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IGS @ GDC Austin: John Graham - 'Effective Marketing For Indie Game Developers'
 

IGS @ GDC Austin: John Graham - 'Effective Marketing For Indie Game Developers'

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Wolfire's John Graham (Overgrowth)'s talk from Game Developers Conference Austin's Indie Games Summit - September 2009....

Wolfire's John Graham (Overgrowth)'s talk from Game Developers Conference Austin's Indie Games Summit - September 2009.

A write-up of his talk is here:

http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=25270

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  • Introduction
  • All these PR tips are fairly easy to rationalize. If you show something off prematurely, people will think that the quality of your game is not very good. If you mention your competitors, you'll end up helping them cannibalize your sales. There are way more people visiting your site than you can deal with and most of them will either soak up your time without saying anything useful, or they might even troll you. If you start the buzz too soon, your hype might get stale and then people will lose interest before your product is even ready. It might be best to just focus all your attention on making a great game. If you make a great game, the world will come to you.
  • This might be the most important slide of the talk. Wolfire's first rule of PR: “The internets are huge and you are very small.” This is Wolfire’s first rule of PR. The scale is wrong, the internets are actually a lot bigger than this model shows. How small is small? Anecdote: Small means you can have a promotion where you bundle Lugaru in the mac giving tree while concurrently giving Lugaru away for free to anyone willing to join your Facebook group, and the resulting noise causes your Lugaru sales to increase. That is small. So let’s look at our PR tips again.
  • So let’s look at all these PR Tips again, keeping in mind how small we are as indie game companies. I thought indies were allowed to prototype and experiment. Who says you can't show things off early and ask for feedback? If you are just starting, you don't have any fans, but if someone happens upon your site, offering ways for them to interact with you seems like it might be a useful way to start. If no one’s looking at you at the beginning, who can you disappoint by attempting to make noise early. There is no downside and very high upside. This can work for people. Some people just have the Midas touch, but do you really want to use this as an excuse not to do anything to increase your web presence? So in general all these PR tips have one thing in common. They are all excuses to restrict the flow of information between you and the outside world and as a small indie just starting out, this doesn’t seem to make sense.
  • Wolfire says instead of clamming up, Open UP! We decided on day one of Overgrowth development that we wanted to be very open about our development process. We never really had a strategy meeting about this, but every powerpoint presentation needs a fancy chart so here's our fancy chart. In general there are three major PR pillars that involve making noise, making friends and building a community. If you commit to open development, it suddenly becomes easy to fuel all three. Additionally, like everything on the internet the three pillars often find ways to fuel each other as well. So let’s try to look at some examples. Let’s start with making noise.
  • Don't hold back, anything that affects your development process is fair game. Don't be afraid to share your honest opinion. Your perspective on game development is something unique you can talk about that no one else can. It's hard to predict what will be interesting to people and what won't be so by posting a lot you increase your chances of having something blow up.
  • Show what you've got. Does this look like a ninja rabbit warrior? No but is it still interesting to see, most people think so. Now that we’ve included our robot dude in a lot of videos, he has received the affectionate name “Rabbot” and almost has his own personality.
  • Show off your concept art. By design concept art is something that you can show off early to give people a hint at the look and feel you are going for with your game.
  • You can share how you arrive at your game design decisions. What kinds of things are you thinking about as you make certain choices.
  • It's ok to have fun and be a little silly. When Aubrey created fancy concept art based on the Whale Man forum meme we put it up on our blog with a Digg button. We got a lot of Diggs but sadly it did not become popular. There was no harm in trying though.
  • Jeff almost felt bad about making the "Why you should initialize your memory post" but he put it up and it became organically popular on Reddit.
  • Lots of things apply to games. Since Overgrowth will take place in outdoor environments, even a hike in the woods can be influential and relevant to the design process. Was it our hottest post? No. But it still got some comments.
