Maybe you have a game close to release and you’re wondering how you’ll find players. Maybe you’ve already released a great game and you don’t know why so few people are trying it out. In either case, the answer is advertising! You can have the best game in the world and not sell a single copy if people don’t know it exists.
This is a list of ideas you can try to get your game noticed. Some are free, some are cheap and others can be very expensive. Some are quick and easy, while others would take a lot of work. Some are obvious and common-place, and others are a bit “out there” and may not be for everyone. If you’re not sure how to advertise your video game at least one of these ideas will get you started so you can find more players and earn more money!
1. Tell your friends and family
This one is good because it’s free, very easy, and is probably something you’ll already be doing. Unfortunately, in the majority of cases it will also have limited effectiveness. Tell all of your friends and family about your game, and make it easy for any who might be interested to try it out.
To get the most out of telling your friends and family about your game, remind them to rate your game and/or leave positive feedback to encourage views by others and improve your chances of ranking in app stores or other game lists. You could also ask (but should not pressure) them to tell their own friends and family outside of your own social circle.
2. Run a contest
People love the chance to get free stuff, so a competition can be a great way to raise awareness. Be sure to check if there are any local laws that need to be followed or permits you might need to obtain. You could give entries into a contest to those who purchase your game, you could give away copies of your game to build interest, or you could give away prizes to people who blog about, post videos about, or otherwise help to promote your game.
3. Print bumper or windshield stickers
Print bumper stickers or stickers for the rear windshield of your car. For best results clearly display your web-address on the stickers. Again, don’t pressure them, but close friends and family might also be willing to apply your stickers to their cars. The more people you can make aware of your game or web-address, the higher your chances that some of them will try it out and become fans.
If any of your games feature memorable characters you might even be able to create bumper stickers that would be popular with your existing fan-base. See if a local university might be willing to include your stickers in the welcome bags that are often given to new students.
4. Promotional bundles
Promotional bundles are great for customers, as they offer better value for money. If you have several games you can make a bundle with just your own games, but it can often be better to team up with some other fellow developers and offer a bundle with one or more games each, allowing you to share your existing fan-base and still offering your players a better deal.
The “Humble Indie Bundle” — which offers collections of games from high-profile indie developers at a pay-what-you-want price — is probably the most well-known example of this, but bundles can also be successfully used by other developers, and don’t necessarily need to follow suit with the pay-what-you-want gimmick.
Have a read through this 5 For 5 Bundle Postmortem, where a developer details the process of his own successful promotional bundle, including a look at what does and does not seem to work well, as well as some tips for succeeding with your own bundles.
5. Build a mailing list
Building a mailing list can help to advertise a newly released game or create awareness of your latest promotion. This is something that you’ll do over the course of multiple game releases, but by presenting a mailing address opt-in to your users you can build a list fans who might be interested in your future releases.
6. In-game incentives
Offer bonus content (extra levels, an unlockable weapon, etc.) for helpful activities. In Angry Birds I unlocked a couple of free bonus levels by “liking” the game’s Facebook page and rating the game in the Apple app store. This is a simple but effective way of encouraging people to share your game on social media or reminding them to give a rating. Remember that there are rules about encouraging or requiring a rating for most distribution channels — it’s normally ok to remind users to rate your game or to encourage them to give a fair evaluation, but you’ll quickly find yourself black-listed for pushing only good ratings or reviews — if your users choose to provide negative feedback you’ll just have to take it on-board and work towards improving your game.
7. Purchase online advertising
Paying for the right online advertising can be very effective. Consider services like Google AdWords, Facebook advertising — which are good because they allow you to be very specific about your target demographics — direct advertising deals with relevant websites — which are good because they are often a little cheaper and allow you to target a specific online community — or in-game advertising through networks such as MochiMedia or AdMob — which are good because they allow you to target people who are already playing games and are therefore obviously interested.
8. Purchase offline advertising
Offline advertising is something that has traditionally been reserved for AAA games with massive advertising budgets but there’s no reason you can’t do the same thing, albeit most likely on a smaller scale. The obvious ones include television or radio advertising, but you could also consider other offline advertising options such as cinema pre-show advertising, newspapers and magazines, billboards, bus-stop advertising and more.
Any large-scale advertising campaign will be very expensive, but more local options can sometimes be surprisingly affordable whilst still allowing you to reach a huge audience.
9. Print flyers
Printed flyers could be distributed by various methods and help to draw attention to your new game. Follow the rules that would normally apply to design of a poster or direct-mail advertising. Consider including a discount offer on your flyers. The following are some possible ways you could distribute flyers:
- Hand-deliver them to mailboxes in your local area (be sure to check your local laws — commenter Jamin Grey points out this is illegal in some jurisdictions).
- Pay for the postal service to deliver them for you (in Australia you would use the “Un-addressed Mail” service from Australia Post).
- Hand them out outside of game-related events such as performances of the Eminence Orchestra, large LAN events, or expos like E3.
- Universities often give new students a show-bag or welcome package. You might find out if they would be willing to include your flyer.
