How to market your game XBLIG style: Part 2

This is the conclusion of a 2-part feature on how to market your Xbox Live Indie Games, but I’m sure you could use it for just about any type of game. If you somehow managed to miss the first part, you can find it here.

Post design docs and update your progress

Some people aren’t necessarily fond of this idea, for fear that others will steal your idea. I disagree. Development is a collaborative effort, whether you are a one man studio or working on the next triple-A blockbuster. A great way to get attention and earn a following is to update others as you are moving along. Let them visualize the ideas behind your work, such as concept art, level design, a few key selling points, and your thoughts on character creation. I love getting into the mind of the developer to see their thought process. It’s like slowly watching a barren road unfold in front of you leading toward a large city, where the city is the finished product.

Postmortems are another opportunity to divulge your thought process, as it allows for developers to offer insight to what went right and what went wrong upon their title’s release. Small Cave Games provides an excellent example of this on their latest title, Ophidian Wars: Opac’s Journey. Read it and learn from it.

The purpose of this is also to illustrate your competence in the field of game development. You never know who may come by and view your work. It could be a future employer, a soon-to-be partner or just a fan who is sold on the idea of your game based on screenshots he just saw. A developer diary is another excellent way to keep fans informed.

Find a ying to your yang

I was fortunate enough to find Mike Wall, our editor-in-chief, as we compliment one another extremely well. Mike has an incredible eye for journalism, operates with utmost professionalism, is constructively critical, and runs this site with a high standard. He is not nearly as obnoxious as I am, however. That’s not a problem though because I on the other hand am always talking, mingling, and networking. I’m learning the various aspects of journalism from him as I move along, and if it was just me running this site, then we would have nose-dived long ago, but he keeps myself and the others in check. Sure we’ll bump heads  from time to time, but that’s the beauty of it – compromise, and learning. My point is, I am the ying to Mike’s yang, and vice-versa. You should do the same as well. Find someone who compliments your flaws or shortcomings well and work with them. Developers and programmers in particular (there I go, stereotyping) tend to be shy types, while business-oriented individuals tend to want to go out and promote. Well there is your developer/publisher relationship right there. One cannot operate without the other – you find it difficult to promote a game on your own, and the publisher needs a game to promote. Find the ying to your yang.

Emulate others

No, I’m not talking about that SNES running on your old laptop, I’m talking about seeing where others have succeed and stealing gathering their ideas. It’s no coincidence that successful people tend to attract others of success and they stick together. They’re gathering ideas from one another and implementing them into their own projects. Be sure to learn from the best and do the same. The most groundbreaking titles of our generation are comprised of pieces from those which have come before it. Just look at the recent success of FortressCraft. Take a great idea, add your own touch, and get the ball rolling.

Get feedback…..early!

I remember a while back Michael Ventnor was asking for feedback on the trailer for his then upcoming title Bonded Realities. At the time he had no studio name, and included zero information about the game in the trailer. It was only after other forum members commented and suggested various ideas did he have the knowledge and confidence to implement them. One of the first things I suggested was to include his studio name at the beginning to make viewers aware of who was behind the project. Unaware that most XBLIG studios are comprised of one, or a small number of individuals, I don’t think he realized he could call himself a studio. Why not? Who is to say you aren’t one? He now has the 8th top-rated game on the XBLIG charts.

Give away your music

Often times it is the soundtrack alone that can sell a title. Music is an important part of any game, and can greatly extend the life of your program. Last year 8-bit chiptunes band Anamanaguchi did the soundtrack for the XBLA title Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World. Both complimented one another and sold very well. I’m not saying you need to give it away for free, but as Nathan Fouts of Mommy’s Best Games stated in his GDC Panel, the point is to extend your brand and show support for it. Ian Stocker is following suit and has plans to release the music for his latest title SoulCaster II as well. Releasing music further extends your brand and cements it in the minds of gamers, who can instantly recognize soundtracks such as Mega Man 2, the Street Fighter II, or Sonic the Hedgehog’s Green Hill Zone. Lately videogame music has grown so large that a worldwide touring orchestra known as Video Games Live tours and covers some of our favorite past times including Castlevania and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Grab a marketing book


It only took me half way through my MBA program before I figured out that a marketing book could be one of the most useful items anyone could use to invest in themselves. You can find these in the non-fiction section. Marketing is important not just in the business world, but in your personal life as well. You’re always selling something – whether you’re trying to convince your teacher that your dog really DID eat your homework, or pitching your game idea to a publisher. Remember that bar scene in Good Will Hunting where Matt Damon tells that Harvard guy off, with only his public library education? Exactly. “How do you like them apples?”

Create a press release

Ever wonder what games journalists are talking about behind those closed doors of the media room at events like PAX and GDC? It’s the bad press releases. The only thing worse than not generating a press release, is creating a terrible one. offers far more tips on how to create a great one than I could ever offer here.  There are a few items every great press release should contain though. These include revealing a bit of personality about your studio, being concise and to the point, and having a great headline. You should entice busy and distracted journalists to want to read the press release; therefore, start off with a killer lead sentence that the following paragraphs will support. Finally, make it scanable so that readers can glance at it briefly and intercept the key points with only a moment’s notice. Some key things to avoid: Capitalization everywhere, bolding and italicizing tons of words, and using “hype” words (prestigious, leading, etc.).

Keep in mind that often times dozens of these things come across a journalist’s digital desk each day, so do all that you can to make it stand out from the rest, but in a good way. Quality counts: proper grammar, punctuation, and true facts go a long way.

