5 Tips for DIY Mobile Game Marketers

Insights & Best Practices

March 20, 2015


min read

When indie mobile game developer Justin Woodward created Super ComboMan, a sticker-based fighter with colorful characters and interesting gaming mechanics, he wasn?t making much headway with the usual publishers. Even with a compelling elevator pitch, and four years of development to create a fantastic game, no one wanted to pick it up.As an indie developer, Woodward?s impulse was to turn the marketing over to a publisher. ?We wanted to spend most of our time on the game production,? he said at last week's Game Developers Conference (GDC) in San Francisco, ?so we wanted to figure out how to market with someone else.?

Woodward and Dreskin

Woodward and Dreskin at GDC 2015Now on the Steam and Humble Bundle storefronts, Woodward?s game is finally published and making money. But how did he go from zero to hero? Not with a publisher, but with help from Joel Dreskin, a public relations veteran who has partnered with Woodward to help teach other indies how to market their own games more effectively.?There is no magic bullet,? warned Dreskin at GDC last Thursday. ?Way more often, it takes persistence and trial and error. You have to understand your own game and your own audience.? Here are the most important steps for indie devs on a budget, according to the duo:

  1. Time your announcements carefully

Getting the word out about your game can?t be random, Dreskin noted. You need to have a solid timeline to base your messaging activities. Announce too soon and gamers will lose interest, announce too late and they may not even see your message. Typically, you want to announce a few months out from your planned release, then begin to build excitement with your marketing activities two to three months out from launch day. The biggest push, he said, is typically two to three weeks out from the big launch.?Don?t just plan for launch, though,? said Dreskin, pointing out that most games earn their lion?s share after the first heady weeks after release. ?Think about the long haul.?

  1. Hone your elevator pitch

Unless you can describe your game in a few concise, compelling sentences, you?ll never get past the first step. Woodward spent time figuring out who his game was for and how to best explain it so that he could clearly communicate that to potential partners.

  1. Monitor the release landscape

These days, games don?t release in a vacuum, said Dreskin. Many other games across a wide variety of platforms vie for your target audience?s attention. Be aware of holidays, even if that means creating special levels or art assets to fully take advantage of a holiday release window.

  1. Pound the pavement with a mix of marketing tactics

The trick for scrappy marketers is to find the right mix of activities that have the biggest payoff for your specific game. Connecting to press outlets that reflect your game?s audience can be helpful, but you can (and should) develop your own audience via Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and even attending events like GDC and PAX. You can also enter game contests, participate in game jams or submit your game to popular YouTube and Twitch streams to create awareness.Other ?guerrilla? marketing tactics he recommends include sending announcements and review copies to press and fans and bringing playable builds of your game to the booths at gaming conferences and trade shows.?Stay vigilant, nimble and active,? said Dreskin. Remember that the mix of activities ? and the plan itself ? will change many times before launch day.

  1. Prioritize relationships

Woodward stressed the importance of connecting with other game developers (via Direct Deals, for example), PR professionals, members of the press and your fans. Socializing is important, he said, and you?ll connect with mentors and other folks who will champion your game when you least expect it. ?Even if you?re shy,? he said, ?you have to be persistent and tenacious ? pursue visibility and traction.?Not only do mobile game developers have to create compelling content, they also need to get the word out about their games. To do so, Dreskin and Woodward learned, you must plan early, be persistent as well as flexible, network and build relationships, and create a mix of marketing vehicles and tactics, including the ones after initial launch.Tired? That means you?re probably doing something right. For Woodward, his slow but sure partnership with Dreskin paid off ? resulting in a successful Kickstarter campaign and a partnership with Adult Swim.?It?s a marathon,? said Dreskin, apologizing for the cliche, ?not a sprint.?Rob LeFebvre is a freelance writer out of Anchorage, AK. He has written about mobile gaming and technology for the past seven years, contributing to Cult of Mac, iPhone Life, VentureBeat, Paste Online, and PocketGamer. He was also the Editor at the very fine 148Apps for three years and co-founded video game enthusiast sites GamesAreEvil in 2008 and The Portable Gamer in 2009.