Basic Marketing Plan For Indie Games

(This article has been originally published at GamaSutra on May 19, 2006)

Basic Marketing Plan For Indie Games

Introduction

A marketing plan might sound something awfully hard to do for a game developer, but to briefly put it: the marketing plan is your flightplan on how to get your game to your players. The contents of a marketing plan can be divided into several sections. A strategic plan or the company’s business plan will describe the company’s strategic objectives. The marketing plan will focus on those major objectives, and how to reach those goals.

You don’t have to have tens of pages long marketing plan that you will never use. It’s much better to have a short plan that you use. Use your computer’s desktop wallpaper or a one page printed plan where you put the marketing plan: goals, actions and notes. Then use and refine the plan.

Contents of a Marketing Plan

These sections of a marketing plan are listed below.
[1] Goals
[2] Distribution
[3] Product
[4] Promotion
[5] Website
[6] Demo
[7] Measurement
[8] Maintenance
[9] Refinement

1. Goals – Make Sure You Know Where You Are Heading

Goals define where you are going. In an indie marketing plan, you can start by choosing the goal for the desired income. Then, you continue by adding the goals for sales, downloads, conversion rate, and the price for your product. Let’s assume your goal is to make $50.000. The pricing of a game may depend on several variables. You might look at what others are using and settle for $19.95. Or you might try a bargain price and go with $9.95. Some people have used $29.95. Depending on your game, the company’s profile, target market, you might price your game differently. It’s worth noting that you might want to adjust the price later. Maybe you realize that $9.95 is too low and go with $15.95 and still get the same number of sales. But for starters, let’s assume you use $19.95 as the price of your game.

The eCommerce provider gets about 10% of each sale, so the actual profit for you per game would be about $18. To make $50.000 you would need about 2800 sales. If you assume that one out of hundred players purchase your game, then game’s conversion rate would be 1.0%. The rule of thumb could be that very targeted games receive higher conversion rates, up to 2%, 3% or even 5% while more generic games, or games with severe competition may receive a .1% – .5% conversion rate. That means about 1-5 sales per 1000 downloads. Let’s assume you try to get your game’s quality to such a level that you receive a 1.0% conversion rate. Now as you do some math you can see that to reach 2800 sales you would need 280.000 downloads for your game.


Edoiki Concept Art

A goal wouldn’t be a goal without an exact date. Have an exact date for the goal. Split the goal in smaller divisions: months, quarters or years – or something that suits you best.

Example marketing plan goals for Edoiki game

The goals for Edoiki are:

* Direct Sales goal: $50.000 (after eCommerce provider expenses)
* Other Sales goal: $50.000 (after publisher/distributor expenses)
* Total Sales: $100.000

Exact direct sales details:

* Initial price: $19.95
* Conversion rate goal: 1.0%
* Downloads goal: 280.000
* Units goal: 2.800
* Deadline: By the end of 2007

The quarterly download & sales goals for direct distribution:

* Q3-Q4/2006 – 600 units, 60.000 downloads
* Q1-Q2/2007 – 1100 units, 110.000 downloads
* Q3-Q4/2007 – 1100 units, 110.000 downloads

2. Distribution – Select the Right Channels For Your Game

There are several options for distributing your game. Indie and casual games tend to follow these main distribution channels:

* Direct website store
* Retail stores
* Portals
* Content delivery systems
* Publisher channels

Depending on your company’s strategy, your marketing plan might use more than one distribution methods. An easy choice for direct selling would be to set up a website and concentrate on optimizing your website.

If you have a casual game, you might consider casual game portals. Different portals have different requirements for games. Here are some of the most common portals: Big Fish Games, EA’s Pogo, Gamehouse, GameXtazy, GameZone, Playfirst, Real Arcade, Shockwave, Trygames, Yahoo Games. Include the portals you want to target in your marketing plan and check the top 10 bestsellers from each portal. After you have gone through the list, you have a better understanding on what kind of games portals want and how you can improve your product to meet their guidelines. Indies typically sell through portals or through their own website, but retail stores can be a valuable choice to consider. It is possible to contact retailers directly but in some cases, it can be very difficult or practically impossible. However, you can make it so that it’s easy for them to contact you. Set up your company website in such way that distributors can easily get touch with you. Arrange the distribution options by country or by some other region. If you want to contact some publishers, then go on and make a deal. There are publishers that can deal with the retail stores.