Business Cards

Why someone wouldn’t have business cards is beyond me. They are perhaps the most affordable and professional way to get your name out there in the physical realm. Remember that section in Part 1 about Meetups? When I first enter one, my pocket is full of my cards. By the time I leave my cards are drained and my pocket is instead filled with newly networked friends. It’s not about what you know, but who you know.

Cards can be acquired and created a number of ways. If you choose to go the cheap route you can just use a simple layout template in one of Microsoft’s Office Suite programs and print them on card stock from your local office supply chain. I prefer to get them done online. Many sites will give you the dimensions of the template, which you can replicate in Photoshop and create your cards. Online vendors are affordable, offer a variety of templates, and don’t even require you to leave your home. Now that you have cards, be sure to always have a few on hand as you never know who you’ll meet. Some of the information you should include is as follows:

1) Name

2) Company

3) Position

4) Contact Info (phone number, e-mail, etc)

Some people like to get fancy and use those QR codes on the front or back, but I think at this point it may confuse people and takes up valuable real estate on an already cramped space.

E-mail Signature

This is another simple feature I find that a lot of developers miss out on. Think about how frequently you write e-mails and the number of eyes it reaches. If you’re someone like me then you write nearly 100 a day – while that does not mean I will reach 100 new individuals it does mean that I have the opportunity to further cement my brand in their mind. There is a marketing term known as “reach” which can be defined as “The estimated number of individuals in the audience of a broadcast that is reached at least once during a specific period of time.” Without getting too technical, reach * frequency = Gross Rating Points. The higher your GRP, the more people who are aware of your brand. Time to spread your seed.

Often times you’ll find that many people you speak with are completely unaware of a talent, hobby, or interest you have – I run into this all the time. But they are now made aware due to your signature. Your sig should contain a few key points, which essentially reflects all of the information on your business card. Everything beyond that is additional, but I find useful as well. A LinkedIn or Twitter icon with a hyperlink doesn’t hurt either. The extension WiseStamp can do this in the Chrome web browser for just about any email client.

More than just a game

There’s no reason why your game cannot be much more than that. Expand your universe! Remember what I said about “You Are Your Brand!” In Part 1? You see Triple-A studios doing it all the time with their titles, such as BioWare’s Mass Effect universe, where they have books, illustrated novels, and DLC to expand on. Being independent, I understand it may be difficult to dedicate resources to such as task, but that’s why we’ve found some for you! Not very crafty? No problem! Randi Mae Clayton runs Eight Bit Knits, where she hand knits popular game characters and turns them into plushies. Now tell me that’s not a conversation starter the next time someone comes into your place and sees a physical character from your digital world sitting on your couch. You now have another item to market your brand, and in turn she has has another item to add to her site. Here we see that cross-promotion thing coming into play again!

There’s also a plethora of online sites that provide services such as T-shirt design at an affordable price. Offer them as giveaways on Twitter or rock them at the next industry event you attend. Perhaps even give them away there: these people are now walking billboards for your brand. CDBaby is another great resource friends have been using for years to distribute their audio both in physical and digital form. The investments you make in your brand, not necessarily your game, will pay dividends in the end.

Tons of marketing is not always the best solution

I’m sure most of you still remember this one. Daikatana was supposed to be the next best thing in the late 90s, lead by John Romero of  id Software fame. I mean the guys made Doom, how could they go wrong here? Well there’s a few reasons: first of all, he was entirely too pompous. Their marketing campaign hinged on the slogan “John Romero’s about to make you his bitch,” and boy did that backfire. Not only did the game suck, but now the guy can never live it down. In fact, listed it as their #2 biggest gaming disappointment of the decade. This leads me to my next point which is “don’t rest on your laurels.” Just because you’ve had one hit doesn’t mean you’re going to have another. Daikatana was a game that suffered from too much marketing, and not enough game. Let’s all learn from this mistake.

Well those are a few of the things which float to the top of my mind when I think of marketing or promoting a title. We’d love to know what you think about all of this and would enjoy hearing and comments or suggestions below for what we should amend or add to it. If you’d like to see more things like this on the site then be sure to weigh in on the conversation. Thanks for reading!

Posted on by Dave Voyles in Features

About Dave Voyles

Dave is located in Philadelphia, and works as a Tech Evangelist at Microsoft. He's coordinated the Indie Games Uprisings on Xbox Live, wrote the UnrealScript Game Programming Cookbook, Made an XBLIG game, and is currently doing JS / HTML5 dev for browser base games. You can follow him on Twitter, at @DaveVoyles

  • Kris Steele

    Thanks for these posts Dave. I’ve picked up a few hints out of them… never paid much attention to my email signatures before. I should look into distributing or selling music from my games too… people especially seem to like the main Hypership theme.

    One thing to note for Indie devs is that you have to be proactive in promoting yourself. Gamers and press aren’t going to come to you, you’re small and unknown. I’m always finding myself sending out review requests, talking up my games, or inquiring about doing interviews and podcasts.

  • Carl Van Ostrand

    Great tips Dave, thanks. I picked up a couple for sure, and now feel stupid for not having at least a small stack of business cards. Thanks for making me feel stupid!! 🙂

  • Dave Voyles

    Don’t feel bad – I have a meeting tonight in SoHo for the Digital MBA (Why aren’t you there???) and realized I left all of my cards at the office, so I’m in the same boat.

  • Dave Voyles

    Yeah e-mail sigs are huge. You’d be surprised how much traffic it can drive to a site, or the conversations it initiates. Music is certainly another big one too. Like I said, you can charge, or give it away for free and see if it develops your brand a bit more too.

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