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Six Digital Marketing Tips For Game Developers

In today’s games industry, making a great product is only half the story. “Build it and they will come” no longer rings true, if it ever did. Many developers seem to operate under the assumption that a self-evidently great game will just “sell itself”, and unfortunately this couldn’t be further from the truth.

The good news is that there are always things you can do to generate interest in your game, even if your marketing budget wouldn’t cover the cost of a Happy Meal – so here are some things you can do right now to start getting people excited.

  1. Start early

Many new developers think that the marketing process starts a couple of months prior to their big release. Unfortunately, they might as well just load a gun and point it at their toes.

When should you start? As soon as possible. Right at the beginning of development. Yesterday.

Start banging a drum about what you’re making as soon as you start making it. This can go against all of our impulses to only show the world things “when they’re ready” and they have a bit of polish, but today’s gamers and social media users love to see projects develop.

If you haven’t even made a prototype yet, post some of your concept art. Post something. The unfortunate truth is that it can take months and months, perhaps years, for your message to start to take hold in a big way, so don’t short-change yourself by trying to do it in six weeks.

Marketing

“PLACEHOLDER GRAPHICS!”

By the way, don’t be afraid that people will copy your brilliant game. Howard Aiken once said, “don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” Ideas are ten-a-penny, and largely worthless without good execution – so put them out there and show the world how well you can act on them.

2. Find a niche

So, real talk: your development company probably isn’t Ubisoft . You almost certainly do not have ten hojillion dollars to market your games the way the big guys do, blasting your message on the biggest and broadest wavelengths possible.

In a way, though, those triple-A marketing efforts are often more wasteful than they are effective. It doesn’t matter if 100 people see an advert for the latest FIFA title and 99 of those people have never had the slightest interest in buying a sports game.

This just means you will have to get creative with your approach. Don’t try to reach “all gamers” – that’s daft. Instead, start thinking of ways to reach those specific types of people who might be interested in what you’ve got.

  • If you’re making a game in a specific genre, could you target people who have enjoyed other games in that genre – for example, could you sell a new hardcore platformer to people who enjoyed Super Meat Boy or Cuphead?
  • If your game has a nostalgic, creepy vibe, could you sell it to people who like Stranger Things, or gamers who are fans of Stephen King stories?
  • If you have a game about wizards and spells, could you find a way to reach players who are crazy for Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings?

In essence, try to identify a group of people who might be interested in your product – particularly a group that might have a fan community or a way to reach them.

Jurassic Jump Ad Banner
A screenshot of an ad seen on a Jurassic Park fan community site – that’s the way to do it!


For some marketing projects, you might be forced to think outside the box; if you’re making a game about cartoon carrots, you’re probably not going to find a passionate carrot fan community waiting to buy a videogame. You might, however, be able to find people who like quirky things and silly concepts in general – perhaps by trying to reach people who like Adventure Time, say, or The Muppets.

On a related note…

  1. Ditch #gamedev

Every game developer in the universe seems to post their work on Twitter and Instagram with the hashtags #gamedev, #indiedev, #screenshotsaturday, and so on. These are all well and good – you may even seem to be getting good engagement with them.

But let’s not forget who uses these hashtags; it’s other game developers.

Yes, game developers buy games, too. But are they your main target market? You want to reach people who play games, not just people who make them, and #gamedev has become little more than a big incestuous mess of game developers trying to sell each other their creations.

Identify the people you do want to reach, and then find out what hashtags they use and where they congregate. To do this, a combination of Googling for fansites and hashtag research for social media can help you to zone in on the right gamers (RiteTag.com is an excellent tool to help with the latter).

  1. Have a compelling trailer

Trailer
No, not that kind of trailer…

Trailers are one of the most important aspects of your marketing activities, and to some extent can make or break your game’s success (it won’t matter if you get ten thousand gamers to watch your video, if it makes your game look like a piece of crap that nobody in their right mind would get excited about).