10. Community or club notice boards
Many stores and shopping centres have a community notice board where the public are able to put flyers or business cards for others to see, often free of charge. Universities, schools and sports or social clubs may also have such a notice board. If you’ve already created flyers as suggested above you can simply put those up, otherwise create a simple but eye-catching poster and see if you can find some suitable notice boards.
This one will unfortunately not often result in a lot of exposure unless you can find a particularly relevant and popular notice-board, but it’s also very cheap, very easy, and doesn’t take long to do. To try to increase your exposure, you could have willing friends or relatives take some notices to put up when travelling, or if you’re up for a more unusual approach you might ask a travelling circus if they’re willing to put up your notices when distributing their own posters in each new town in exchange for a small donation or slab of beer.
11. Submit press releases
Not all organisations you submit to will publish your release — especially as a smaller developer — but if you submit press releases to relevant websites — and even print media — some of them might spread your message to their readership. For best results, format your releases in a neat and professional style and ensure you meet any submission guidelines.
Remember that the audience of your press release is an editor or writer who will usually write their own piece based on the information provided; they will rarely publish your release as-is. Provide all the information that might be required in a clear and concise way, and take the time to include or link to some images and video that could possibly be used in the piece.
12. Get reviewed
Try to get as many reviews — preferably positive — of your game as possible. This will increase your potential audience and may help to sway those who are initially unsure to try your game. To increase your chances of being reviewed, make things easy on the reviewers by giving them all the materials they might need to write-up your game. This should include a collection of pre-made screenshots showing key features of the game and one or more videos showing game play and key features. Remember that you can attempt to be reviewed online as well as in magazines.
Reviewers also won’t usually want to pay for your game. For best results give them a completely free copy rather than a limited version. For games distributed via app stores you can usually offer (a limited number of) codes allowing a free download. You can read a bit about indie company Mirthwerx’ experience with getting reviewed in their article “How we built an iOS game on PC 4/4: Testing, Release, Marketing“.
13. Submit your game to as many portals or distributors as possible
By submitting to as many portals (for online and browser games) or distributors (for downloadable titles) as you can find, you increase the chances of any given player coming across your game. You should obviously consider the situation more carefully in the cases of distributors that charge for listing your game, and might not want to do this if you are able to take advantage of an exclusivity deal with a single popular distributor.
14. Have a give-away or discount offer
Like a promotional bundle, discounts offer better-than-normal value for customers, and a free give away is even more certain to attract some attention. You could offer a limited time discount, offer discounts to specific groups of people, or give away one product for free to draw more attention to the rest of your catalogue or help to build a mailing list.
15. Advertising on online forums
Find relevant forums where you can advertise your game. Be sure to post only in the correct places, and check and follow any rules in each community. You don’t want to develop a reputation as a spammer, and will likely not get much (if any) advantage from spamming.
You should also be up-front and honest in your advertising. Don’t pretend to be someone you are not — a fan rather than the developer of the game for example — and try to respond promptly and courteously to any feedback or questions you receive.
Try to provide pictures or videos of your game as well as plenty of information about what system the game runs on, any minimum requirements, etc. You might also try providing a special discount offer.
Print T-shirts to help advertise your game. You might simply create shirts featuring the address of your website for yourself and any willing friends or family, or could even take it to the level of creating shirts featuring characters or graphics from the game that fans might be interested in wearing. T-shirts popular with fans could be distributed in free give-aways, or if the game is reasonably popular could even be sold (perhaps via a site such as CafePress) to raise additional money.
Blogging can help to build interest as well as potentially attracting a wider audience. Good topics include unusual design features in your game, difficulties or unusual experiences during the development process, and milestones or significant achievements in your efforts. You could also share unusual or potentially difficult techniques used in the game.
By blogging during development you can potentially attract a community of interested readers before release.
18. Sponsor a club, organisation or event
Local sports clubs or other organisations may be able to help spread the word in exchange for a sponsorship deal. You could make a monetary donation, or donate copies of your game to be used as prizes. Find out if there is the possibility of having your logo and/or web address displayed on club uniforms, at sports grounds or on signs within a clubhouse. You might also be able to get a mention in a club newsletter.
19. Host a LAN
Hosting a LAN party — especially a larger one — can potentially be a difficult, time-consuming and expensive task. It does however present the opportunity of getting live feedback from people who are actually playing your game, and could be an excellent way to find bugs and gain feedback before an official release as well as helping to build interest in your game. This would be most effective for games featuring competitive multi-player options.
20. Local or public television broadcasting
It’s usually cheap to air a commercial or sponsor a show on a local or public-access television network. You’ll reach a smaller audience than through popular media, but might find the cost off-set makes it worth while.
Even better, find out if there are locally produced shows which discuss video games or even just local businesses and see if you can arrange to be interviewed about your upcoming or newly released title. You might also offer a time-limited discount offer to viewers.
Hopefully you now have some good ideas to help advertise your game. The above is not by any means an exhaustive list of ideas — and obviously you’ll need to pick and choose the ideas that seem suitable and match your available time and budget — but should provide a pretty solid starting point.
Have you tried any of the above ideas, or do you have ideas that aren’t listed here? Share them in the comments!