Indie Game Marketing: What We've Learned So Far Part 1: Family and Friends

Indie Game Marketing: What We've Learned So Far

Releasing Intrusion Protocol has been a major learning experience for us. Making games is no walk in the park, but getting those games into the hands of paying customers may be just as difficult. If you delve into game dev blogs and videos, you will quickly learn that simply making a good game, putting it up on Steam, and crossing your fingers is not enough. You need to make people aware of your existence. In this series of blog posts, we will go through the avenues we have taken to market our first game, and what each of them has done for us so far.

Part 1: Family and Friends

It's easy to default to what you know. This is true for pretty much anything in life, including indie game marketing. When you're a small studio, or even a solo developer, your first instinct may be to default to who you know. "Well, I'll sell at least X copies because I have X family members and friends who support me." It seems like a pretty basic and intuitive concept, right?


Reality check

Now is the time for brutal honesty. You cannot count on your family and friends for your game to be successful. Yes, I know that Facebook status about you making a game got a bunch of likes, but that will not necessarily translate into that many sales. Unless you've somehow made a game that everyone on earth enjoys (and if you have, we want in on it), the market is just not there. If your family and friend groups are anything like ours, you're talking about a group of very diverse and unique people.

But my friends are all gamers!

Actual picture from my last LAN party, I swear.

Actual picture from my last LAN party, I swear.

Maybe, but there are a lot of things to consider beyond someone simply enjoying video games. Think about your total group of gamer friends. How many of those people use the platform you're releasing on? Now, out of that smaller group, how many of them enjoy the genre of your game? Out of that even smaller group, how many of them are currently consumed by their favorite game? How many of them have time to play your game? The more you ask these questions, the more your pool of family and friends who will buy your game shrinks.

So, my friends and family don't actually support me?

That's not what I'm saying at all. It's easy to get a tad bitter when you launch your game, and none of your family or friends buy it. You may feel like they don't really support you beyond a like on social media. That's the wrong way to think about it. People can support you as a person and want you to be successful, but not want to play your game. It is unrealistic and downright unfair to expect someone to buy your product just because they know you.

None of my friends bought my game. Everyone hates me, and I suck. NO YOU DON'T!

None of my friends bought my game. Everyone hates me, and I suck. NO YOU DON'T!

Let's frame this in a way a lot of people can relate to. Have you ever had a relative or friend sell products for a multi-level marketing company? They buy up a bunch of candles, knives, or one of several other products people already have or don't need, and then sell to their circles of family and friends. How do you feel when you see that? I can't speak for everyone, but I feel guilt. I don't need this thing. I don't want this thing. But my friend is selling this and I want them to be successful. That's one of many reasons why multi-level marketing is such a shady business model. They rely on guilt to sell.

Do not be that person. Don't guilt people into buying your game. If you really want your friends to play and enjoy your game, it's up to you to make something they want to pick up on their own instead of pulling together a few sympathy sales.

So the people I know bring no value to my game?

Sales are not the only form of value. Although family and fiends may not bring you a bunch of cash, they can provide an invaluable service: Honest early feedback. Indie game developers, especially new ones, can be very hesitant to put their creation out into the world. You've put you heart into this piece of art, and you don't want the often cold and brutal place known as the internet to rip it to shreds.

This can be scary. Show it to your friends first!

This can be scary. Show it to your friends first!

If you're worried about your game being a dud, or even if you just want some limited input without sharing it with the whole world, ask your family and friends to take a look at your early prototypes. They will most likely be comfortable giving you honest feedback of what's good and what's bad. If they honestly like it, you know you're on the right track. If they hate it, you get a far better idea of where you should go with it before unveiling it to the outside world.

So I shouldn't market to my family and friends?

There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting people you know to play your game, but you cannot depend on that to make or break your sales. The hard truth is that the market is too small, too fragmented, and you feel extra crappy when it doesn't work out. So don't spend time sulking when your family and friends don't shower your game in money. Focus on breaking into the huge, more specific game markets out there. It'll be much better for you in the long run to reach those new people anyway. And always remember that people do support your personal success even if they don't buy your game.

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