How to promote indie apps with little money?
More often than not, indie games are created by independent game developers or small teams who are not supported by any publishers financially. On the one hand, that means freedom. That’s why these projects can be highly innovative and creative. On the other hand, the devs may have no experience in mobile marketing, and it may be quite difficult for them to get popular. In this article, we’re going to look at some affordable ways to promote and some case studies of indie games that have become successful with little money.
Indie projects: is luck important?
Most indie projects never make it to the top. An average game on Steam costs less than $9 and only sells a few copies. It’s not easy to get promoted in app stores either. On the one hand, thanks to the 2020 lockdowns, the game installs increased in number significantly by 40% on Google Play and by 10% on App Store. At the same time, competition has grown too, and there are more apps now. It’s quite a challenge now to stand out.
Among Us is an example that can tell it all. Now everyone knows Among Us as that famous game in top charts with a large community of fans and tons of Internet memes. But the dev team had gone a long way to make it as it took them several years, and their path was rather thorny. The team did in fact not promote anything. The game made it to the top thanks to being occasionally streamed by a famous blogger. There are some tools that would’ve made the game successful much sooner. We cover them in detail in this article. Moral of the story: better not to rely on luck and plan your success ahead.
A website to promote your indie game is essential
Create a web page that would describe how cool your game is. Include the following items:
- a game description;
- a short game trailer;
- some links to app stores and social media;
- excerpts from game reviews;
- a story about your team;
- your contacts;
- a media kit (find a good example here).
The website is your business card. It should have all the details about your game and redirect potential users to app stores. It’s worth improving SEO to make as many people as possible find you through web search. If you don’t know anything about it, take a look at how web search and algorithms work. We also have a detailed article about SEO here.
Affordable strategies to promote indie games
1. Develop a community
Often it’s the community that plays a major role in promoting games. It’s the most powerful organic traffic source. At the same time, it’s free! To reach the maximum audience with a minimum budget, you may wish to build a supportive community. It sounds quite easy but in fact it’s a painstaking work.
Minecraft has always encouraged the fans to collaborate, communicate, and even provide the developers with their ideas of how the game should advance. Minecraft immediately realized that every user is a potential media. That’s why they tried from the very beginning to motivate users to create content, teach them how to do that and make new tools for them. For example, in 2013 they announced a partnership with Twitch so that the Minecrafters could easily record and broadcast their game streams there.
About 84% of people make their purchase decisions based on individual recommendations provided by their friends, family, and like-minded people.
You can start with social media. Show that you’re open to communicate, share news, repost fan art, and encourage your users to create UGC (user generated content). Explore case studies of successful games to find some approaches that resonate with you. Keep TikTok in mind — at the very least, you can post your game soundtrack there. For example, Among Us has it too. Actually, the fans posted it. If your fans aren’t ready to do that yet, don’t hesitate to act first.
2. Make social media work: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and others
We briefly mentioned them in the previous block. Let’s go through that one in more detail. According to Statista, the number of social media users worldwide will grow to make nearly 4.41 billion by 2025. Your target audience definitely falls into this figure. If your game isn’t represented on social media, you’re missing out on a huge number of potential users.
First, choose one or several popular social media. Add your details and links to your website and app stores. You are an indie team so feel free, to be honest. It works. You may want to share some screenshots, gameplay tips, new images, announcements, or game trailers. Make sure you use a call to action like «Install now» or «Learn more». And be consistent with your update schedule. Consistency is the key to success.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are great options for targeted ads. If you’re new to the business, check out this advertising guide. It’s pretty simple.
3. Use themed media, websites, and forums
Forums are another way for making your game known and finding potential gamers. Usually there are themes for promotions with an option to post screenshots, game trailers, and download links.
You can share your indie game on Buildbox in the Showcase section. There also is a promotion section on Discord. Join indie game development forums like Touch Arcade and TigSource, and check out subject-specific Reddit threads like Play My Game, Let’s Play, iOS Gaming, Indie Gaming, and Android Gaming.
Submit your game to be reviewed by video game review websites. When offering your game to get featured, follow their guidelines and attach all necessary details and images. Here’s a quick overview of websites that can help you:
We’ve published a selection of over 40 media for you to get featured. Feel free to read it.
Product Hunt is another place where you can share new projects and apps. Users, or ‘hunters,’ vote for their favorite products there. If your game gets a lot of votes, it can be selected as the Product of the Day and placed on the home page. It’s free to list your game on Product Hunt, but only votes will determine the coverage.
4. Focus on ASO
ASO plays a smaller part in promoting games than in promoting apps. The reason is the lower number of keywords. Yet this channel of user acquisition cannot be ignored. It’s important to optimize your app page properly. It also can help you become an editors’ choice and get some extra traffic.
Start with text ASO. You may want to pick up relevant search queries and add them to text. Try to include as many keywords as possible to acquire your target audience. We have a detailed guide to text ASO, feel free to check it out.
Graphic ASO is equally important. The icon, screenshots and videos should evoke interest in users and convert it from views to installs. This is a large topic that we’ve covered in another article. Learn how to stand out among your competitors, create good graphics, and conduct A/B tests.
5. Participate in online events
Online events can help promote indie games. Google Play, for example, hosts the Indie Games Festival every year where indie developers from Europe, Japan, and South Korea can showcase their games. One of the prizes is the project promotion on Google Play, which includes individual expert advice.
We’ve covered more affordable ways of promotion with advertising tips in this article.
Success Stories. Indie games that made it
Angry Birds by Rovio
In 2010, Rovio was just another small indie game dev studio in Finland. They released a trailer for Angry Birds, similar in style to Looney Tunes. It told the story of their brand. At the end of the trailer, they put two platforms where you could download the game — and it worked. The game won first place on App Store in Finland and Greece, followed by other countries. Moral of the story: use YouTube right and make awesome videos about your brand and game.
Monkey Labor by Dawn of Play
The game, created by a team of seven, launched in late 2010 on iOS. About 3 months after the release, the team began investing in marketing, referring to various review websites to get featured. As a result, the game was reviewed by Touch Arcade, the iOS premier playground. Moral of the story: knock and it shall be opened to you.
Fall Guys by Mediatonic
This is an example of a computer game, but it can still be useful. Fall Guys topped the Twitch and Steam charts at the end of July 2020, even before the official release. The secret lay in a smart marketing strategy: Mediatonic gave beta keys to top Twitch streamers not only to play but also to distribute. As a result, subscribers who wanted the keys spread information about the game, thus increasing its popularity. Moral of the story: make friends with streamers and advance through them. Among Us became popular thanks to them too.
We’ve already mentioned Minecraft and their hard work with the community. But they became famous not only because of that. It’s because of a new genre, unusual rules, and frequent content updates. Besides, Minecraft participates in learning and charity programs. Moral of the story: break the mold, break the rules, and push the boundaries. Minecraft is both a game and a cultural phenomenon. Read our detailed overview of Minecraft’s success story.
As you can see, there are many ways to promote an indie game. The secret is to start as early as possible (you may wish to improve ASO before release) and be consistent. Experiment, analyze your progress, and channel your resources right. Success should be planned. This is the main idea that should stay with you if you’ve read this article.
Track your competitors, track your app store ranking, work on optimization, and adjust your promotion strategy in time. Planning is easier with analytics and accurate data. We’re always ready to help.