How to get people to play your game

So, here you have it, months of work in turmoil and despair and you have your first game, you publish it to the distribution platform of your choice, and then wait. Waiting can sometimes be excruciating, especially if it's your first game, but waiting is inevitable, as you need to give time for the players to learn about and play your game.

So you've been waiting, maybe a week, maybe a month, and the numbers aren't looking all that impressive. What the heck, you've done all this work, so why aren't people playing your game?

Let's go over the basics

First, have the appropriate screenshots, press releases, gameplay trailers, and social media posts been distributed to the right places?

Is your game available on major platforms such as Itch.io, Steam, GameJolt, and others? Is it easy to download and install, or perhaps available to play in the browser with good compatibility across devices?

Even if you don't have a marketing team, it's important to remember that people won't play your game if they can't find it. That's why starting early is incredibly important, getting eyes on your game with concept art, sketches or mockups sets the stage as the project continues.

Getting a website up for you game is a great way to distribute information about your game and serve as a long standing for journalists and players to reference and source from. A simple landing page (creating a landing page for your video game coming soon) can accomplish this with little effort on your part.

It's important also that you continually release this content about your game consistently and with purpose. Don't spam your social channels with unrelated reposts, and ensure that what you're releasing is actually valuable or interesting to your audience.

Know your Audience

It may be natural to assume your target audience is "gamers", but as they say, "If you're building a game for everyone, you're building a game for no one."

This is true because focusing on the masses causes us to make decisions not based on empirical evidence, but on assumptions about what "gamers" will want. Knowing your audience is not only required when designing and deciding on game mechanics, but also when crafting your marketing and messaging.

So, let's examine the question "who does this game appeal to" by breaking it down:

  • Casual or hardcore gamers?
  • Age group of players?
  • Skill or tactic based?

Then, look at other games matching those demographics and take inspiration from their marketing, messaging, and community to get a deeper understanding of what works and what doesn't. It wouldn't make sense to run advertisements for your action-packed racing game as ad-roll on videos about cooking, unless you're sure that's your target demographics.

Get people to play your game early, both people in your target audience and outside your target. It's important to do this because you'll never know how players will react until they're actually playing it.

Target That Audience and Advertise directly to them.

Post your game onto social media, this includes Twitter Facebook Instagram Itch.io and any other forums you made frequent. In some cases, some larger news outlets may have an opportunity for you to just post well talking about your game, or to use as an opportunity to use your game as a learning exercise for others.

Set up a website or use another platform like Facebook to handle and manage your web presence, it is important that your game is both searchable and can be easily found by whoever is looking for it.

If you’re looking for children to play your game and all of your advertisements/branding/banners/phrases use large vocabulary words and dense/visually busy/highly realistic/dark images then you’re already setting yourself up for increased headaches and hair pulling. If you don’t know much about your target audience then it’s time to stop and do some research. What appeals to children is completely different from what appeals to adults or teenagers just like what appeals to women is different from what appeals to men.

Speak to your Audience Directly and get known.

The wider is your presence — the better. But keep it rational — better have 2 well-kept accounts than 10 messy pages you can’t keep up with. Make great content, not just sales pitches, and announcements dates. Make your content valuable to your audience, and they will bring value back to you.

DOs

  • Link to your website from your social media profiles.
  • Post screenshots and video clips as often as possible. Updates with media tend to stand out.
  • Use the hashtags #gamedev and #ScreenshotSaturday when posting updates and searching for fellow devs.

DON’Ts

  • Don’t write like a soulless PR machine. Instead, be human and genuine.
  • Don’t pitch your game to members of the press on social media. Use email instead.

Icons, screenshots, GIFs and any other graphics must be spectacular, high-quality and fit for all purposes. Make your game’s press kit that you can revert to at any moment and use for any social media, website or publication.

Yes, videos do sell. Yes, it will take time and efforts to create a great video. And yes — you can still do it for free using iMovie or similar tools. If you what to go fancier, you can go for paid solutions and even outsource the whole process. Just make sure your game trailer is short, exciting and tells your game’s story.