  • After a series of regular development updates on Overgrowth, we declared that Overgrowth had been squashed by small tank. Poking fun at ourselves we declared Overgrowth to be a doomed niche title unlike the casual war game Small Tank. We ended up getting a mention on TIGSource and Offworld among other sites for it. We received threats from those who wanted to hunt us down with a rusty spoon as well as requests for more information about how Small Tank could be preordered. We were hoping David’s satirical write-up would help give away the fact that we were joking, but Aubrey’s polished looking models made it seem fairly legitimate.
  • So you don't have an excuse not to make lots of noise during your development process.
  • There are two places you can reach out. Let's start with reaching out online.
  • Cold emails are sadly how you have start. Just keep in mind how small you are and don't give up or get discouraged. I spent my first month at Wolfire gathering all the contact information I could find for gaming news sites. When we announced Overgrowth, I sent out over 300 emails. However, we only got about 10 responses. When we decided we wanted to be on Steam, I emailed them. When we didn't hear back I emailed them again. About 7 emails later we got a response. It makes sense though, the internet is a large and noisy environment. Valve probably gets more requests than they can easily deal with for Steam publishing and many of them are probably spam. If you get ignored at first, don't take it personally, keep trying.
  • When David mentioned that he wanted to do I design tour, Jeff and I were kind of nervous. We imagined that he would need to sink in a couple days of his time and that the final video would get about 40 views and that would be that. However, David was very passionate about the idea. He made his video and then contacted Ron and Kyle. Ron and Kyle agreed that his observations were spot on and as we posted it on our blog they posted it on theirs. Suddenly other sites were picking it up and the video was getting thousands of views. Jeff and I felt a little bad because our lead programmer had just overshadowed us on the PR front.
  • Beyond design tours, we have been on the lookout for other cross promotion opportunities. The clay rabbit on the bottom right was crafted by Sarah Quick of the Cletus Clay team TunaSnax. On the bottom left are some rabbit battle cruisers created by our own lead artist Aubrey Serr for Positech’s Gratuituous Space Battles. The top right is an Overgrowth mod for Ragdoll Software’s Rubber Ninjas. Cliffski of Positech, pointed out in one of his posts how cool it is that indies can collaborate with each other without the need for strategy meetings and lawyers. To the extent that we can leverage our agility like this to increase to further our PR goals this seems like an awesome way to leverage a strength to combat a weakness. Tim from Braid was put in Super Meat Boy. Indie bundles on Steam and D2D. Indie cross promotions are awesome. We need to keep it up!
  • Meeting people offline.
  • Go out and meet people. I don't care where you are, there must be some kind of indie gaming scene near you. Go out and find it. If there isn't one start it. This is us at Edmund's birthday party. Check out the Gish balloons. It's sweet to meet people in person because you can only get to know someone so well through email. Face to face meetings encourage high bandwidth discussion.
  • Meet people like it's your job, becase IT IS YOUR JOB. You never know who you’ll meet so you should meet people like it’s your job (because if you’re working on PR, it is your job). This is Mark Healey co-founder of Media Molecule. What you need: Box of business cards (at least 500) Ipod Touch, with your development videos loaded on it (remember to charge it) Develop your elevator pitch (after you explain your company and the game you’re making 50 times you’ll have it down) During the day find the after parties Anecdote: At GDC I gave out about 500 cards and got about 300 back.
  • Don’t be afraid to approach people. Especially people from the press. This is a picture of me networking with representatives of G4. Press guys are are busy but friendly and are often looking for the next big scoop. If you see a big fancy camera on the press floor, there is usually games press contact nearby.
  • Meeting people in person helps turn those cold emails into warm ones. Even if I didn't leave a perfect impression on Reverend Anthony, at least I left a lasting one. So then when it was time to send emails about the Overgrowth web comic, instead of wondering whether I was a spammer he remembered the crazy guy from Wolfire.
  • So those are some thoughts on making friends. Let’s look at building a community.
  • Allow ways for you to talk to fans. Allow ways for fans to talk to fans and most importantly allow ways for fans to talk to you. Give people a reason to come back. Interactivity is sticky. Also subscriber buttons are needed so that when you have a traffic spike, you can keep some of it. Most community sites are going to smart glow and grow steadily over time. The earlier you start the bigger your presence will be on various sites when you launch.
