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Marketing for indie games

Are you an indie game developer and you don’t know how to sell your game? You don’t like to be anywhere near marketing? Bad luck, because marketing is indispensable nowadays to make your game known. You have invested a lot of time, sweat and talent in making a great game, but… what good is it if you don’t sell it?

If everything that sounds like marketing makes your head spin and you don’t even know where to start, don’t lose your nerves. In Abylight’s Twitch channel we have interviewed Maria Fornieles, expert in marketing for indie games, to shed some light on this increasingly necessary aspect of game development. (In spanish)

Who is María Fornieles?

María Fornieles is a marketing consultant, communicator and teacher, specialized in marketing for indie video games. She goes wherever she is called, to draw a roadmap for people who sometimes need just a little push, because they can see where to go but not the necessary steps to get there.

Her facet as a disseminator began with her book “Marketing para imbéciles“, published in 2017. A compilation of the useful advice that Maria was giving people on her blog.

In addition to that book,  Maria highlights her work on two games: Tzuki’s Plan B (2001, Cokoon Games) and ViDu (2021).

The first one won the award for Best Mobile Game at the Malaga Indie Awards. For María it was special because it allowed her a lot of freedom to design the marketing strategy and she was even able to make improvements to the core of the game, such as going from two protagonists to one and introducing feminism and diversity themes along with the environmentalist message that it already had.

ViDu (2021), won the award for Best Business Idea in the Emprende-Innova-Comparte contest, organized by Acción contra el Hambre. A video game, according to Maria “very necessary”, which addresses the grieving process after the loss of a loved one.

Not everything in this medium has to be “shooting bullets like crazy”. Video games can be a very powerful way to deal with all kinds of issues and provide useful tools to improve our environment and ourselves.

Not just selling, but also spreading the word

Although she has worked for companies in the past, now María is more focused on her communicator work, as a teacher in the Master of Videogames at ESADA (Granada), with her online courses and her podcasts on Twitch, working on her personal brand in addition to her work as a consultant.

She confesses to be a great fan of dubbing and voiceover, but like so many of us, she doesn’t like the sound of her own voice. Her perception changed with a phrase that Luisa Ezquerra (Lois’ spanish dubber in Family Guy) told her:

“We need voices of all colors.”

That’s why María emphasizes above all the satisfaction she gets from her career as a disseminator and being able to leave her mark on people.

“Many people have told me that they have taken out their game or are dedicated to it because they read my book, listened to me in a talk… I have seen people grow and that makes me excited”.

Marketing for indie video games

So you already have your marketing degree, very well, congratulations, but that doesn’t mean that you can immediately do marketing for anything. Everything has its own peculiarities and the good thing about video games is that they have many possibilities, allowing you to create campaigns both on a physical level at point of sale, with audiovisual content, interactive… Something that does not happen with all markets.

“It is a fresh, new, young world, with many things to explore and paths to follow”. Maria also emphasizes its wide age range, since you can reach audiences of all ages. And nowadays there are games for everything and everyone! It is a discipline that encompasses many aspects of art.

In the case of indie games, thanks to the democratization of the media, the market is very broad. But the big difficulty is that indies don’t have the same investment capacity as the big studios, and there’s not as much attention paid to marketing.

“Here we are still very fresh and what is talked about in the indie world does not always correspond to what happens in Spain.” In other territories the figure of business angels is common, indie games that reach AAA popularity… but here it is rare. “There is no investment in video games. Now, schools, as many as you want. But the video game industry in Spain is very much in the minority.”

What has changed in video game marketing?

We are becoming more and more aware of the importance of marketing to make our game stand out among the avalanche of titles that arrive daily on the different platforms. Even indie studios are aware and contemplate everything that marketing entails from the very beginning.

We also realize that some techniques are not reserved for the big “AAA” studios, such as influencer and micro-influencer marketing.

You don’t always have to rely on the big streamers. There are more minority streamers who can also help form a community, also relying on platforms like Twitch and Discord.

“Let’s not repeat the mistakes we made with other industries and let’s give an opportunity to smaller creators.”

Beyond influencers

In this day and age, positioning, SEO, keywords, having a good Steam page (look how cool One Military Camp’s page is!), as well as involving the community and offering them relevant content are more important than ever.

This is much more in line with the times than an ad on TV or in a marquee.

But above all, what has changed the most for Maria is that old “Mad Men” attitude of traditional competition, where everyone is an enemy and hermeticism prevails. In today’s hyper-communicated society, it makes no sense.

Tips and first steps for an indie studio

First of all, if you are a very small studio that does not have anyone specialized in marketing… Spend lots of time training yourself, soak up everything you can, and not necessarily with courses, because there is also a lot of free content on the internet.

Another very important step is to thoroughly analyze our project critically. Question everything and analyze what you are doing. Not at every step of the way, of course, because it can also generate insecurity in the team, but you need a figure who can see things from another point of view and not be blinded by feelings like “this is the game I’ve always wanted to do”. Remember that the game also has to sell.

And to sell, it is also key to make a good market and target audience analysis, because the results can condition the development of our project. It is important to be clear about why we make this game and where are we seeing the possibilities.

Mastering social networks

Among the jungle of social networks, Maria bets on Twitter and its great gamedev community. “I think the twitter gaming community is wonderful, it moves fast, it’s spontaneous, it’s up to date and there’s a lot of support.”

Twitch and Discord are also good tools for creating a community, much more participatory in the case of Discord, while Twitch is more vertical (revolving around a personality). It’s always important for the public to be able to see the face of the people behind the games.

It is difficult to have an Instagram account for a video game because the way to interact is very limited and requires a lot of work to get a minimum of visibility with very few conversions.

In the end, whatever social network you choose, your content has to go beyond the video game and make sense for the platform. Maria uses the analogy of soccer, where a game is only 90 minutes, but what moves the industry is the pre-show, the post-show… all the content that is generated around it.

“It would be nice if networks valued those who are good people rather than those who just upload a lot of content.”

Don’t lose focus

María reminds us not to lose our bearings. We should be clear about who we are and where we are going.

And be mindful that bad marketing does exist. The important thing is that we use marketing as a tool to do good things and make us better people, and without a doubt that is the best lesson.

You can find Maria on her Twitch channel, where every week she talks about video game marketing in her podcasts.

And remember to follow Abylight on our social networks! Join our Discord channel to talk about videogames directly with us and on our Twitch you can regularly find more talks and interviews about videogame development and publishing. Don’t miss it!

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