Make it approachable and easy to begin playing.

 If someone clicks on your website and they now have to wade through 15 different links that are randomly dispersed through an already text-heavy blog post to find the link to get to your game download page then you’ve already lost customers before they’ve even started. Have your download or embedded game front and center. Make it easy to download or join — the fewer fields and steps they have to complete to start playing the faster they’ll become engaged and access to the experience they were looking for.

It’s hard to play if the player can’t figure out how the game works or which buttons needed to press to get things started. Make access to instructions or a tutorial just as easy as it was to find and launch your game and keep your instructions appropriate for your target audience. Children need instructions with fewer, easier to follow with less text than adults do. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by writing instructions or a tutorial that they can’t follow or don’t understand.

The nitty-gritty side of things.

As Norman Barrows on gamedev.net puts it:

When I started, to sell 1000 units at a $20 price point with a 2% download-to-sales conversion rate required about 50,000 downloads.  I got 10,000+ downloads the first week just off of AOL (this was before the web).

1% conversion rate is considered average. so 1000 downloads would typically get you about 10 sales. and 1000 sales usually requires about 100,000 downloads. But the numbers may differ for very low priced games.   lower prices would tend to increase conversion rate, but additional competition will tend to lower it.

The secret, of course, is marketing, marketing, marketing - and then some more marketing.  Building a game is only half the work.   Marketing and sale fulfillment it is the other half. If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door, but only if you tell them about it!  So first you have to build a better mousetrap - not just yet another mousetrap - a better mousetrap.   And then you have to tell the world about it.   But until you build a better mousetrap, you have nothing worth telling them.

You only get one chance to make a good first impression. Make sure you make the best impression you can by making the best game you can. The mobile market is so flooded with "me too!" titles, that average just ain't gonna cut it.  Not if you really want to succeed.

Marketing should never be an afterthought.

If you can't afford to advertise then you're starting off WAY down the line in terms of getting users. You're basically out of the game entirely. The only hope you have is to have an amazing game, something that has a powerful selling point (e.g. best game of its type, prettiest-looking, most features, unique game design, etc), and spend the time during development sharing your progress so that some buzz builds around it prior to release.

With mobile game development, you're entering potentially the most heavily monetized and metric-controlled part of the industry, where almost all success is a result of venture capitalists throwing money at the problem in an attempt to flood the market and wash little guys like you away. It's so carefully controlled that even all the icons are converging on the same designs because they know that the biggest problem is user acquisition and the first thing you see is more important than the game itself.

Launch your Game the Right Way.

Actively seek out where folks who might be interested in the kind of thing you’re working on hang out. Whether that’s a specialty site, forum, chat room or otherwise, get out there and participate. That said, it’s important to contribute to the conversations already going on there — don’t shamelessly plug yourself. There will be enough opportunities to mention what you’re working on and spread the word to like-minded folks.

Don’t ignore App Store Optimization. Your app, whether it’s indie or not, will be placed among thousands of others. The better you optimize your app page, the more users will be able to find it. Remember — ASO is one of the keys to your success.

Don't forget third-party distribution channels (like casual game portals, like Big FishShockwave or the like) and app/game review services. Why? Because they already have a number of users and you just jump on the wagon and see if it works.

Listen to feedback.

While alpha and beta tests serve a very practical need when it comes to debugging and refining your project, they can also be an effective marketing tool that gets your game in the hands of players. If you’ve managed to get the attention of bloggers and the press before, this is the perfect opportunity to get more. If not, this is a good time to reach out.

While playtesting can build buzz around your game, what you learn from the testing can have an even bigger impact. Throughout the process, you’ll learn what players love most about your game, which means you can refine your pitch for launch.

People will comments on your social media, leave their reviews and write to your support email. Embrace it and be prepared to actively communicate with your gamers. Make them happy and they will make you happy in return by spreading out the word.

Game marketing sounds scary, but in reality, it can be done with relatively small efforts and investments. Just make your plan, set up your goals and do it all step by step. It doesn’t guarantee instant success, but it also prevents instant failure. So, go for it — and good luck!

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