  • This could have been in the noise making section. It is our hottest blog post to date. However, at its core it is a post about the benefits of reaching out to communities. Based on Wolfire's experiences with Lugaru, Jeff argued that supporting Mac OS X and Linux is just as important for indies as supporting PC's. Cross platform development is a good way to open up to other communities.
  • This was our effort to reach out to international visitors to the site. Only 30% of visitors to Wolfire.com come from the US and only 50% come from countries whose first language. We offered free copies of Overgrowth to those who helped us translate Overgrowth's fact sheet and contact foreign news sites. We've gotten more exposure and had our fact sheet translated into many languages (including pirate and pig-latin). We're still looking for translations to Elvish and Klingon.
  • This is the first and only Overgrowth article we’ve had so far. Technically Igromania is the biggest European magazine. We chalk this up to the International presence our community helped us get. We think it’s a good article but we don’t speak Russian you’ll notice there’s a fat score of 30% on the bottom right. We hope that refers to percentage complete and not expected quality.
  • Mod support is huge. Despite Lugaru having poor modding tools, there are now 5 or so awesome fan-made mods and counting. For Overgrowth we thought we should try to make it easy. We were amazed when in the middle of development Hale had already created a detailed city in our engine. Instead of hiding your tools, share them!
  • Don't be afraid to ask for feedback. This post was a great sanity check on our blogging and helped us discover a few topics of interest which we might not have thought about on our own. (I almost made this slide the interview with fans which would have forced me to show the video of me dancing in a kilt). However, I decided to keep it professional.
  • So that's enough about our PR philosophy, let's talk about mechanics. You can’t shout in a vacuum and expect anyone to hear you. You need a medium for transmitting your noise. So for the second half of the talk I’m going to try to explain the mechanics of how we actually implement Open Development. There are a lot of tools out there but since most of them are free, our strategy has been to use as many as we can. Let’s start with things you can do on your site.
  • The Blog is your Anchor. It can draw people directly to you and creates content that you can echo out to other people. Just blog it. You can then echo your blog content (articles, videos, pictures etc.) to other pages. Tips: Blog frequently Because everything applies to games you don’t have an excuse not to share posts often. The more you blog, the more likely one of your posts is to cause a small viral explosion: Make your Blog Sticky: Have very conspicuous subscription buttons for RSS and Emails. Encourage discussion 1. We usually only carry a thought so far on our own before we reach a point where it becomes useful to ask for feedback. 2. Use a plug-in like Disqus to enable comment threading so people can respond to each other in an organized fashion Anecdote: Before threading we used to get about 10 comments per post, now we average around 30 and sometimes get over 100 Make posts friendly. 1. Use less to say more, trim the fat when possible. Large blocks of text look scary. 2. Every blog post needs a picture or a video. This makes posts seem friendly and easier to read. Anecdote: We’ve been doing a post a day since 11/24/2008 and in less than a year our blog has gone from 0 to over 2000 RSS subscribers.
  • Forums are great for discussions and sharing of fan-made content. They are also a place where visitors can answer each other’s questions. Unlike the blog which we have to power ourselves, the forums are run and maintained to a large degree by the community. We recommend taking a laid back approach to the forums so you don’t get dragged into a flame war. Forums can be crazy sometimes, anecdote: The genitals thread in SPF that wouldn’t die. 
  • Our Public IRC channel is a bit like a Forum in live chat form. The devs can idle there and can help visitors. Visitors can help each other. We use mibbit to allow people to access our IRC channel through the browser. We also have Rabbot who posts links in IRC every time we fire a blog post so that IRC idlers get first crack at reading and commenting on our posts.
  • Live chat is a great way to reach out to people. It's not just fans that visit. Sometimes it's other developers, distributors, press contacts. It's also more likely that people will contact you if all they have to do is type into the browser. Tips: Be friendly and helpful at all times. You can never tell when someone is being serious or not but by taking people seriously and offering help, you don’t burn any bridges and provide less food for trolls. Additionally, the best trolling attempts can often turn become blog posts like our Silliest Meebo Moments posts.
