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April 21, 2020

10 Social Media Marketing Tips for Indie Game Developers

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10 Social Media Marketing Tips for Indie Game Developers
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Ready to conquer the many-headed beast that is social media, but not sure where to start? Here are 10 tips to help you navigate social media as a gamedev.

Let's be honest: you have better things to do with your time than worry about tackling the ugly, many-headed, sleepless beast that is social media.

It is the bane of your existence. You hate it with every fiber of your being.

So, why should you even bother with it?

First, try to set aside your personal distaste for social media. It's gross, I know. When you go on Facebook to create a page for your game thinking, "I'm better than this," you're right. There are thousands of people who log into Facebook every day thinking the exact same thing.

You are better than this—and that's not sarcasm my friend, it's the truth.

Your calling in life is to create virtual worlds, which you've dedicated precious time to doing, using the highest form of art with technologically advanced software.

And what's even more badass is you're doing it yourself, with no AAA team behind you and a meager budget (if any at all).

Yet you balk at something like social media?

You've got this, and we've got some actionable tips to help you along the way.

10 Social Media Tips for Indie Game Devs

Get a Dedicated Community Manager

Find a dedicated person you can trust to help manage your channels and keep your communities engaged.

In the gaming world, this is what we call a community manager, and their role is to help maintain, grow, and understand your player-base.

Whoever you choose to manage your community efforts, they should at the very least have some experience in marketing, running Discord, Twitch, Telegram, or Youtube channels, or even moderating forums. These requirements will vary depending on what you're looking for, and where specifically you'd like to grow your community.

A community manager will handle the daily conversation, questions, and nitty gritty so you have more time to focus on developing your game. They can also provide an invaluable ear to player feedback and suggestions, which you can take into consideration as you move forward with development.

When looking for a community manager, it's important part to find someone who may already be interested in your game (or at least understand its theme), so they "speak the language" and can keep players genuinely engaged.

If you don't have a community manager, it is possible to handle these efforts by yourself—just be prepared to put in some time and work.

Community and social media efforts can also function as a team effort, which can be done successfully with some clear ground rules and expectations on tone, messaging, and objectives.

For social media, discuss a posting schedule with your team, or designate team members to specific channels. Determine what kind of posts you will share, and what kind of content or interaction is not permitted.

Whether you're a one-man team or a 7-person fellowship, you need to consider what you can realistically dedicate time to, in order to keep things consistent. This is where keeping a schedule or content calendar is handy—nothing fancy, just something to keep track of what has been shared, and what has/hasn't worked.

Time is precious, and so is your community.

Having a person or team you can trust to help with social media and community management will not only allow you to focus more time and energy on actual development, but will also help keep players informed, engaged, and excited about your game.

Take Advantage of Twitter

"Twitter may be the largest and most active social media platform for indie game developers."

This sentiment from the good people at Indie Game Planet couldn't be more true.

For every conference, convention, panel, or meetup you attend, I guarantee one of the most frequently asked questions you'll receive is "Are you on Twitter?"

As an indie game developer, Twitter should be your go-to social media platform for a plethora of reasons:

  • Serving as another venue for making announcements, getting feedback, and posing ideas (whether through your game Twitter account, your own, or both)
  • Networking with other indie game developers, publishers, or through the engine you used for your game
  • Staying connected with press, influencers, and on top of industry news
  • Keeping your players informed

Some developers have even had success tweeting at game distributors like itch.io to get their game featured!

Much of the indie game developer community lives on Twitter, which means other communities that share your game's theme or genre, along with fans of those things, also find their home on Twitter. To find relevant content, they search through popular hashtags like:

  • #indiedevhour: Want some feedback from other devs? Every Wednesday at 7pm GMT, IndieDevHour offers you a chance to showcase your work and ask the indie game community for thoughts on a certain aspect of your game. Feedback during IndieDevHour should be a 2-way street—if someone comments on your posts, make sure to thank them and pay it forward to another indie dev.
  • #screenshotsaturday: Have an awesome new screenshot or .gif of your game? Every Saturday, you have an opportunity to tweet it for the world to see.
  • #gamedev: The big daddy of all gamedev-related hashtags. This is a great way to provide a quick introduction of your game, or share recent development progress.
  • #indiegames: This one might seem obvious, but it's more overlooked than you think. Streamers peruse these posts for the next possible title to play on Twitch, and press sites search through them for potential stories to cover.
  • #madewithunity: If your game is made with the Unity engine, this hashtag is for you. Here, you can connect with other Unity devs like yourself, which can open some doors for potential cross-promotional opportunities. This hashtag can also help get your project noticed by influencers or in weekly roundups like those made by Unity educational partner GameDevHQ.

Capitalizing on popular and trending hashtags is a simple way to get your content out there and get your project seen by new audiences.

Along with including hashtags, be sure to link to your website or relevant landing pages in your posts.

You'll also want to include a link to your website in your Twitter bio—and have a stellar press kit ready, so anyone who discovers you via a hashtag can get a quick overview of what your project is all about!

