Here’s a hard fact of life for any indie game developer:
Just because you made an awesome game doesn’t mean anyone will play it.
In fact, if you don’t take your indie game marketing seriously, all your hard work could be for nothing.
A lot of game developers make the mistake of thinking that just because the game is finished, your work is over. In fact, your work is just getting started.
As one indie game developer on Reddit put it…
The good news is that getting your game in front of a massive audience isn’t as hard as you might think, and you can do a lot of it for free. But you need to have a plan and be willing to put in some hard graft.
To help you out, we’ve pulled together a bunch of proven indie game marketing strategies that will work for any developer on any budget.
Here are six mobile game marketing strategies that actually work:
Strategy #1: Get reviews on popular mobile game review sites
Game reviews are a tried-and-tested way to promote your work. But getting reviews isn’t always easy…
You can send a few emails to journalists or submit your game to a couple of sites, but a slapdash approach isn’t going to move the needle.
If you want to make an impact, you need to take a step back and make a plan… and probably a huge spreadsheet.
There are two ways you can get reviews:
- Contacting reporters
- Submitting your game to review sites
Let’s tackle them one at a time.
Tip #1 on getting reviews: Contacting reporters
Reporters get bombarded with hundreds if not thousands of emails a month from people just like you. And they ignore most of them.
At the same time, they’re under massive pressure from their editors to find and publish stories or reviews.
So they’re always on the lookout, but they only want the best. With this in mind, here are two things you need to know so you can get their attention.
Thing 1: Find a reporter who will love your game
Metacritic is an amazing tool for finding the right reporters to contact.
Let’s say you’ve built an adventure game for iOS and you want to find reporters who love games like yours. Just go to the iOS reviews page and use the right-hand menu to select ‘adventure’.
From there, browse through the games until you find one that’s similar to yours with a score above 75.
Click into the game and check out the Critic Reviews section. The reviews are ranked by score which makes it easy to find the most positive reviews.
Click the link and then check out the name of the author.
There you go. Shaun Musgrave is your guy!
But a name isn’t going to help you. You need their email address.
The easiest way to find this is to Google their name followed by ‘journalist’ or ‘reporter’ and look for their…
- Website: this will usually have a contact form or email address on it.
- Twitter: most journalists are active on Twitter and often have their email in their bio. If not, you can always DM them.
Thing 2: How to pitch a journalist
You only have one shot to get a journalist’s attention — and pestering them doesn’t work — so you need to make it count.
To do this, you need to nail your ‘elevator pitch’. This is a short and memorable phrase that describes your game and makes them want to find out more.
Your elevator pitch will help you pitch journalists, but also quickly and easily describe your game to anyone. It’s an essential part of your indie game marketing.
Tiny Build shared a couple of great examples of elevator pitches for popular indie games:
- Ridiculous Fishing: “Fishing with Machine Guns”
- Divide By Sheep: “A Math Puzzler About Slicing Sheep in Half”
- Untitled Goose Game: “You’re a goose that honks and steals stuff”
Notice the lack of gaming jargon. If you start talking about “hours of gameplay” and “cutting-edge graphics”, they’ll switch off.
Here’s an example of how you could use your elevator pitch in your email to journalists:
I’ve just finished building a game called Divide By Sheep, a math puzzler about slicing sheep in half.
I saw that enjoyed [similar game] so thought I’d give you the heads up.
Once you’ve got their interest, the next step is to show them your game in action. You can do this with a GIF embedded in the email or a link to a YouTube trailer.
If you create a trailer, get into the action within the first five seconds. You might think your long and cinematic intro is great, but most people will get bored and leave before the gameplay starts.
Finally, make sure you include a press kit to make life as easy as possible for the reporter. This should include:
- Shots of gameplay
- Your elevator pitch
- A quick summary of the concept
The best way to share this with them is to upload it as a ‘press kit’ to your website then include that as a link in your email. This is easier to work with than an attachment they have to download.
