I have just finished a game I had been developing last month, but whilst making the game I was pestered by the fact that I had no way of getting it to the public eye. I didn't want to pitch it to a publisher, as being tied to a publisher is the absolute last resort for me. So with little in the ways of funds for advertisement and supplementary materials, coupled with the fact that I am a fledgling to the industry to the highest degree and thus have nothing in the way of backing or accolades or any reputation at all. How does someone such as me get his work out there, and keep it as a work of his own merit and design? Am I just going to have to put my pride aside and join the veterans, or is there some way, any way at all, to make my way through? I really appreciate the help of anybody who answers.
Best way to market your own game? Talk to a company who publishes games. Pretend they're just a partner who takes a share just like anyone, and make a lot more money than you would have publishing on your own.
We sold about 50k copies of our IOS game last year. Really good game, 5 stars in almost all country specific app stores. Would have done way better with the $10000 marketing budget these types of games generally get from a publisher. 100% of a few bucks isn't as exciting as 50-70% of thousands. Lesson learned the hard way. Just a note, publishers won't touch your game, in my experience anyway, if it's been released.
For the sake of answering your question, we sent the game out to about 100 game review sites in a few different countries. Had some videos posted up on youtube, did a "like me on facebook" contest, gave the right people a free copy to get them to play it, and broke even.
Maybe go for the latter option just to appreciate the value of someone who knows how to market. They don't program games because they suck at it, I don't market games because I suck at it.
Have you considered something like Steam?
If you could modify your game to suit their requirements, they could provide you with a solid base and you could focus more on the development itself without worrying about the business details (although business details are something to worry about).
Recently, a colleague and myself decided to develop a game and considered publishing it with Steam. We haven't done it yet, but it's a possibility for a small game studio/company such as our own, other small and big game studios/companies are doing it also, and it's something to start with.
An example of a bigger studio/company would be Runic Games with a game called Torchlight, but their developers are very experienced.
You could also check out GOG, I think they also provide this service.
Update (to meet the needs for the discussion in the comments):
3: Do you take XNA, Flash or Adobe Air games?
Yes, we accept all three types on Steam. Flash games need to be wrapped so that they launch from a stand-alone executable.
[Edit] There appears to be some confusion about what I mean by "marketing." When I say a good game will market itself, I mean a good game is likely to get featured in blogs and in app stores. That is to say, the user has to spend $0 on advertising. [End Edit]
The simplest way:
Make a good game.
A good game (or any good product) will market itself. "Good" is a very nebulous word. But from my view a "good" game has two requirements:
1) It is unique (you can clone another game, but you should bring significant improvements or new features to it).
2) It is fun. Fun is in the eye of the beholder, but generally, if your game is fun, at least a certain niche of people will enjoy it. A fun game is also functional, without frustrating bugs or design flaws.
A boring clone will fail. A fun clone probably won't stand out in the market, unless it is really well made and marketed (or free). A boring, unique game might stand out, but probably not for the right reasons. A unique, fun game will entice its users to spread the word, and news/review sites will be eager to talk about your anomaly.
Obviously, there is grey area on the line between good and bad, but your first few games will either be unfinished or not that great, because becoming a good artist, programmer, and game designer is not an overnight endeavor. There are very few cases where successful titles were the first thing to come out of a developer's efforts. Rovio was around for 7 or 8 years before Angry Birds was made. Notch was 30 before he made Minecraft, and had worked on many other games prior. The list goes on...
I'd say the real question to ask for determining whether or not you should self publish or join the veterans as you put it is "When does my project need to become profitable?"
I'm in a very similar predicament myself and this is what I'm using to make my decision. My game has been Greenlit on Steam and I've been approached by a mid level publisher who offered to cover Marketing, PR, Promotion, Testing and Customer support for a 50% revenue share which isn't a bad deal at all. I lose half the profit, but the game gets promoted from day 1 so it would likely equate to earlier sales which in turn would enable me to generate a profit much sooner than I would on my own.
However, I also don't have any timeline for when I need to be profitable. I'm the only designer, there's no budget aside from me living off of savings and paying rent and eating, so aside from starvation and homelessness, there's no real deadline that I need to aim for in regards to profitability.
I'm likely going to say no thank you to the publisher and just wait for the word of mouth to get around. It may take an extra year or so, but I'm confident that my game is good and will eventually sell well enough to keep me working on solo projects.
As to the question of how do you promote your game if you're self publishing? Same way you get your friends excited about anything you're interested in; Word of Mouth. Sadly this is the slowest and most time consuming way to promote your project, but its pretty much the only way if you have no budget.
Early on in development, you want to reach out to gaming publications - don't bother with the big names like Rock Paper Shotgun or Game Informer - they don't have enough time to write about every indie project that gets mentioned to them. Look to the smaller sites like ind13.com and indiedb.com Now you might wonder how writing articles or doing interviews with these guys will help you if they're relatively unknown themselves? Immediately they won't help you. They might generate a slight uptick in traffic to your website but otherwise they're not going to do much that you'll notice. They will however become a concrete backlink to your website as far as search engines are concerned so this will essentially act as your manual SEO optimization. Anything you mention in the article pertaining to your game and your game's "search terms" will help improve your ranking on google and others and over time this will help you to get noticed more. The more websites linking to yours, the greater your ranking. This will take more than a year to have any useful effect, but you're likely to be developing your game for more than a year anyway so you have time.
Same goes for talking about the game on various gaming forums, reddit, twitter etc. Make sure you always include a link back to your game's website when you talk about it and it will pay off in the long run. Also the word of mouth that you're generating will take more than a year to have a useful affect but its getting your game into the consciousness of as many people as you can. Eventually when you do land an article in RPS or GI or what have you, more people will think "Oh yeah, I remember hearing about that game" and you'll likely get a better response than a game being reported on for the first time.
Finally when your game is ready for release, (especially if you're on steam) send out a few hundred keys (or copies) to various twitch gamers, youtubers, reviewers and anyone else you think might be interested in the game and would like it. Don't ask for anything directly, just explain that you've made this game, and you think they'd like it and if they do, you'd love to hear their opinion. Again, go to the little guys first before you approach any big names. If 10 little guys are talking about your game, its more likely to catch the attention of one of the big ones.
I will say that someone people think you should be very direct when contacting potential promoters on youtube and twitch and ask them to post about or review your game. My theory is that they already get hundreds of people asking them for favors so if you're simply sending them a copy because you're a fan and they're awesome, they might appreciate it more. Leave it to them to decide whether or not they think its worth promoting.