games like yours to multi-million dollar triple-A titles.

Here are 6 tips to launch a successful indie game on a small budget

Tip 1: Tell your story and create hype

You probably know why social media is so successful and popular, especially within niche communities like those found across online gaming. It’s the power of storytelling, and you can use that to your advantage in your indie game marketing. 

The best part is that you can start as soon as possible. Why not pull back the veil and show your followers what’s going on during the development of your game? With so many big budget brands out there, consumers find authentic low-fidelity content more engaging — it feels like one of their friends made it! 

Not only that, but some social media experts believe that recent changes to algorithms are beginning to favor individual creators over those with a huge advertising budget because these social media platforms understand that users want to see posts from their actual friends and family way more than they want to see posts from advertisers.  

Instead of focusing on high-tech content development, focus on the value and authenticity of the story you share about your creative process, or even who you are as an indie game developer. Make the most of this fact during game development and tell your engaging story to the whole world. This is a great way of marketing indie games on 0 budget.

 You can pique your audience’s interest by telling them about the following things:

  • The hardware and software you’re using to make your game
  • Who your project team is 
  • What your indie game is about 
  • Whether you’ve received any funding or financial support from other organizations
  • Or anything else you’re comfortable sharing with your audience

You can also create hype by staggering gameplay access through multiple releases. This could look like launching the first version of your indie game, opening it only to beta-testers at the start. The great thing about this strategy is that you will create some buzz around your indie game amongst the first few players. These beta testers will likely become loyal players as well as your strongest advocates, increasing your reach and brand equity in the eyes of your target audience.  

Releasing your game to beta testers can also help you generate authentic user-generated content. A slick video teaser of your game is great — and you should definitely do that — but players also want to see that others like them have given your game a shot and liked it enough to share their thoughts about the experience. 

And if and when you do go the route of creating a teaser video, take the opportunity to tell your story as much as you can. Using real footage from your gameplay can do wonders, and including footage from your beta testers is a great way to make them feel recognized, appreciated, and ultimately more engaged with your brand as an indie game creator. 

Tip 2: Resonate with the online community

When you’re marketing and promoting a digital product like an indie game, the secret to success is keeping your online community’s best interest at the heart of everything you do. After all, it’s usually the players and gaming influencers in your online community that will have the biggest impact on how your game is received. 

After convincing people that your indie game is one of the best, you should stay in touch with your community through social media platforms, such as Discord, Facebook, YouTube, and any other communication channel your target audience uses. It is important to listen to their feedback, respond publicly, and follow through on any necessary fixes.

That’s right — it’s often your online community that spots any bugs in your game, but this isn’t a bad thing in the slightest. It’s an opportunity to improve your game quickly. Not only that, but your online community is a great source for recommendations and suggestions on features you could add to your game to make it even better.

If you need inspiration for building an online community, just think of the way Epic Games built a strong community of more than a hundred million people around Fortnite through community initiatives. Building an online community is another great way to market your indie game on a modest budget. 

Tip 3: Build out and optimize all of your social media profiles

Your indie game marketing initiatives would be remiss if you don’t invest a bit of time optimizing your social media profiles. Putting some thought into optimizing your profiles for easy discovery on social platforms — as well as your content strategy for social media – costs you almost nothing and can pay off in dividends. When the total number of social media users worldwide is predicted to reach 4.41 billion by the year 2025, you might want to get it on the ground floor.   

In other words, if your indie game or developer profile isn’t easily discoverable on social media, you could miss out on some major opportunities to draw in new players — and keep existing ones engaged with your brand. You probably know that a huge percentage of modern gaming fans spend a lot of time on platforms like Twitch, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. And others may use TikTok and Snapchat — so it’s all about understanding how your target audience uses each platform, and adapting your content offerings and profile information to meet those needs.

This should be an integral part of your indie game marketing strategy. We can all agree it’s harder than it was 5 years ago to build up a big social media following, but even a smaller engaged audience can be of huge value to your game promotion. You just have to know how to resonate with them on each platform. 

For instance, you can use Facebook for long posts, Twitter for short news, and Instagram for screenshots or concept art. Don’t forget to make the most of relevant hashtags, such as #indiedev, #gamedev, or #indiegame. 

