Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Why is marketing still a blind spot for indies?

What early lessons can VR devs take from the indie scene, where the marketplace is already mature and getting crowded? We asked indie game marketer Hannah Flynn to write a follow-up to her Develop 2016 talk about this indie blind spot.

I work within a medium-sized team, covering all aspects of comms with my marketing manager. Our meta-job is to ask questions, raise flags, and encourage the right amount of thought about how the rest of the world will perceive our games. Sometimes that results in changes to the games! But marketing monsters with ridiculous demands are a thing of myth (or possibly just of AAA, I can’t be sure - I haven’t worked in AAA).

The videos of sessions from Develop 2016 have just been released to ticket-holders, meaning you can go back and pick up sessions you missed.

I spent probably three or four days working on my session, You Need to Hire a Marketer, to which about 10 people came, most of whom I knew by name.

Other than making a clear attempt to tug your heartstrings and get you to watch my video, I want to ask: why didn’t people come? Why do so many indie studios still treat marketing as a hindrance?

I’ve got a few hypotheses:

Marketing is evil. Or so the popular narrative goes: marketers are suits who interfere with game designers’ craft. Pushing poor decisions based on what will sell and blaming devs when games fail.

Marketers are expensive. Some of us are. But these days there are different ways to pay people, options for flexible working, and more graduates than ever wanting to get into games. There are ways to afford marketing support which don’t break the bank.

Marketers are scammers. As soon as you’re on Steam Greenlight you’ll probably be approached by marketing firms offering you services. Some of these make sense but others will sound like they’re promising the world, meaning they couldn’t possibly deliver it.

I can do it myself. Anything looks easier from the outside. I’m sensible enough of my abilities to know that I couldn’t make a game, and I’d invite you to consider that marketing is a career path in itself which requires its own skills. Some people are excellent self-promoters, bloggers, tweeters - this is wonderful. Hire someone who can help you with the rest of the marketing mix.

Marketing is scary if you have no experience of it, but releasing is scary without marketing. It’s far better to investigate getting marketing support early than to bury your head - your money, time, life - in a game, in the hope that people will just find out about it because it’s good. That can’t happen for all of us.

Hire a marketer. Give the responsibility to someone who likes doing it. Spend more time on your game. Be happier. Sell more games. Make another game. Survive.

If you can’t watch the video, you can view my presentation here. I hope you’ll have a read and tweet to me @h4nchan with your thoughts!

Hannah Flynn is Communications Director for Failbetter Games, makers of Fallen London and Sunless Sea. She has previously worked for Penguin Books, Tate and the NSPCC.

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