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GDC Day 1: Effective Marketing for Indie Game Developers

Wolfire Game's John Graham teaches us how to effectively market our indie games.

The “Wolfire Experiment” is what John Graham calls his public relations tactic.  I can only describe Graham as a PR pioneer within the indie developer community.  His role as PR Manager on Wolfire’s flagship title, “Overgrowth,” has allowed him to develop some refreshing strategies on how to get your game out there to the masses.

Wolfire has recently created a web comic to draw in more viewers.

When Graham first started in his role as PR manager he looked through some of the more typical PR tips and decided to completely throw them out the window.  These include never showing off unfinished assets and avoiding direct interaction with your fans.  Why were these disregarded?  John explained the meaning of PR in response, which is “managing the flow of information.”  These “tips” don’t really allow the information to flow.

The answer to it all is what Graham describes as the “Open Development PR Tactic.” The three parts to this tactic are as follows:

Make Noise

Be open in your development process.  Most fans don’t know what it’s like to develop a game, and find things like development diaries highly interesting.  Be real in your communications, whether it’s talking about development pitfalls, or about the company outing – just make it as honest as possible.  Be noisy!  Show off new cool tech stuff, tease concept art, create posts about your game design decisions, write about personal experiences, and even have a little bit of fun with your fans.  The Wolfire team actually pulled off a successful April Fools joke.  They said they were dropping Overgrowth and creating a new chibi warfare game called “Small Tank.”   It grabbed a lot of people’s attention, and was widely regarded as a pretty funny joke.

Make Friends

Graham encouraged reaching out to other indie developers and making friends.  Start off with “cold emails” which generally can be painful, but sometimes yield great results.  Just shoot off an email to developers you admire, and see if you get a response.  Talk about other designers that inspire you and be vocal about it – it’s a good way to get brownie points!  Make friends offline.  Conferences are not a vacation.  John encouraged listeners to meet press, go to parties, swap business cards, and meet the local indies.  All this should equate to “warmer emails!”

Build a Community

He started off this portion with a great line, “reach out to people and make them stay awhile – Deckard Cain Style.”  Deckard Cain being a Diablo NPC whose small retinue of dialog included the line “stay awhile and listen.”  Be supportive of the mod community, and help by sharing your games toolsets for the people that are interested.  He also suggests facilitating communication by allowing people to ask questions, and being prompt in responding.  They even started a program called “Overt Ops” that offered a free copy of Overgrowth to those willing to translate and spread the news on their game internationally.  Lastly, START NOW!

This three-part approach cross pollinates, and helps your game pick up PR momentum.  Graham also said they put up a blog post almost once every day, and by doing so, their reader base keeps growing.  They also implemented an IRC channel, live chat, and forums that the development team stays active in.

Lastly he covered the importance of leveraging social media.  This includes ModDB, who are indie friendly and have a hardcore reader base.  Facebook and Twitter for building the fan base and providing updates.  YouTube for organic traffic, and GameTrailers for “comments from outside the bubble.”

In creating Wolfire’s online videos, he developed something he likes to call the “Three Pronged Attack.”  In said videos he does the following:

  • Shows a new game feature.
  • Have a narrator explain it, being “goofy.”
  • Subtitle it with text making fun of the narrator.

He showed us a video utilizing this strategy and needless to say it was pretty funny, and keeps viewers watching the video.

In conclusion, Graham decided “Open Development” worked very well for them.  He told the audience to start early, and to stay agile.  He finished with, “The Wolfire Experiment isn’t over yet…”