Tip 4: Word of mouth marketing is a video game marketing secret weapon 

Every marketer knows it’s essential to encourage your users and fans to spread the word about your indie game. One way to make this compelling and easy is to include a social component that incentivizes sharing. Think: offering an in-game bonus for sharing significant achievements from their gameplay on their social profiles..

Word of mouth can be a powerful source of organic traffic to both your social profiles and your website. Not only are authentic recommendations on social media more appealing to gaming audiences who — like the rest of us — are already inundated with ads and marketing messages all day, but these types of endorsements basically act as free advertising. As it turns out, the words and opinions of other players are the most impactful ad messaging out there, with about 84 percent of people being more likely to act on personal recommendations than a branded message.

So, how can you make sure people start posting about your game? You can run a contest or giveaway where your followers have to share some of your content or tag a few of their friends in the comments to enter. From there you can use a randomizer to choose one or a few winners to receive a prize that feels special to players, but won’t break your bank (or back) to offer. For example, the winners could get early access to a beta version of your game, some extra currency or invite codes for your game, or anything else you’re comfortable sharing with them. Just remember that a little bit of generosity at this stage can go a long way — now is the time to go above and beyond to make sure your users tell all their friends about your indie game.  

And if you’re still in the development phase for your game but want to start optimizing for virality ASAP — consider enabling your players to personalize their characters. This can create a huge affinity for your game, and increase the odds that they’ll post about it on their social profiles. 

Tip 5: Draft an effective video game press release

With so many platforms to leverage in your video game marketing strategy, we can’t overlook the importance of getting a solid press placement in a gaming media outlet like IGN or Gamespot. Too often indie game developers assume that this kind of press has to come at a huge price, but the reality is you can actually draft your own high quality video game press release and distribute it to journalists yourself. 

As an indie game developer trying to make a splash on a budget, you should prioritize appealing to and developing an ongoing relationship with video game journalists. These people have access to your audience by the masses, and the influence you need to fast track interest in your game. This free video game press release template will show you how to avoid common pitfalls in video game PR, and make sure your messaging is catchy, simple, and memorable. 

We can’t stress this enough: there’s no need to pour your game marketing budget into Google ads or paid social. And while well networked PR experts can be a huge help, you don’t need to use your hard earned budget to pay for press placements if you don’t want to. Instead you can budget some time to put together a solid press release, and pull together a web presence for articles to link back to.  

You might consider creating a microsite or dedicated landing page to highlight everything your game offers. If you go this route, we recommend you include: 

  • A short game trailer
  • Screenshots of gameplay
  • Links to your social media profiles
  • Extracts from video game reviews
  • Calls to action, like subscribe to email updates.
Loopr PR & Marketing offers expert video game PR services for indie game developers

Tip 6: Get your indie game reviewed

Lastly, It’s worth noting that one of the best ways to appeal to more people without burning a hole in your pocket is to work on building up a critical mass of reviews about your game. You can do this through influencer marketing — which comes at a cost, but is very effective — or you can ask your online community to leave you some public feedback in app stores or on your social media profiles.  

When you start asking for reviews, keep in mind that timing is everything. Don’t ask for reviews before your players have had a chance to explore the game, for the same reason online stores don’t ask you for a review before you’ve received their product. The path to success with player reviews is finding the right time, for example after a user has unlocked an achievement in gameplay or passed a difficult level.

If you do decide to work with an influencer to put together a professional review of your game, make sure to choose influencers with followers and fans that fall under your target user demographics. It’s best to reach out to YouTube or Twitch influencers with a polite email pitch that they review your indie game on their social channels — and you should be prepared to pay them for this service. For a number of reasons, this is one of the better ways to invest your marketing budget for a successful indie game launch, and you can always partner with an agency that specializes in this to make sure your budget stretches as far as it can.

Conclusion

In today’s competitive environment, it’s not as simple as creating an excellent indie game and watching it catch on like wildfire. You also need to resonate with your audience in a market that’s growing rapidly day by day. The tips in this article will help you out whether you’re still developing your indie game or are ready to launch your marketing campaigns. Indie game marketing on a budget doesn’t have to be an obstacle as long as you have a plan and strategy up front.

And if you don’t want to go it alone, know that Loopr has your back. Get in touch today for budget-friendly help with video game PR, social media marketing, influencer campaigns, or sponsored content for your indie game. We would love to help.

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