10 Social Media Marketing Tips for Indie Game Developers
Social Media Calendar
Use this free template to brainstorm, plan, and schedule content for your game's social media channels.

Get Active on r/IndieGaming

Get anxiety over Twitter and want feedback from other devs that's longer than 280 characters? You'll feel welcome on the front page of the internet: Reddit.

While there are plenty of amazing subreddits that cater to the game dev audience, there's nothing quite as magical as r/IndieGaming.

Home to nearly 200,000 game devs and gamers alike, r/IndieGaming is the mecca of indie game feedback and provides a unique venue for discovering indie titles.

Because both gamers and game devs find their special place in the subreddit, this means r/IndieGaming also serves as a great place for press and streamers to find their next diamond in the rough.

Reddit and Twitter have different audiences—real communities with people at the ready to analyze and give their well-thought opinion on your game. Rather than taking this as an opportunity to cross-post and spam, put some real thought into your posts and engage with other users. A little effort can go a long way here.  

While Reddit is reader-friendly and largely text-based, this doesn't mean you should skip out on blowing people's minds with interesting, visual content.

Add Your Game to IGDB

Discoverability has been a thorn in the indie game developer community's side for a few years now, thanks to the Indiepocalypse.

However, some unique responses and solutions have sprouted from this glaring issue. While some organizations and companies have been making waves on trying to remedy this problem, one team in particular saw it coming.

Acquired by Twitch in late 2019, IGDB is an open-source database for video games, game developers, voice actors, platforms, streamers, and much more.

IGDB aims to gather all relevant information about games in one place.

You can think of it like Wikipedia made by game devs and gamers, for game devs and gamers.

IGDB: the "guiding star" for each gamer's unique world

IGDB has a dedicated Discord channel and hundreds of loyal contributors to make it a one-stop hub featuring games' essential information, press kit, media, and social media accounts.

In fact, there are over 225,000 games listed on IGDB.

And did I mention, IGDB also comes bearing game APIs? True to their open-source nature, IGDB is an advocate of not only discoverability, but data accessibility as well.

"We wish to share the data with anyone who wants to build cool videogame oriented websites, apps and services. This means that the information you contribute to IGDB.com can be used by other projects as well. Thus, you are not only contributing to the value of this site but to hundreds of other projects as well."

— IGDB.com

Akin to Steam's wishlist feature, IGDB even has the capability to notify people following games on the site, alerting them of launch dates regardless of what platform a game is on.

Personalization and menu options for your user interface are aplenty—users can find games that are Coming Soon, Popular Games, Recently Released, and more.

Whether you're a game developer working to solidify your place in the game development community, a streamer looking for your next game, a journalist looking for the press kit of a game you saw on Twitter or a publisher, IGDB's goal is to make sure discoverability remains unbiased and simple for all.

Run Geo-targeted Ads in Conjunction with Events

If you've ever considered running ads, you've probably also thought about how to get biggest bang for your advertising buck.

Running geo-targeted ads during events can offer a great return on investment.

"Geotargeting helps focus on a specific market, resulting in more relevant messaging and a better return on investment."

― Hubspot

Geotargeting is used by advertisers to specify the location they want their ads to show.

Industry events provide high-traffic areas with attendees that have specific (and often similar) wants and needs—a prime opportunity to hit them with a relevant message about your game.

When executed correctly, hyper-focused, localized ads can help increase visibility for your project, drive people to your booth at the event, and can be easier on your wallet compared to other forms of advertising.

Geotargeting can be done through social media platforms like Facebook Ads Manager, which you can also utilize for ads on Instagram.

After you've selected a platform, choose when your ad should be served, along with the triggers (e.g., when your target audience takes a specified action) that should activate it.

Did your audience express an interest in attending PAX? Are they following a game with a theme similar to yours?

Plant a trigger at coffee shops or restaurants near the event during peak times for people who are attending PAX and following that game on Twitter. You can even geo-target city districts around and nearby the event.

The goal of geo-targeting ads at an event is to get as many booth visitors as possible, by catching the attention of people in the area who are most likely to attend.

Post Gameplay Videos to 9gag

Say what you want about 9gag, but it is brewing with gamers and has a surprisingly active indie game developer community, too!

In his marketing postmortem on r/GameDev for The First Tree, David Wehle recounted striking gold with 9gag when he posted a .gif on a whim:

"This may come as a shock, but I got a decent amount of traffic from 9gag. I threw one of my gifs on there on a whim, and it got about 6000 upvotes!"

― David Welhe

Like any other platform, the trick with 9gag is to make sure you have quality video or .gif content—something worth sharing and a quick story or comment to go along with it.

Most devs use 9gag to announce their games in self-promotional ways.

You can even post something related to a section which encapsulates a certain mood, like this Animal Crossing: New Horizons post shown in the Gaming and Funny sections. Multiple sections = increased viewership.