Here’s some tips for a great game trailer:

  • Keep it short – a good rule of thumb is to not exceed a 1-minute duration unless you have a really, really good reason. People online have short attention spans, and if you can’t hook them in 60 seconds you’ve got a problem.
  • Be sure to feature a lot of gameplay – this sounds obvious, but everybody hates those trailers that are basically just cutscenes and flavour narration and don’t show you what the actual game is. Triple-A development teams with established followers can get away with this, but everybody else? Nope.
  • Identify upfront what you want your trailer to say. You’ve got one minute of your viewer’s attention to communicate the essence of your project, so clarify this before you start editing the video. For example, you might say, “I want the viewer to know that this is a horror game with a creepy vibe and not too much action.”  Use that motto to guide your decisions about which shots to include in the trailer and how to communicate that with the presentation.
  • Don’t front-load a bunch of logos; nobody wants to sit through several seconds of “So-and-so Game Studios presents…” stuff before anything happens. If you have to have those idents in there, consider putting them at the end.
  • Make sure your game’s Unique Selling Point (USP) comes across very clearly – if you’ve been able to make a game with a compelling hook, your trailer should be shouting that from the rooftops. If you’re lucky enough to have any awards, accolades, good reviews, or a previously well-received game project under your belt, then get it all in there as well. You know, “From the makers of…”
  1. Utilise calls to action

This is Marketing 101 – if you’ve gone to the trouble of putting your promotional materials in front of a lot of people, you should definitely make sure they know what to do about them.

A call to action instructs someone to take action then and there, and it can simply be something like, “Buy now!”, “Play now”, “Buy it here”. It might sound obvious, but a surprising number of developers just put their material out without really stating what they’d like people to do with it.

If your game hasn’t come out yet, you can’t do a call to action, right? Wrong! You still want to gather up all those interested gamers so that they can later find out when the product gets released – so your calls to action in this situation might be things like:

  • Wishlist the game here!
  • Follow us for more updates!
  • Sign up to our mailing list!
  • Check out our development blog!

A person who sees your marketing material, and is interested, should not be left wondering what to do to find out more – so make sure there’s a clear instruction they can quickly carry out.

  1. Think twice about courting YouTubers and streamers

Yes, this flies in the face of a lot of conventional wisdom when it comes to marketing games, but the truth is that getting streamer coverage of your game isn’t a magic potion for mega-sales – in fact, it may even harm you.

The Binding Of Isaac
The Binding Of Isaac

It’s true that there is a type of game that can benefit hugely from video coverage. If your game has a lot of generated content and variation in play experiences, then getting big views on YouTube can make your game look like a fun experience without spoiling anything; some games, such as the procedurally-generated The Binding Of Isaac, owe a huge portion of their success to Twitch users watching streamers having fun with the game and deciding that they wanted to play, too.

But consider a more content-authored game, one with a linear narrative progression – what are the chances that somebody will watch a video of the gameplay and then “not need to play it” for themselves? Who would want to buy a puzzle game after watching their favourite YouTuber find all the solutions? Depending on the type of game you’re promoting, you may well decide that streamer and YouTube coverage is unlikely to work for you and focus your efforts elsewhere.

In the end, the most effective videogame marketing strategy is one intelligently tailored to the specific project you’re selling. By starting your promotional efforts as early as you can and carefully targeting the people most likely to be interested, you can sometimes achieve great results even with little to no financial outlay.

Five Things Your Brand Should Be Doing With Instagram Hashtags (That You Probably Aren’t)

Most business people know the general advice they have to follow if they want to use Instagram to build their brand. You have to be consistent, engage with your audience and – most importantly – use hashtags. Hashtags are absolutely key in getting the most out of this social platform (which has 800 million active monthly users) but, very often, they can become something of an afterthought. Which is where our expert guide to Instagram hashtags comes in! 

It’s an unfortunate truth that simply posting every day (as well as creating Instagram Stories) can take up more time than you really have to spare, given that you already have a business to run – so it’s understandable if thinking about hashtags is at the bottom of your to-do list! But if you or a member of your team has a few moments , here’s how a little extra research can make a big difference.