  • You might think these aren’t directly relevant to PR at first. However, services like Google App Engine and Amazon Cloud front are literally ways to ensure high bandwidth communication between you and the outside world. When you have a major PR victory and everyone is coming to you to buy your game, the last thing you want is for your site to crash and waste some of this potential energy. Plan for success early and get yourself set up with a pay as you go scalable system. Anecdote: During our promotion perfect storm when Lugaru was free for people who joined our Facebook page, Jeff’s Supporting Mac and Linux Post was exploding and the Mac Giving Tree was throwing traffic at us we had over 100,000 hits and were getting over 100 requests per second. However, our site never hiccupped. Be prepared, hook into the cloud.
  • So those are things you can do on your site. Now for some useful media off your site. There are a lot of social media pages out there but we have icons representing our favorite five on the bottom.
  • Anecdote: Silverfish told us about ModDB in IRC and helped us run it while we were still figuring out how to use it. Contact the friendly ModDB Guys and get yourself a page. ModDB is a giant Mod and Indie Game Data Base. They get a lot of traffic. Tips: Update your ModDB page frequently , when you post news and it gets approved, it gets bumped to the “latest articles” section on the ModDB home page: http://www.moddb.com/ . It’s a great way to get hardcore gamer and modder eyeballs looking at your project.
  • In the beginning, only Vimeo had HD but YouTube now has it as well. Plus, YouTube’s user base is huge, so it’s a nice viral environment which gives your videos a greater chance of getting eyeballs (recommended videos and organic searches) and perhaps going viral. Make lots of videos. Use humor. Annotate your videos to encourage subscribership to your channel.
  • The Wolfire 3 pronged attack: Tech Demo showcasing cool graphics and new features Crazy narrator doing impressions and making puns Text subtitles that make fun of the narrator Usually the user can relate to at least one of the three and trying to keep track of all three levels at the same time can keep users engaged without letting them get bored. This has been our most successful tech demo. It got an organic boost from Reddit. Let EA worry about making super polished prefect traditional trailers.
  • It’s good be mindful of the insights on your pages. Here the insight might be that beatboxing was not a good idea.
  • Facebook has a ton of users, it’s another a great viral medium. Every time someone joins your page or clicks a “like” button it resonates somewhere that friends can see. It’s very friendly to use. You can RSS your blog to your page and also upload your media files individually and have them show up on your wall. We promoted our Facebook page fairly hard. Facebook 500: We announced that when our facebook page had 500 fans, we would unleash Alpha 1. Free Lugaru Giveaway: We offered Lugaru away free for the holidays to anyone who joined our Facebook page. Anecdote: We got so many fans so fast, that when it finally came time to PM everyone with a link to a free copy of Lugaru, Facebook though we were spamming and triggered a generic error message as these sites do. They never accuse you of spamming they just throw up a red flag and then a person somewhere needs to review your request and approve you. Google de-listed us around this time as well. Now we have almost 4000 fans, and get a few more every day. (If you get over 1000 fans you can secure a vanity URL, now we have: http://www.facebook.com/Overgrowth instead of http://www.facebook.com/pages/Overgrowth/39924081634) Originally the page was just a sterile rss feed of our blog, but now it has its own buzzing activity and discussions. Tips: Update Often RSS your blog to your page Upload your media files to albums on your page as well so they can be seen on your wall and gather comments and likes Seed your page to make it a more happening place
  • It’s free and drive’s a little bit of traffic so why not? All the cool kids are doing it. We’ve been slowly gaining followers so perhaps someday it will drive a lot of traffic. Twitter is a nice way to talk about little things that don’t merit a full blog post. Unlike other pages which mainly just attract fans and subscribers, Twitter also serves as a nice way to meet and connect with peers in the industry. Tips: Follow your indie brethren on twitter Tweet often
  • A steam official game group is a great way to acquaint the Steam community with your game early. Sadly you can’t RSS feed your blog, so all your major announcements have to be posted manually. You also can’t embed URL’s, pictures, or videos so announcements always look rather dreary. However, Steam recently enabled comments for the OGG’s so perhaps they will be catching up to other pages eventually. What Steam lacks in sophistication it makes up for in the fact that everyone that stops by your game group chatroom is probably a hard core gamer so you are getting some awesomely targeted PR. Tips: Idle in the OGG chatroom so you can greet visitors and let them answer questions Anecdote: Met Nimai, one of our hardcore modders and others through Steam. He had some Gary’s mod experience and immediately figured out our editor tools and made a lot of cool buildings. Offer avatars related to your game that fans can use on their profiles (the whale man was pretty popular for a while)
  • Gamespress is the one PR service we pay for. It’s good for getting your information to auto-feed onto certain sites. Just for fun we decided to upload our Halloween exploits where we decided to set a pumpkin with the company logo on fire with a propane torch. You can see that it made its way onto some of our Overgrowth profiles as an Overgrowth screenshot. Gamespress has been especially useful for our videos and has gotten us onto IGN, GameTrailers, Gamespot and G4. These videos have in turn brought some visitors back to the Wolfire site.