Besides retail stores and portals, there’s always the publisher opportunity. There are many indie game publishers that can get a deal for you: some of the popular ones are Garage Games, Indiepath and PopCap. All these companies provide different terms, and your marketing plan can change depending on the deals you make. If you commit yourself to creating an exclusive deal with some of the publishers, then you might not be allowed to sell the game through your website, thus making direct selling options unavailable. Besides pure publishers, there are also content delivery systems available. Valve’s Steam is perhaps the biggest example and could be appealing to indies.

Your marketing plan should tell you which channels you are going to use, and which ones you’ll ignore.

Edoiki distribution channels

Edoiki will be sold directly through Edoiki website. Besides the direct websites we’ll approach Mumbo Jumbo/United Developers and Tri Synergy to discuss retail channels. There are other retail opportunities: Dreamcatcher/The Adventure Company, Cylon Interactive, Merscom, MWR connected– some of them will be considered in the future, while some of them will be ignored.

We will also contact a few publishers for a non-exclusive deals. The first ones to target are Shrapnelgames, JoWood and Matrix Games. Edoiki will omit the casual game portals, as the game is targeting a different audience.

We’ll also approach Valve and discuss the distributing opportunity via Steam.

3. Product – Have Something to Sell

Offer a high-quality product that people want to purchase. If the conversion rate is very low, then it might suggest that your product simply doesn’t offer enough quality. Ask what players and other developers think about your product and refine the product until you start hearing that the only problem with your game is that “it’s too addictive”. Remember: the low conversion rate doesn’t necessarily indicate a bad product. Ask people: if you hear comments that say that your product is fine but the website or the demo are poor, then forget polishing the product and move on to the next step in the marketing plan.

Make sure your product offering is in sync with your distribution strategy. If you are aiming for the portals, make sure your game appeals the portals and their players. If you are using retailers to get hardcore gamers to play your game, you need to design your product for the retail store customers.

4. Promotion – Make People Aware of Your Game

The next step in the marketing plan is to choose how to get people information about your product. You need to make people aware of your game and either guide them to your website for more information, or to get them to download the game through various sources. How you make the offer depends on the market segments your company has targeted. There are different types of players, games and needs. “Casual gamers” have different playing habits than “hardcore gamers”. 6-year old kids play differently compared to 15- or 30-year old players. Females and males have different needs and wants for games. In Japan , they favor different kinds of games than in Germany . It’s your job to define the market segments, and decide which segment (or segments) you choose to target your marketing.

There are several ways to segment the consumer market. The four common marketing segmentation variable types are: geographic (most likely world region or country, but also cities), demographic (age, gender, education, religion, occupation, income, family size), psychographic (social class, lifestyle, personality) and behavioral (casual to heavy user, attitude towards service, loyalty towards company, awareness stage, attitude towards product, genre, favorite games). Also the technical aspects (speed of Internet connection, age of computer) could be included in the segmentation.

After you have chosen the segments, you position your marketing message. Positioning is arranging your whole market offering in a way that it distinguishes your product. If you position yourself as offering the lowest price for young strategy gamers then the market message is much different than if you try to get offer high-quality, non-violent games for very religious players.

After you have selected your target segments, you need to reach those audiences in different ways. Here’s a list of promotion efforts you might want to consider: major download sites, advertising, press releases, PAD services, magazine reviews, website reviews, news sites, other major websites, blogs, contests, nominations, affiliates, articles, forums, conferences, banner ads, text link ads, link exchanges and newsletters. There are also very creative options such as advertising banner in your own car back window or leaving demo CDs in busses – so use your imagination.

Depending on your distribution channel options, the promotion could be totally handled by the parties you are dealing with. If you sign a publishing deal, then you can expect the publisher to take care of the promotion.

Edoiki promotion efforts

Edoiki aims to please board gamers and non-casual gamers, players that are addicted to the online multiplayer game experience, and look for games where they can challenge their friends. These gamers don’t necessarily have a favorite genre, their main goals is to play with friends – as long as the game is good. They are over 20 and mostly male. Their income level is more than $10,000 yearly and they can spend $20 or $30 easily for entertainment now and then. Our players own a high-speed internet connection (256 KB or better) or at least a fast IDSN connection. Our players have at least basic understanding of the English language, they are interested in Japanese/Chinese mythology and know something about Eastern cultures.