Hashtags and How to Use Them

It’s fairly common knowledge that when it comes to reaching new people, Instagram’s main currency is hashtags. With last year’s algorithm changes making it harder for the people who follow you to see your content, and the new option to follow certain hashtags, they are the main way to get your posts in front of more people, particularly those who haven’t seen your feed before.

How you use these hashtags, which ones you choose and how many of the allocated 30 you assign to each post can make a big difference to how effective they are. So what are the extra steps can you take to make sure you are on the top of your hashtag game?

Make your own hashtag, but don’t use it in isolation

Businesses are often advised to create their own branded hashtag. While this is a great branding exercise, it’s important to make sure this isn’t the only hashtag you use (or one of only a small handful). This is especially true if your business is:

  1. New to Instagram; or
  2. Has a small following

In the early days, you’ll probably find that your hashtag only reaches a very small audience, which means it would be unwise to rely on it. Placing it amongst more popular hashtags is how you’ll grow your audience, and if you want, you can make sure it’s always the first one you use so people begin to recognise it more.

Once you have a bit more of a following, you can increase the reach and visibility of our hashtag by using it in competitions and including it in your other promotional materials. Be creative – hashtagging your brand name isn’t a bad idea, but if you can make it more fun and interactive, it will ultimately have more staying power.

A good source of inspiration is other successful hashtag campaigns of the past. When feminine hygiene company Always created the hashtag #LikeAGirl, they turned the sexist insult on its head, gaining momentum with an empowering message that resonated across their audience. This hashtag has now been used 967,945 times on Instagram.

It may not have directly advertised their business, but as a brand-building effort that communicated their values and beliefs, it did extraordinarily well.

Aim to use all thirty allotted hashtags.

You may have read that to use all of the hashtags Instagram allows in a post is a somewhat desperate move, that other users don’t particularly appreciate. However, unless you have the luxury of tens of thousands of followers, this “hashtag abuse” really isn’t something you can afford to worry about. Beyonce and Deliciously Ella can get away with forgoing hashtags if they choose, because their audience is both dedicated and utterly enormous – but this is a luxury that simply doesn’t apply to most.

By using as many relevant hashtags as you can, you can reach far more of an audience than you otherwise would have done, and drive your engagement upwards. In order to keep your captions neat (and not assault followers with too many hashtags), you might also want to create a ‘gap’, putting them all in a block at the end of your post that readers can just skim over. Alternatively, you can also comment on your post with a set of hashtags. For example:

expert guide to Instagram hashtags
Image credit: Experimental Perfume Club, Instagram

 

Be aware of banned hashtags.

Instagram regularly bans hashtags when they become populated with posts that violate their community guidelines. There are many obviously inappropriate hashtags, which brands won’t be using in any case, (well, outside of a particular industry, but the less said about that the better!). Others, however, have the potential to catch you off guard.

Hashtags such as #pushups, #humpday, #todayimwearing, #boho, and even #books are just a few examples of the seemingly innocuous hashtags that your business might use, but have surprisingly been banned. The more you inadvertently insert them into your caption, the less visibility your post will have, and you’ll be missing opportunities to get your content in front of a big audience.

To keep up to date, check any hashtags you’re unsure of by searching for them on Instagram’s explore tab. There will be an alert once you’ve scrolled down that reads: “Recent posts from #… are currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram’s community guidelines”.

Mix hashtags from your niche with popular hashtags.

Often, you’ll want to join the bandwagon, and use some of Instagram’s most popular hashtags. Many simple ones like #instagood, #streetphotography and #photooftheday are checked regularly by users, giving them great traction. Using these infrequently will likely increase your engagement and your reach.

On the other hand, hashtags that relate to your niche will put your content directly in front of the people who are most likely to be interested in it, and garner the interest of a naturally more engaged audience.

As with most things though, there’s a balance to be struck. If you post generic hashtags like “Instagood” all the time, you’re likely to be swallowed by the crowd; but if you only ever stick to a niche, fewer people will see you.

This is why it’s so important to alternate your hashtags between the two groups, and use as broad a spectrum of hashtags as you can. Keep them relevant, though – there’s no use using “vegan” just because it’s popular if your photo is of your office space!

