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What is the most important thing to know about PR for indie developers?

I'm considering spending some time learning about PR in general, but it seems that the indie field is quite different than other fields in general.

What should most indie developers know about PR in general? Are PR-managers usually worth the money (and time?)?

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It seems to me that indie developers usually know nothing of PR. That's almost what makes them indie; if they had PR maybe they'd be bigger, and the ones that get bigger (World of Goo comes to mind) apparently had good PR. –  Ricket Feb 15 '11 at 13:35
    
Short of whoring out your game via Facebook/Twitter/forums, I know very little about PR for indie gaming...I'd be interested to see what a more marketing-savvy member could answer here... –  espais Feb 15 '11 at 14:14
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I am basing this off nothing at all but I doubt spending money on a dedicated PR person as a startup would be a good idea. Perhaps a good starting point would be to look at the way indies such as Tale of Tales, Beyond the Pillars and Frictional Games handle PR and see what you can learn from them. –  sebf Feb 15 '11 at 14:29
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5 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Hiring somebody to do your PR sounds very "non-indie." And it's certainly not likely to be good from a budgetary standpoint -- most indie games do not sell nearly as well as, say, Minecraft has.

For an indie developer with a small (or nonexistent) budget, you probably have to work the grass roots angle more than anything else. Promoting your game on Twitter/Facebook/whatever is an option but probably will not see great results unless you already have a ton of followers or friends or connections, et cetera, from previous successes. Otherwise the handful of people who follow you on Twitter are probably the ones who are pretty likely to buy your game anyhow.

First, make sure your game is reasonably stable and polished (at least in some areas) and then assemble some marketing material -- good, interesting screenshots and some compelling descriptive text to go along with them. Check out what other indie developers, like Jeff Vogel of Spiderweb Software do for their game splash pages.

Then start trying to talk to people -- basically cold-calling them. Useful demographics to target are smaller-scale publications that have a track record of dealing with or promoting indie titles (TIGSource is great, but IGN, not so much for example). See if you can entice them to review your game, or do a preview feature. You might consider suggesting that in exchange for a preview you could offer some promotional codes for the game that the site could give away, and then you have something of a cross-promotion that could be mutually beneficial.

Other indie game developers are a good market to focus on as well: some of them are actually professionals by day, and most of them will have a higher tolerance for some of the rougher edges indie games usually sport and be more willing to give the game a shot and discover its potential. Many game development sites focusing on indies, such as GameDev.Net, also have showcase and announcement forums where you can promote your project.

Set up Google alerts for your products and reach out to people who promote your product without you actually asking them too -- the random bloggers who stumble across it and post about some cool game they found (or about some bug they found with it). This doesn't have to involve offering them registration codes or anything, just a simple email with a thanks or an assurance that the bug has been fixed or is being looked in to -- that can go pretty far in terms of making an impact on people. Hopefully it will be an impact they tell their friends about.

This should go without saying, but make sure your game is easy to get, install, and get into. Struggling to even be able to launch a game is probably the biggest reason many indie games go untouched. It's difficult, not having as many resources, but try to get as many testers for your game as possible so you can ensure it's as rock-solid as possible. No amount of marketing savvy will save a broken product.

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This is all good advice, but it's all really more about advertising and marketing your product. PR is about pushing a consistent image and message of your company/person. –  user744 Feb 15 '11 at 17:24
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Huh, I guess, yea. For an indie operation I've always kind of considered them one and the same... or at the very least, not worth considering and handling separately. –  Josh Petrie Feb 15 '11 at 17:43
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Shout out to http://www.showmethegames.com/, which aims to promote indie games and the people who make them.

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Wow, why is this at -2? tenpn is not a spammer, as his time on the site and answers obviously show. SMTG is by Cliffski, an indie game maker with 10 years of cred. This might be the only actual indie-PR site on the web! –  user744 Feb 16 '11 at 11:31
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Cliffski of Positech fame has a bunch of useful blogposts on marketing and PR. His blog tags are too broad for easy browsing, but almost everything in Business is worth reading: http://positech.co.uk/cliffsblog/?cat=3

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I don't really have any good advice, but I have some examples. Most indie developers have a hard enough time selling games, let alone doing real PR.

Tale of Tales pushes a pretty consistent message about who they are and what they do, to the point of an explicit manifesto.

Wolfire has gotten a terrific amount of attention through publishing technical articles about their games. "Behind the scenes" stuff does a good job of personalizing the developers and can correct the (many) misconceptions gamers have about game development.

Eskil Steenberg, and Jason Rohrer, both of whom acquired small cults of personality, were presented consistently as outsiders who were going to stick it to the man with their new approaches to making games. Whether that's because they wanted that, or because the media loves to tell underdog stories, is anybody's guess.

(CW - this is too long for a comment, but not a real answer to the question, and maybe other people can add good examples.)

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First off, I think that the best example in recent time is Minecraft. It's not (all) coincidence that Minecraft has grown to be as successful as it has.

The developer has put out a game from very very early on in the development life-cycle (pre-pre-pre alpha? anyway, it's only in beta now). From that we get a few principles:

  • Get the game out there for people early. Even if it turns out that people who try it hate it, better you learn that early, when you can still change direction or try a different game prototype.

  • Get the word out as soon as you can, so you can start building link power for your website (and you pretty much always want a website).

In addition, it seems that early user-created-content helps: Make the basic game mechanic something that people can pour their heart & soul into, and they will be more likely to spread it via word of mouth on their own.


From my own personal experience, google adwords is a (relative) very cheap PR method, you can get a lot of coverage, and get "testers/players/viewers" at quite a cheap rate.

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