Edoiki will use several promotion methods: Google Adwords targeted directly to board games, banner ads on multiplayer and similar online sites, multiplayer gaming forums, press releases, newsletter announcements, major review sites, article writing, community forums, PromoSoft PAD service, blogs, entering the Independent Games Festival.

5. The Website – Get Players to Download Your Game Demo

The indie game marketing plan lists what you will do for your website. Your website’s main purpose is to get people to download the demo of your game. That means your plan should include the steps you will take to enhance the website’s marketing capabilities. If your site gets visitors that visit only the first page and leave without downloading, then you need to refine your website. The other reason for your website to exist is to get people to purchase your game. Make sure user can access to purchase page within one or two mouse clicks.

Edoiki website

Edoiki website will use a virtual private server to handle traffic and make sure the system is online every hour of day. The website will present screenshots, player forums, contact information, company information and present clear and easily distinguishable download and purchase buttons. The website won’t use Javascript or font that would make it hard to use the site. The headline of the site will be tested and the game requirements, features and any other game-related hints & tips will be listed. The site graphics will be polished by the game artist.

The website traffic will be estimated and website specific goals (the rate of downloads) will be refined to meet the download goals after initial number of downloads are received.

6. The Demo – Get Players To Purchase Your Game

Your game demo has only one single goal: to close the deal, to get the player to purchase the game. It’s very important to have a good demo version of your game that fills its purpose. If the conversion rate – the rate of people who purchase the game after testing it – is low, then you might need to adjust your demo. Concentrate on following issues:

[1] Demo feature limitations: does the demo have limited features (like less units, levels, powers etc.) compared to the full version? Are you sure you are telling the player what he will get if he buys? Add nag screens to both beginning and the end of the demo. Use those screens to explain the limitations and benefits of purchasing the game.

[2] Demo time limitations: time limitation combined with feature limitations can be advantageous: offer 15 demo launches or 60 minutes of gameplay, or a 30-day period. Or try something in between.

[3] Guide the player to make the purchase: is it easy (within one or two mouse clicks) for player to purchase your game or enter to your game’s purchase page? If not, adjust the demo.

7. Measurement – Be Aware of What’s Going On

The only way to make sure you are flying in the right direction is to constantly check where you are heading: be sure to measure impacts of different modifications. If you decide to change the price, promotion or demo, be sure to measure the effects. Conduct an A/B split test for your game price: try both a $20 and a $30 price to see which one works better. Offer a money back guarantee and measure how it impacts sales. Do you get more sales with different demo limitations? Test it. Do the sales increase if you offer a better tutorial in game? Does it help to have nag screens in the beginning and in the end of the demo?

Be aware of where you are flying.

8. Maintenance – Make Sure The Passengers Are Happy

Your marketing plan involves maintenance: how are you going to deal with the customers and build such a relationship with your current customers that they come back and purchase from you again. Customer support could include FAQ lists, support databases, and automated emails. Your marketing plan should describe how you will maintain the relationship with your customers. Will you use support forums or outsource your customer support? Will you use customer relationship management (CRM) tools? Will there be an online chat available for those who purchase? Will you use blogs or newsletters to inform the players about your product updates?

Your marketing plan will tell you how you will deal with the relationship: it will tell you whether you let your publisher or portals handle customer support, or use all or some of the methods discussed earlier.

9. Refinement – Adjust Your Flight Plan

The last step in the marketing plan is to refine the plan. Go to step 1 and adjust your goals. If you think your conversion rate is dropping to .5% feel free to double the goal for download number. As you double your download number goal you know that you need to focus on more promotion rather than optimizing the demo, website or product. On the other hand, if you choose to refine the conversion rate, then you know that you should focus on the quality of your game, demo or website rather than promotion.

Conclusions

The indie game marketing plan describes the goals derived from a company’s strategic objectives. The main idea for the marketing plan is to describe the goals, decide the actions necessary to reach those goals, measure and eventually refine the plan as the production progresses.

10 thoughts on “Basic Marketing Plan For Indie Games

  1. [...] Basic Marketing Plan For Indie Games (Game Producer) [...]

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  3. Thanks for the article, it was a good read. Small steps are often forget by small developers and there is a lot to learn and consider!

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  6. I just wanted to say thanks for yet another extremely useful and interesting article!