Example outreach email
If you’re unsure how to write your outreach email to journalists, here’s a quick template you can repurpose:
Hey [first name],
I’ve just finished building a game called [game name]. It’s an [elevator pitch].
I saw that you enjoyed [similar game they’ve reviewed] so thought I’d get in touch.
If you want to check it out, here’s a quick trailer: [link]
There’s a press kit on my site with everything you need to know: [link to press kit]
If you have any questions or thoughts, I’d be happy to help.
Tip #2 on getting reviews: Submitting your game to review sites
Contacting relevant journalists is more likely to get you a review than submitting directly to review websites. That said, if you’ve contacted all the journalists you can find, there’s no harm in doing this as well.
Game review sites come in all shapes and sizes.
Don’t overlook review sites just because they have a smaller audience. Relevance is important.
Let’s imagine you’ve made a retro 2D puzzler. A website that only reviews 2D puzzlers will have a smaller audience than TouchArcade, but you can be sure their visitors will be interested in your work.
All this sounds great in theory, but where should you start?
AppFreak published a list of 100 mobile game review sites featuring a range of sites with large and niche audiences. This should give you plenty to work with.
A quick note on your promotional materials
When it comes to marketing, people do judge a book by its cover. Every time.
If your marketing assets look cheap or are poorly made, journalists and gamers will ignore them. The time and money you invest in creating awesome promotional materials will pay itself back many times over when you’re promoting your game.
Strategy #2: Build an audience of game enthusiasts
Building an audience gives you instant access to your most avid fans whenever you need them. You can use this to promote your games, build your reputation, forge mutually beneficial relationships, and gather feedback.
However, building an audience is a long-term strategy. You can’t just start posting stuff when you have a game coming out.
Audiences take years to grow and you will need to invest time and effort in creating content without any immediate payback.
If this sounds daunting, remember: building an audience will give you instant and free access to your most avid fans whenever you need them.
The time that you invest today will be well spent in the long run. If you want to build an audience, there are decisions you need to make:
A. Which channel(s) to choose
B. What content to create
C. How you’ll turn readers or viewers into subscribers
A. Which channel(s) to choose
There are tons of platforms that indie game developers can use to build an audience — Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Discord to name a few.
If you’re willing to spend a small amount of money, you can also build a website and use it to grow a list of email subscribers.
YouTube is a favourite of indie game developers for a few good reasons. It’s free, you can share clips from your games and — most importantly — gamers love YouTube!
B. What content to create
Coming up with great content ideas is an art. We could write an entire article on this topic alone.
The key thing to remember is that it’s all about creating value for others. You can do that by teaching them something they want to know or doing something entertaining.
Game development tutorials are a tried-and-tested way to build an audience.
Try to be as specific as possible when coming up with ideas. General advice (“How to Design Characters”) is less useful than specific advice (“How to Design Cute Non-Human Characters in 3D”).
You also need to think about your headlines.
If the headline doesn’t sell the video, nobody will watch it — no matter how good it is.
So make sure your headlines tell people what they’re going to learn, but also make them feel like they need to watch or they’ll be missing out like in the examples below.
Another way to build an audience is to review other people’s games. This is also a good way to build relationships with other developers.
You review their games, they review yours.
This works particularly well if the games you’re reviewing are similar to yours. It’s no good reviewing Xbox games if you’re a mobile developer or vice versa.
Promoting your work
Work-in-progress updates are a great way to build anticipation and excitement ahead of your game’s release. Use your channel to drip-feed information and share screen captures and updates about your game.
C. How you’ll turn readers or viewers into subscribers
If you’re building an audience for the first time, don’t forget to encourage your visitors and viewers to subscribe or follow your YouTube channel or blog multiple times within every piece of content you create.
A view or visit is great, but a subscriber is infinitely better.
Strategy #3: Share your game on Reddit
Reddit can be really confusing to outsiders.
It has a weird layout and there are tons of memes that newcomers won’t get. And the whole subreddit structure can throw people off.