Check out what are the influencers in your industry are using, especially the bloggers and “digital natives” who are often ahead of the crowd, and more aware of budding trends. Look too for the popular hashtags that are a little less obvious, such as the very popular #livethelittlethings or #alittlebeautyeveryday. These hashtags are a little more poetic, and tend to have a more engaged audience than the more generic #like4like or #photography.

Find out the origin of the hashtags you are using

If a hashtag is popular, but there isn’t a clear reason why (i.e. it’s not just #love or #sunset), it can be well worth researching their origin. Firstly, this can help you use them appropriately, so they aren’t tagged to random or irrelevant posts. Secondly – and more interestingly – they can offer some unique opportunities.

For instance, the popular #flashesofdelight was created by the lifestyle brand Glitter Guides. Anything fun, girly, bright or pastel shaded fits well under this hashtag; compellingly, Glitter Guides will also look through the hashtag, liking and even reposting their favourites. This would expose your brand to their considerable audience. In fact, there are many big accounts who will feature your photography – you just need to use the correct hashtag, know what they are looking for, and make sure your content is exceptional.

Other hashtags, such as #thatsdarling (for the darling moments in life) and #mybeautifulmess (aimed at crafters and artists) have built a similar culture around themselves. The trick is just finding the ones that are perfect for you.

Is Empowerment a Concept Marketing Should Leave Behind?

 

The concept of empowerment, originally referring to members of marginalised groups achieving autonomy or authority despite societal expectations or restrictions, is a compelling idea. Even the word, both in the way it sounds and with its attendant ideas of liberation and personal fulfillment, is attractive. EMPOWERMENT. It brings to mind a fight for justice, hard-won self-worth and strutting around with well deserved confidence.

empowered

 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given both its evocative nature and convenient vagueness, the word has also become a marketing favourite, especially in the context of fourth-wave feminism.  Facilitated by the democratised space of social media and blogging putting marginalised voices on the frontline, feminism has seen a resurgence in recent years. Women are currently in the position where decades of campaigning have won them the right to live as they choose, but the hangover of centuries of oppression result in lingering inequality and stubbornly sexist attitudes. This middle stage, where so much has been achieved but there’s still a way to go, makes empowerment a particularly attractive concept.

And when marketing towards women, there seems to be little that isn’t potentially empowering. “Loving yourself” is empowering, which can translate to anything from losing weight, to buying a new lipstick, to pampering yourself. Learning new things, getting a gym membership, being fashionable, rebelling against fashion, buying sanitary products, celebrating “real beauty”, putting on make up – in the current marketing landscape, it’s all empowering, and the resulting meaninglessness of the term is becoming ever more evident.

This article in the Guardian by Hadley Freeman highlights the issue with this, and empowerment in marketing towards women is in danger of becoming the new “just make it pink”, a go-to, patronising and noticeably lazy marketing strategy.

This is especially true if a brand has never shown any particular interest in women’s issues before. We laugh at sexist adverts from the fifties (buy this or your husband will leave you!) but the reality is that advertisers have for too long relied on stereotypes, fostering insecurity and retrograde attitudes in order to sell their products, to both men and women.

Is Empowerment a Concept Marketing Should Leave Behind?
Failing in your wifely duties? Get him drunk!

Empowerment is of course a welcome sea-change from the above, where instead of making women feel like they have to buy a product because they will be socially or romantically rejected if they don’t, advertisers are saying that purchasing a product is a result of their confidence and indisputable self-worth.

However, with insensitive or ill-thought out use, brands can run the risk of looking cynical and deceptive, and the concept has become so over-used that it may not even be effective anyway. Unless a brand has a true involvement in women’s issues, or has ties to women’s charities, it could be time to leave the concept of empowerment behind and instead come up with new and creative ways to market to women.

Advertisers can even put themselves on the right side of history by creating a narrative that directly counteracts years of sexism within the industry, directly improving society by being ahead of the curve and rejecting the stereotypes which may have made it easier to sell products, but are ultimately damaging. The use of empowerment in marketing has been the first stage in this, and by letting these ideas evolve brands can both cut ahead of the competition and change the advertising landscape for the better.

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