  • Gametrailers. These guys have been one of the most awesome mainstream sites to us. We have now gotten many Overgrowth videos uploaded to GameTrailers and have received over 260,000 media views. We never expected such a mainstream site to be so indie friendly, but these guys are really awesome. Except on rare occasions the GameTrailers page tends to dwarf our YouTube page in terms of number of views. Tips: Post a lot of videos. Don’t get discouraged when 70% of people’s comments are “WTF” towards your early tech demos, at least they’re hearing about you. Just show them a little more in the next one. Now people on GameTrailers are starting to understand what we’re about.
  • Open development requires a thick skin, or as David calls it: "Emotional Aikido" These were some of the worst comments I could find on GT. However, for every bad comment there are usually a few good ones and now people are starting to understand our open development process.
  • If you’re serious about making your game you might as well let your hardcore fans help you out early. You'll need some credibility as a studio. Previous games help with credibility and so does opening up and showing people what you've got as you got it. Early preorders have been used by a lot of small companies. Gabe Newell declared that the investment model of the future bypasses publishers entirely by going to fans directly for support. It’s an interesting idea and we small companies have already been doing this for some time.
  • Open up to the world. The earlier you start, the more seeds you can plant before launch. Always stay agile and look for the new opportunities. Just because our techniques seem to have worked for the past year, doesn’t mean that they are going to work as is in the year to come. Technology is traveling at the speed of Moore’s law and the internet seems to be moving faster than that. As a small agile company you can be first to adopt the next big thing. Also remember we’re still in the middle of development. If we’re lucky enough to be asked back for to GDC, we can give the full postmortem in a future talk.
  • What's more interesting just looking at a final finished asset or getting to see the whole timelapse from black canvas and initial strokes to the final project? If you can see the appeal of a timelapse you can probably see the appeal of open development. Open development is a way to timelapse your game.
  • Thanks for allowing me to speak at GDC Austin. This was an amazing opportunity and I hope you found my talk useful.

IGS @ GDC Austin: John Graham - 'Effective Marketing For Indie Game Developers' IGS @ GDC Austin: John Graham - 'Effective Marketing For Indie Game Developers' Presentation Transcript

  • Wolfire’s Indie PR Making noise from day 1.
  • What Is PR?
    • Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its publics.
    • --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_relations
  • Some PR Tips!
    • Only show off finished assets.
    • Never mention the competition.
    • Avoid direct interaction with fans.
    • Don’t generate buzz too early.
    • Let the game speak for itself.
  •  
  • Some PR Tips! La
    • Only show off finished assets.
    • Never mention the competition.
    • Avoid direct interaction with fans.
    • Don’t generate buzz too early.
    • Let the game speak for itself.
