So we've had a look at where the challenges of indie exposure lie, and the power of the USP in your promotion, and how to make the most of it. It seems natural to follow on with a discussion of one particular USP available to all of us indie developers. It's something few AAA studios have quite the same access to...
It is ourselves.
Our ability as indie developers to be individuals, with distinctive personalities and motivations is incredibly valuable. Here's why:
Your Marketing Story
Your marketing story is one of the most important promotional tools at your disposal. Tadhg Kelly wrote a smart article on what makes for a good marketing story, which is a must-read.
Stories are emotive. Stories are memorable. Stories have a human face. We as indies have unique and fascinating stories to tell. Because of our scale, we can be individual personalities, and readers of our stories can put themselves in our shoes. You may not think you have an interesting story, but you do. Micro studios taking on entire game projects must inevitably take a unique and usual path to get there. The tale of an indie who struggled to get break through but persisted through thick and thin is inspiring.
What's more, we make for interesting press material. As well a human-interest angle on video games, we can provide a lot of specific detail about our projects and our perspectives, without having to worry about whether our higher-ups deem it confidential.
Ed McMillen and Notch strike me as obvious examples of developers with strong personalities and opinions that are memorable and inspiring. Phil Fish has a remarkable story of five years spent perfecting his magnum opus. They appear a lot in the games press not just because of their excellent games, but also because they are exciting personalities that people want to hear about.
Promoting Your Cause
Indies also come with a built in message, something to believe in. We're the everymen taking on the wealthy AAA establishment, putting creative vision first, rather than letting shareholders dictate what we can and can't do. We're also aspirational figures, believe it or not, doing what many gamers want to do themselves: create games that they love. Having an identifiable story is fascinating enough, but having a cause for fans to rally behind makes our message even stronger.
It's easier to rally behind a cause than a product. Apple fanboys exist not because the products are objectively better, but because they come with a product design philosophy that puts elegance first and makes them feel like part of a new Renaissance. It's why fans can hype a product before they've even used it, because of the values and messages behind it.
These fans can referred to as a tribe. These are the people who will gather together to share and discuss your work, and identify themselves proudly as followers. People are more likely to become part of your tribe if they admire your story and believe in your cause, and if they feel actively involved in the project.
A Sense of Involvement
Giving people an opportunity to be involved can come in many forms. Consumer involvement is why Kickstarter is not just a useful funding tool, but also a promotional one. Players have noticeably become bigger Greedy Bankers evangelists when I have asked publicly for input on new artwork and responded personally to queries.
Personally, I've found my Twitter feed to be incredibly useful in communicating with players. They can contact me directly and I can give them a friendly response. Players respect a developer who's happy to help out, and to listen, and this is a reputation that will spread. Community involvement also makes for a great press story, as it offers readers an opportunity to be active in the medium they love. So it's mutually beneficial for you and your press contacts!
Exhibiting at Expos
Meeting players in person can also reinforce a sense of connection, and turn interested players into evangelists. They've met you, you were really nice, and so they want you to achieve your cause.
Eurogamer Expo was a watershed for me for these exact reasons. Meeting gaming fans at the event had a profound effect. It increased my twitter following and brought an influx of positive app store reviews (several actually mentioning the fact that the players met me and I was really nice!)
Some fans ran blogs and podcasts, and having enjoyed the game so much were happy to wax lyrical to their followers. I also formed some fantastic connections with other developers, and met journalists from more established sites, who I've maintained valuable connections with ever since.
In many cases, being involved in events comes from simply asking to be involved. I didn't even know if GameCity Nottingham was exhibiting games when I asked if I could participate, for example.
And when you are exhibiting, do not be afraid to actively approach people and ask them to have a go. Most people do not mind being approached at all, especially if you have something incredible and surprising to show them! People went mad for Greedy Bankers vs The World when I approached them in the queues outside Eurogamer! Knowing that you're the developer they'll often want to pick your brains about your work, further cementing that important personal connection.
Again, the exact same attitude can be applied to any games journalists or industry figures you come across, which can obviously be incredibly valuable over a long period. The majority of my best press contacts are people I have met in person.
I'd talked about Twitter as a useful tool in engaging players, but I've also found it incredibly useful for maintaining press contacts and engaging new ones. Simply being friendly, saying thank you for an article you've enjoyed, or asking them questions about something you disagree with, can build up your image as approachable and worth talking to.
If you are putting out press materials, you need to see things from their perspective. What's going to make an interesting story for them? Feed them information and points from your story that their readers will enjoy. Give them pre-written copy and offer to do interviews. Blog articles that are constructive for aspiring developers, related to a remarkable event, or hit on important industry concerns have worked particularly well for me.
A little appropriate persistence goes a long way too. Journalists are busy people who get a lot of pitches and press releases, but it's not that they don't want to hear from you. As long as you're not pestering them there's no harm in reminding them that you're there, especially if you're offering them something constructive!
That Personal Touch
In the end, the message is pretty simple. Your ability to be a personality is an incredibly powerful selling point to press and players alike. It's also uniquely indie, with very few AAA studios having the ability to be as personal and identifiable as you are. So make the most of it! Be friendly and generous, and above all, be outgoing - let people know who you are and why you're fascinating!
In the next article, I'll be looking at pricing strategies, distribution methods and other entrepreneurial concerns.