  7. @Juuso

    Absolutely, but I don’t I ever claimed anything exclusive either ;) But you can’t deny the fact, that the markets are burdnened hugely by the never-ending stream of clones of bejeweled, match-three etc. Even a “block-buster” brand Davinci Code was a friggin’ match-three game :P (Big Fish). With these, you’re competing in already a rather hard-core league, as the one of the best are really high quality. And I doubt a starting indie has the possibility to pull out the visibility of Reflexive, Big Fish etc.

    You are absolutely right that the marketing is also the problem, but I think my point was that it comes only after doing a good game, not before.

  8. @Tobin: Yes, this article was about the marketing plan – the marketing process could be topic for another article, which could describe what you touched there. Btw, about pricing, I’ve written this article in the past.

    @Markku: Well… I have totally different point-of-view regarding the problem indies are facing: I see many people having great & innovative ideas… but I don’t see many people actually selling them :) The bolded part you mentioned is true, but you must also remember that 2 out of 5 games don’t sell siply because the marketing isn’t good enough ;)

    I’m going to write a very, very simple marketing plan. Not so official one. Will be released in the following weeks.

  9. A concept art, and a very “official” level marketing plan, nice. I see the stuff quite a lot, doing business in marketing outside the indie gaming market.

    However, I personally can’t consider these things to be the really important for an indie who is starting into the business. From my point of experience most developers/starters have the trouble coming up with their product/game, not the marketing.

    Marketing is lacking with most indie developers, however. People are lacking vision and not willing to do partnership deals, whereas I think the most important point in this field is concept of volume selling. I rather sell 15000 copies of my game for 50% profit with partnerships, than 7500 with 100% profit, despite the fact the money in the end would be same. Business works best when it’s “win-win-win”. I honestly think this is the only real problem, not the inability and/or lack of experience and knowledge to make official marketing field plans.

    Still, there are lots of truths, but I’m just personally not agreeing the way the dots are connected with this article.

    Somebody might hate me for this, but one funny thing I noticed in indie developer communities; For all the massive amount of information the net has to offer, one little truth seems to be actively ignored: On average, I dare to say the real reason why 3 out of 5 games don’t sell is simply because the game isn’t good enough. Think of it. If you think it’s the graphics, 10 “crappy looking” massive hit games can be pointed out. If you think it’s the audio, the same and et cetera.

    The only real hint I’d feel to be obliged to give, is that stay true to the course you have chosen, stay content when you arrive there but don’t be distressed if the goal isn’t 100% what you expected. Most of the success in life comes from one’s ability to learn from mistakes.

    Also please get realistic enough to realize, that business simply cannot be done without cash. Even $1000 put to marketing might yield huge results, but people are short-sighted and unwilling to let the 1k go. You need to give first what you wish to get; If it’s smiling people, you have to be the first to smile, right? Now there’s some non-standard marketing insight ;)

    Cheers!

  10. Interesting “primer” for marketing a game. As detailed by the article there are sub sections to marketing that include market analysis (identifying a consumers want), advertising (spreading the good name of your product), selling (making a customer out of someone), consuming (distributing your product), and customer support/ relationship (technical, customer feedback).

    However I’m still waiting to see articles that explore each topic in depth. I think most independent developers hope to just throw their product out there, but have no idea what it takes to actually advertise a product once it’s actually in the market. There’s a lot that’s glossed over, but what are some of the details and costs associated to effective advertising. In general I feel this is something that every ISV (games or not) should try on their own when they start.

    There are services out there that can assist in the process and distributors may even opt to take on the task, but not everyone has the luxury to afford such opportunities. Knowing your goals is one aspect that I think is very important, but also covered in depth. I personally would like to see a more in depth the actions necessary to reach those goals, how to use metrics obtained from marketing, and how to apply that to strengthen the possibilities of success.

    On a side note I think product pricing is an interesting topic. Most people have no idea how to price their product. Especially when no real cost per unit can be established. Software that isn’t boxed and shelved has a fluid cost. If it cost $50,000 to develop, market (advertise, sell, and distribute), and support an independent game the cost per unit goes down as your sales goes up.

    In the automotive industry Henry Ford set out to build a $500 car. This inspired him to be innovating and create a manufacturing process that could satisfy a market that was willing to pay $500 for an automobile. For me this translates to how do I make and what is a $X game. Not what is my game worth? (yes, I understand this isn’t a clear cut analogy)