  • Wolfire’s PR Make Friends Build a Community Open Development Make Noise
  • Making Noise
    • Be Open About Everything
    • Be real
    • Make Noise Often
  • Tech Posts http://youtube.com/watch?v=SAtwQa8t_3g&hd=1
  • Concept Art
  • Game Design
  • Silly Posts
  • Esoteric Posts
  • Personal Experiences
  •  
  • PR Chart Make Noise Build a Community Open Development Make Friends
  • Making Friends Online
    • Cold Emails
    • Talk about other indies that inspire you
    • Cross-Promotion Opportunities
  • Cold Emails
  • David’s Design Tours http://youtube.com/watch?v=XAoW9fjKmo4&hd=1
  • Cross Promotion
    • Cletus Clay
    • Gratuitous Space Battles
    • Rubber Ninjas
    http://youtube.com/watch?v=h9Ob_CEjzBY
  • Making Friends Offline
    • Parties
    • Meetups
    • Conventions
    • Result: Warmer Emails
  • Edmund’s Birthday
  • Conference != Vacation
  • Meet The Press
  • Warmer Emails
    • ”… and their main marketing dude at industry events wears a kilt and a lumberjack beard."
    • -Reverend Anthony Burch, Destructoid
  • PR Chart Make Noise Make Friends Open Development Build A Community
  • Building A Community
    • Facilitate Communication
    • Be “Sticky”
    • Start Now
  •  
    • Translations in 20+ languages
    • International news sites
  •  
  • Foothold by Hale http://youtube.com/watch?v=5R45xrFWerA&HD=1
  • Communication: A Two Way Street
  • Wolfire’s Bag o’ PR Tools Make Noise Make Friends Build a Community Open Development
  • Blog
    • Blog often
    • Pick relevant topics
    • Use pretty pictures and videos
    • Encourage feedback
    • Make it sticky!
  • Forum
    • Discussions, fans can answer each other’s questions
    • Builds a community
    • Fans can share content and make maps together
    • Can be crazy?
  • Public IRC Channel
    • Group live chat
    • Multiple devs can field questions
    • Fans can field each others questions
    • Mibbit
    • Rabbot
  • Meebo Live Chat Widget
    • Visitors:
    • are psyched by live chat
    • can ask questions
    • can get support
    • can troll me
  • Google App Engine & Amazon Cloud Front
  • Social Media
  • ModDB Page
    • Friendly towards Indies
    • Community is hardcore gamers and modders
    • New posts get sent to the front page
  • YouTube Channel
    • YouTube has HD
    • YouTube has a lot of viewers
    • So make lots of videos
      • http://youtube.com/watch?v=tdx8dBGbi4c&hd=1
  • The 3 Pronged Attack http://youtube.com/watch?v=cc5L9sBF7D0&hd=1
  • Insights
  • Facebook Page
    • Lots of users
    • Easy to Use
    • Can import your blog
    • Uploaded media shows up on your wall
    • Promotions
    • Fosters its own discussions
  • Twitter
    • Twitter is like a mini blog
    • Makes noise
    • Can attract followers
    • Medium for meeting people in the industry
    • Great for tidbits
  • Steam Group
    • Avatars
    • Screenshots
    • Posting announcements
    • Group chat room
    • Room for improvement
    Nimai used our map editor to make each of us an in-engine house. This is David’s house.
  • Games Press
    • Games Press is the one PR service we pay for
    • Provides a nice way to get PR announcements auto fed to news sites
    • Games Press has helped us get content on IGN, GameTrailers, GameSpot and G4 among others
  • GameTrailers
  • Worst of GT Quotes
    • Boring! What kind of game even is this? Animatsion? Get real
    • i can't wait for the nerd to comment an try and correct everyone talking about how cool the textures look an this is revolutionary... too bad its a f**king ROCK....show some f**king character models not a rock changing colors wtf is this crap.
    • And if THIS is how they're trying to sell the game... you KNOW the game is going to be really... really bad.
  • Early Preorders
        • TaleWorlds
        • Data Realms
        • Wolfire Games
        • Unknown Worlds
        • Valve?
  • Conclusion
    • Open development
      • Make Noise
      • Make Friends
      • Build a Community
    • Start early.
    • Stay agile.
    • Note: The Wolfire Experiment isn’t over yet.
  • Question To Ponder http://youtube.com/watch?v=yOXrAQhShDk&hd=1
  • Final PR Tip Leap at every opportunity! If GDC invites you to speak, say “yes”!