But none of that matters, because it has a massive user base. How massive? Well, it was clocking up 430 million monthly active users in 2019. So yeah, well worth your time.
But if you want to share your game on Reddit, you need to go about it the right way.
If you just fire up an account and post a link to your game, people might turn on you. After all, Reddit is a community, not a marketplace.
Users don’t like it when developers transparently promote their game without participating in the community beforehand or adding value in some way.
So here are a few ways to share your game on Reddit with getting “flamed” or ignored.
- Tell your story
Everyone loves an underdog story. As an indie game developer, you’re an underdog.
If you decide to post your game, why not tell your story at the same time?
How long have you been making games? Why did you decide to make this game? What struggles did you face along the way? How does it feel to see it live?
Another thing you can do is contribute to the community by doing an AMA (Ask Me Anything), which is a real-time interview where you answer people’s questions.
Here’s an example of a game developer doing exactly this to promote their game:
- Post a cool GIF or screen capture video
A lot of game developers share GIFs of work-in-progress gameplay as a way of generating interest and getting feedback.
Which subreddits should you post to?
There are tons of gaming subreddits out there. Some of them are very active, but a lot of them aren’t worth your time.
For indie game marketing on Android or iOS, here’s a good list of active subreddits that are worth checking out:
Reddit isn’t the only show in town, but these days it’s definitely one of the largest.
Here are a few other places where you can post updates and strike up conversations with gamers and developers.
- TouchArcade forums
- TIGSource forums – “Notch” famously used TIGSource’s forums to promote Minecraft when it was released.
- GameDev.net forums
- Indie Gamer forums
- Indie DB forum
Strategy #4: Get on podcasts
Podcasts are blowing up. In fact, over 50% of US homes now listen to podcasts.
Podcasts are a great way to promote yourself and your work. But they’re unlikely to get you on the show just to plug your game.
You need to think of an angle or idea that works for you, the host, and their listeners. Maybe you have an interesting story or a unique point-of-view. It will also help a lot if you can prove that you’re a listener, so make sure you listen to a few shows before you get in touch.
Don’t forget to ask the host if it’s okay to mention your game on the show and tell people how to check it out if they want to. You don’t want to invest time and energy in appearing and not get anything in return!
Strategy #5: Create genius cross-promotion and referral mechanisms
Let’s start with the simple stuff.
Cross-promote your game within your other apps. It’s a simple, low-cost, and low effort way of reaching people who already like your work.
This is particularly effective when your new game overlaps with one of your old games, like if it’s a spin-off or a sequel. It can also help if the gameplay is similar, although you don’t want things to feel repetitive.
Referrals are a powerful way to encourage gamers to promote the game on your behalf. If you want to max out the number of referrals you’re getting, then tie a referral mechanism into the gameplay.
For instance, in the game HQ Trivia, users could get extra lives when they ran out of them by referring a friend to the game.
How smart is that?
One of the reasons this is such a good referral mechanism is that it gives people a good reason to refer a friend, but also encourages them to keep playing. Win-win.
Another powerful referral mechanism is to give users a way to quickly and easily share clips of gameplay. Here’s an example of a user sharing a live gameplay clip from the game C.A.T.S. with a friend.
Strategy #6: Ask your friends and family to help out
This one might seem obvious, but it’s often overlooked…
No man or woman is an island. If you’re just starting out, your most avid supporters may well be your family and friends.
Ask them to help promote your game, but you can also ask them for introductions. You really never know where an introduction could lead.
One of your friends might have gone to college with a games journalist. Your auntie might live next door to a podcaster. The only opportunities you can be certain won’t pan out are the ones you don’t ask for.
Indie game marketing isn’t easy. If you were to properly follow all the advice in this guide, that would probably be a month’s full-time work.
But what’s the alternative? Do less marketing, get fewer users, and ultimately get less in return for all your hard work. Nobody wants that to happen.
If you have any questions or need help executing any of the strategies in this guide, get in touch and we’ll do everything we can to help.