This blog is part of a series on common pitfalls, myths and misconceptions focused on the ‘business’ side of game development. You can read the first one right here.
Today, we’re tackling a combination of myths:
- That it’s ok to start marketing your game near launch
- That it’s ok to keep putting off marketing or announcing until the last minute
- That a shorter time spent marketing your game closer to launch will be more effective
So, when should you start marketing your game?
The over-simplified answer is that the best time to start marketing your game was yesterday. The second best time is now.
Generally speaking, the earlier you start marketing, the better your overall marketing will be.
Of course, if it was that simple, this would be a pretty short blog post. Let’s dive a little deeper into why you should start early, and also why you don’t want to start too early.
The Power of the Slow Burn
There’s really no limit to the amount of work you can put into the marketing of your game.
The more information you put out about your game, the more tweets, the more mentions in the press, the more screenshot saturdays you take part in, the better.
However, there is a limit to the amount of time you actually have to turn that work into something helpful to your launch.
Time is a critical factor in marketing, especially low budget marketing. The best crafted press release in the world will never come close to having the same impact as a dev blog or Twitter account that’s been active for the last three years and talking about your game.
This misconception that marketing can wait until launch is actually a symptom of a whole different misconception and common error that people new to marketing make.
They believe that all marketing should be about getting someone to buy their game. That’s jumping forward a few steps though. At the start, it’s about getting people to be aware your game even exists.
The Rule of Seven
Let’s look at my favourite example of long-term marketing from a solo developer, the ever popular Stardew Valley.
It’s easy to look at a game like Stardew Valley and think things like “Well, CONCERNEDAPE got lucky” or “It was the type of game he made that made him successful…” However, Mr. Ape started his development blog and videos way back in 2012, four years before the actual release of the game, and he kept it active and interesting all the way through that time.
Many of the thousands of people exposed to Stardew pre-release may have only known it as “That Harvest Moon indie game thing that guy is working on…” but they did know about it. And maybe they saw it. Many of them multiple times.
Even if each time they only took away a tiny fraction of information about the game itself, the next time they heard about it, perhaps their reaction might be “Oh yeah!” instead of “What’s that?”
Eventually those “Oh Yeah!’s” Might turn into a genuine action, such as following the game on Twitter, or wishlisting, or joining an email group. After some time and with more exposure to your game, maybe they’ll start telling their friends about it.
One day, they might even purchase it.
The traditional term in the marketing world for this concept is the “Rule of Seven”
The Rule of Seven states that someone needs to hear your marketing message seven times before they buy a product from you.
Seven is a bit of an arbitrary number here, but the logic is sound. The more times people see your game, the more likely they are to buy it. The longer you’ve spent marketing your game, the more likely it is for people to see it.
When is TOO Early?
There are some instances where you probably don’t want to be marketing your game just yet.
For example, marketing during a prototyping stage is tricky. As you announce and test out a concept, you’ll likely find people who are disappointed or upset when you move on to something else quickly.
Even once you’re settled on your game, it can be better to hold off from any public announcements for the first month or two (or three!) of development. By all means, write your development blog and keep chatting with other developers, but you don’t need to go all out during this time.
Firstly, this gives you some breathing room in those early days to really work out what your game is all about, and what your key selling points and hooks might be.
It’ll be a lot more work and wasted effort if you start talking about your brand new 24 person MOBA the minute you come up with your idea and then decide to turn it into a point and click adventure game 2 months into development.
Secondly, it gives you or your artists time to come up with some awesome looking screenshots and GIFs that you can use to demonstrate your game when you announce it.
You don’t need to wait so long as for your game to playable or code to be nice to look at. Remember, you can show off a cool looking game with a unique art direction and interesting setting and mechanics, and the only person who knows just how completely broken and unoptimized the code is will be you.
I’ll use Stardew as my example here as well. Take a look at the 2012 trailer:
This is many years from release, but one thing you’ll notice straight away is how similar this looks, visually speaking, to the launch version.
Another good reason for holding off before you’ve got some nice assets is that Google has a long memory. The last thing you want is the most prominent images of your game being some weird placeholder art you used for a week at the start of development.
You can see that problem even in this trailer. If you’re watching on a Desktop you’ll see the annotations eager to remind you that this is not the launch trailer for the game but something far older and less polished.
So, don’t start too late, don’t start too early. Helpful advice, right?
But really, it should be obvious by now that if you begin marketing your game during the tail end of your development, you’ve wasted a huge opportunity.
If you’re worried about when to start, it’s always best to err on the side of starting early rather than starting late.
You can always adjust, tweak and improve as you go, but you can’t turn back time when it’s a week before release and you forgot to set up a Twitter account.
Featured Image: Passage by Jason Rohrer