I get it, you just want to make your thing and not worry about whether people see it. That sentiment is perfectly normal and even as a marketing professional, I feel it too. Unfortunately, if you’re trying to make something commercially viable, marketing is probably a good idea.
So, when I’m feeling frustrated, these are a few ways that I frame marketing tasks to make them feel more engaging.
1. Approach marketing as a FAN
Marketing really starts with choosing what to make. As I refer to in my GDC talk, the biggest factor in whether a game will sell is the game itself. If you want to punch above your budget class and make money as a developer, you ought to think about marketing before you even start development.
But assuming you’re already past that point, you’re now at the step where you’re trying to tell as many people as possible about what you’ve been working on all these years. Calling that step “marketing” makes it seem daunting, professional, and opaque. But let’s take a step back. Isn’t the task just telling people about what you’re working on?
That’s how I started my career in games! I realized that if I loved a game, I wanted to tell friends about it. I tried to convince them to play so that I’d have people to geek out with. I’d ask friends for their taste in games so that I could recommend indies that they’d enjoy. Or in marketing speak, I was doing promotion, lead conversion, and market alignment.
I hope that you’re a fan of your own creation! If you are, how would you describe how cool it is? You’d do the same if you were trying to convince a friend to watch a show you really like. What aspects are the most appealing? How do you describe it before they lose interest? How does watching it make you feel?
Have those conversations about your game and then write down what you said. You now have material for your Steam page, event submissions, social media posts, and anywhere else you need it. The more you talk about it, the more refined the descriptions will get. You’ll find what messages land, what sounds confusing, and better ways to convince newcomers to give your game a bit of their attention.
2. Approach marketing as an experiment
There are many different channels to promote your game but each of them takes time and effort. Both of which are on short supply if you’re a game developer. But which channels are the best ways to use that limited capacity?
The most important asset is undoubtedly your store page. It’s the only direct place to convince a potential customer to give you money.
But apart from that, every other channel can be a complete hit or miss. There are games that do well with or without social media, influencers picking it up, or press coverage.
So, I try to approach every new endeavour as an experiment. I come up with a list of ideas and throw them at the wall. If they do well, I’ll lean on it more! But if they don’t, I’ll put it on the backburner for another time.
This can get as granular as specific gameplay clips or descriptive phrases. There are even developers who have done this with entire game prototypes. When you’re in the weeds of development, it’s hard to get into the mindset of someone from the outside. Throwing ideas into the world is a way of testing their marketability.
With an experimentation mindset, it isn’t a failure if something doesn’t get traction; it’s more information about your game’s fit in the wider market.
3. Approach Marketing as a Designer
If you’re making a game, you’re thinking about the player’s experience. Maybe you’re trying to make a player feel cozy, intrigue, power, or any form of emotional response. To do that, you think carefully about every detail to craft their experience to your intention.
Bring that design mindset to your marketing strategy and materials. Each word, each visual, even the formatting, are all tools to make an impression on a potential customer.
Most importantly, think about how you are onboarding them with a first impression. As Nick Kaman said in his GDC soapbox talk, “have you tried touching grass? It's better than most games”. Your game and your marketing materials are competing for someone’s attention. Not just against other games, but against every other thing someone could be doing in their life.
Design your materials so they grab attention and reward the viewer with an emotional response. I go into more detail about this idea in my GDC talk.
4. Approach Marketing as yourself
This final point is the most important. Anyone who has worked in any sort of content grind will tell you how easy it is to burn out. Marketing can feel like a thankless task because the results are so arbitrary. And they can feel that way because many platforms, especially social media platforms, are arbitrary!
Social media platforms aren’t just trying to get people to watch, but they also need people to create content. As game developers, you know that the best way to get someone to do something repeatedly is with variable reward schemes. So on certain platforms like TikTok, a post isn’t only being judged by its engagement metrics, but it’s also rolling a lootbox of visibility. As much as you can try to experiment and design strong marketing materials, there’s usually luck involved as well.
Faced with this black box of “marketing”, play to your strengths and make things you enjoy. I have a music background and I’m a big fan of Seth Everman so I made a video in his style with our lamb merch. I also like copywriting and thinking about marketing games, that’s why you’re reading this right now.
Maybe you love technical breakdowns, maybe you’re into cosplay, maybe you’re a god-tier shitposter. Whatever you enjoy, you can use it as marketing! The story of your game is also the story of you, and you can leverage that to connect with an audience.
It's just communication
Negativity around “marketing” is common among creatives. But at its core, it’s just communicating a message to other people. All the skills and ideas that you use to interact with others in your everyday life also apply to marketing and I hope that reframing it in this way will help you hate it a little less.