Self publicity – selling your game on your own

So I’ve talked in the past about being an indie, and one of the things that indies have to do is to get awareness of their game out there, particularly if you are self publishing.

Even if you aren’t, relying on your publisher to do this will a) result in heartbreak when they don’t do a very good job (remember, if you are self funding then the amount that the publisher will be able to claw back is lower, therefore their investment in seeing this game lauded is lower) and b) result in heartbreak when they present you the bill for what little they do do. If you have a cross genre game – ie one that they aren’t experienced in selling, then god help you.

I remember moaning to Activision’s Marketing department about their spectacular failure to market Heretic II, and was told “Oh, you mean that cross genre game that no one had a clue how to actually push?”. There you have it.

Anyway, as Raven experienced on Soldier of Fortune (a game ATVI had decided they didn’t think would sell, so Raven was given carte blanch to push themselves), it is entirely possible to push and get the message out there, build some anticipation and interest, and do it without an expensive PR / Marketing department behind you.

So how do you do it? Here’s a few ideas.

1) Ensure you have a you tube video of your game play – make sure it’s game play. You don’t need a mega trailer, you need actual gameplay and make sure you link it with every online interview you do. 30 seconds to 1 minute is quite enough.

2) Spam the crap out of every website editor you can find with offers of interviews / screen shots. They are all looking for content and the idea that you can help them out will be fine with them.

3) If you do an interview, always add one extra question you generate on the end of the interview – this allows you to push the question so you can reveal something you specifically want to say. Interviews are by and large fine with this – you make them look good for asking specifics they had no idea about.

4) If you do send out screen shots, ensure they are unique for each website you do this to. They love that; it works even better if you do specific features for specific websites.

5) Have a sense of humor when you do interviews. Dry interviews may be what PR companies like best, but the public like a personality.

6) Don’t diss other companies products. You have to be _very_ secure with yourself to piss off all of the Infinity Ward developers because you call their game “limited”. It’s better to be praising than damning. By all means use other people and their games as inspiration and mention that, but _never_ run anyone down.

7) In any interview, give away something new about the product that you’ve never told anyone before. It gives people a reason to read your interview because they’ll find out something they didn’t already know

8) Have a development blog – update it regularly (2 or 3 times a week) and ensure that you talk about the day to day development. The great unwashed love that for some reason, I’ve no idea why.

9) Have a community forum on your companies website that allows people to talk about the game and their idea’s. Often your most vocal advocates will be the people who frequent these boards.

10) Send out free copies of the game to everyone, and include weird and wonderful places like Playboy, Maxim (and other magazines of this ilk), Conan O’Brien, Stephen Colbert, The Today Show – you name it you send them a copy. It only takes a couple to talk about it and you’ve just made a ton of eyeball time.

11) Call your local newspaper / TV Station and see if they are willing to do a local story on you as a local developer made good over the release of your game. Yes, it’s only local and exposure is local, but another thing you can do is take that video / clippings and send them to you home town, who may well be prompted to do a “local boy makes good” story on you too. If nothing else it’ll make your mother proud.
Yeah, it’s a bit small time but every little bit helps and it costs you nothing.

12) Do talks at GDC or other conferences. This costs money but it raises your profile extensively and can work wonders when other gaming journalists hear your name and say “Oh yeah, I remember him!”.

13) Give copies of the game away for online based competitions or well wisher programs – being seen to give away a few copies of New 3Rd Person Action Killer via the Penny Arcade toys for hospitals program is not a bad thing and gets you associated as a company run by human beings.

All of these things are small, but added up they can mean the difference between 10k sales and 100k sales.

Good luck.

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