Above all, if you plan on posting your game on 9gag, take advantage of attention while you have it! Add a watermarked link directing viewers to your landing page, so they can easily find out more about your game.

Share Visual Content

Think about the last time you scrolled through Facebook or Twitter. Did you stop to fully read every text post? What stands out in your mind?

Chances are it's a video or image, because the human brain processes images an estimated 60,000 times faster than text.

Whether you include videos, .gifs, or game screenshots—the more visual your posts are, the better.

Have an in-game event or tournament coming up that you want to announce? New characters to introduce your community to? A holiday sale for in-game items? How about a fan-made mod to showcase?

Throw an image, .gif, or video on your post to draw attention to it.

And remember, when it comes to social media, video files > YouTube links.

"Social video also generates 1200 percent more shares than text and images combined. Video engages a viewer, displays digestible content in an innovative way, and spreads like wildfire."

Leighton Interactive

Utilizing images and video content shouldn't just be situational—it should be part of your ongoing strategy.

An example of a studio that takes visual content very seriously, LandFall Games has 171k subscribers and 36.4M views on Youtube—results stemming from over four years of consistent, engaging posts. To this day, LandFall's smol' but mighty team from Sweden creates shareable, GIF-worthy content almost every month.

With some years under their belt and Totally Accurate Battle Simulator much further along in development, LandFall opts for content in their own very on-brand, meme-like fashion, highlighting what the game is most known for: ragdoll physics experiments gone wrong and errors in development.

Posting visual content on a frequent basis like this not only engages current users and shows progress, it also makes it much easier for potential new users to get a feel for what your game is all about without having to look much further than your social channels.

If you're going to take the time to tell followers about what you've done, be sure to show them, too!

Add Your Server to Disboard

On the subject of discoverability and social media, Discord offers a few options for finding servers relevant to users' interests.

Disboard is the public Discord server listing community—a portal for those actively looking to join a community on Discord. Disboard filters user searches via tags based on what they might be looking for.

Using more specific tags warrants a narrow search but offers quality members for your community, which is why it may be to your benefit to include as many tags as you can.

But don't treat this tool as a Google search.

Users won't stop and try different search terms once they reach page 2 like they do with Google. On Disboard, people are more likely to keep browsing through all of the results to find the right server. In addition, Disboard relies more on reviews, ratings, and the presentation of your Discord channel listing.

By adding your server to Disboard, you're not only giving people another outlet to find your Discord channel; you're also creating an opportunity for new players to discover your game—and ultimately click the "Join This Server" button.

Post Frequently

Given the isolating circumstances felt worldwide by COVID-19, many people have turned to games to feel connected.  

While being socially active and engaged is something gamers are accustomed to, game devs often overlook the importance of staying active and posting frequently.

Gamers read Steam reviews to see if a game has an active player base, and check social media accounts to view historic data indicating a game's activity level.

Whether it's announcing a giveaway, teaser trailer, new items, game updates, or an upcoming in-game event, continuous conversation informs and provides value to your players.

But social media feeds aren't just meant to be highlight reels; they're an opportunity to build trust and openly communicate with your community.

If a gamer can envision themselves being a part of a game's community, they are more likely to purchase it—a phenomenon I like to call "signs of life."

The most successful devs utilize social media as a platform to not only announce updates and share day-to-day content, but also to address bugs and setbacks with their audience.

These signs of life indicate authenticity and transparency from dev to gamer, thus building player trust, while also helping earn the respect of newcomers.

Larian Studios addresses an impending setback for one game, so they can put all of their focus into another to deliver the best possible experience.

Share Community-Generated Content

Your fans inspire you to create. Likewise, your game inspires them to do the same.

Along with posting frequently about your own creations and progress, share content created by your community, too!

Community-created content is free marketing.

Not only that, it will save you time creating content to post on social media—and show your audience appreciation for their efforts.

Remember that community-created content can come in many forms, such as:

  • Let's Play videos on Youtube
  • Twitch streams
  • Game screenshots
  • Feedback on Steam
  • In-depth reviews
  • Fan art
  • Cosplay
  • Make-up inspiration videos

...and much more.

Some indie devs like Kindred Games and Thomas Brush even treat Twitch and YouTube as their own interactive devlog platform, offering community members the opportunity to provide immediate input and essentially build the game alongside them.

Who says game development has to be lonely?

Whether you RT screenshots, quote game reviews, share fan art, or invite your community to provide real-time feedback, getting players more involved and recognizing their creations and commitment to your project can go a long way in building a loyal following.

Just remember to always credit the source!

Let's Get Social

At the end of the day, as the creator of your game, you are naturally the best person to present it.

You already know what kind of content your game's community craves, but it's important to learn how to effectively use the tools that will best serve your players, old and new.

Whether you hired someone to fulfill a social media marketing role or you're proud to be on team DIY, remember that social media plays an integral role in ensuring the success of your development work.

Ultimately, social media should complement your development milestones and achievements, not clash with them.

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