You've pulled a lot of all nighters and worked really hard on your great idea and now it's the world's best game. All you need to do is kick back and let the money come in, right?
Before you put money down on that Lamborghini, think again.
An indie developer and friend Nic Allen made Cylinder (2009, screen shot to the right), a game I still consider to be one of the best on my iPhone, up there with the likes of Angry Birds and Chaos Rings. Nic's told me many times that it's not even as good as he wanted to make it (had he been given more time and a better budget). But, sadly for Nic, making a kick-ass game wasn't enough. What he made ended up awesome but got lost in a flood of apps on the app store. He didn't make enough money to make payroll for his one-man development studio. He missed out on marketing and it cost him in potential profits.
Nic made some money but not what he should have. He surely learned a hard lesson from that project and now I'm trying to help you benefit from his - and what turns out to be a fairly common - mistake. Specifically, not marketing your game. Marketing will help fill the gap between having something to sell and putting it in enough hands to make a profit.
Marketing is the core of any business or productive effort. Basic business practice takes the owners' skills and passions and combines them in a meaningful way to meet another person's need or desire. Marketing is simply the process of making that connection. Having either side alone does no one any good, except maybe some possible cathartic benefits for the creators. When marketing connects the two, you have a mutually beneficial relationship that enhances both.
Marketing may not be your forte and, to be honest, that's not necessary. Even so, it should always be your priority. You will want good marketing even with a free product (I mean free as in no financial cost, not just freemium aka pay-as-you-go). Marketing is so important that most established game studios – and non-game companies - spend as many resources on it as they do on development.
Let's think from a simple economic standpoint: If you are putting 800 hours of labor and investing $2000 in the tools to make a game, you'll want to spend at least 800 hours of labor and $2000 on marketing.
The marketing industry may be undergoing many changes right now but let's start with the basics.
One of the most important things is that you sell benefits, not features. Here's an example to clarify: "I bought Super Smash Bros Melee because I enjoyed playing it with several friends," versus, "I bought SSBM because it has multiplayer options." This distinction teases out the importance of benefits over features. In the first scenario, we know this guy is getting enjoyment and socialization. Those are the things that entice people to buy a game. The person in the second scenario may not ever play the game with anyone else and, thus, may not enjoy it.
In other words, you should be able to answer, "What's in it for me?" for the person you are selling to.
Also, know the age group you are targeting. If you are marketing to teenagers, keep in mind that someone born in the mid 1990s might not get jokes like, "Well, excuse me, princess!" from a Zelda cartoon that aired when they were two years old.
Next, as Greek philosopher Plato said…
You already know your focus, strengths, weaknesses and priorities. You should also know what you stand for. You cannot stand for everything but that shouldn't stop you from standing for something and being proud of it. It can be as simple as making games with cartoony graphics or as idealistic as making games that promote world peace. This part is literally "all you" but you need to think it through and, if it helps, write it out, too.
You are the expert on knowledge about yourself and what you have to offer. If you allow other people to tell you who you are, you will lose vision and direction. On the other hand, by knowing yourself, you present confidence that people can and will want to latch on to. People are attracted to something that presents itself as solid. By knowing who you are and what you stand for, you are pulling in more customers that will be happier to trade their money for your game.
You should now be well equipped with imperative knowledge of yourself, your company, your product and, the most important part of the equation, your audience.
Check indiePub.com for more practical ways to make marketing work for you with the next installment in this series.
Alan Youngblood is an indie game developer from Raleigh, NC, USA. He encourages you to post anything you have to say in the Comments section below. Off-topic or additional questions and comments can be directed to him on twitter: @apyoungblood. Your comments shape future articles so say what resonates with you and what you would like to read.