Now that the development phase of our product life cycle is behind us, the Where Shadows Slumber team is putting all of its focus behind advertising the game in anticipation of our upcoming launch. Last night, I met with Alba, Noah, and Caroline at Buzzfeed’s NY headquarters to discuss our strategy. (Jack is knee deep in wedding preparation this week, but we sent him our notes afterward) Shout out to Caroline for hosting us and giving us a tour! The Buzzfeed offices are awesome. I made sure to line my pockets with free candy every time I said I was “going to the bathroom.”
We’ve been pretty transparent about our process these past two years. Though I won’t reveal our planned iOS release date in this post, I can share with you everything we discussed at our marketing meeting last night. I hope this give you a sense of how small indie teams try to spread the word about their products. You’ll notice we’re leaning heavily on free / earned advertising, with a smaller focus on paid advertising. You may also notice that this is a ton of work. As we say all the time, marketing is really a full time job! If you can get someone on your team who does that around the clock, go for it. Wearing multiple hats is pretty stressful.
OK, enough whining! Let’s dive into the details…
Teasing With Teasers
The standard formula for movie promotion these days seems to be:
- Release a tiny teaser video that builds anticipation for a new product
- Release a short video that announces the movie’s release date and builds anticipation for the next trailer
- Release a trailer video that hypes up the final product once consumers can take some kind of market action (e.g. buying a movie ticket)
We decided to do something similar with Where Shadows Slumber. Over the next few weeks, you’ll see a few different videos go up on YouTube to announce the launch of the game. Alba composed different musical tracks for each video, and I’m going to film portions of the game to line up with them. (Play the audio file above to hear the rough cut – don’t worry, there isn’t supposed to be a video with it yet!)
Apple has a button on iTunes Connect that allows us to make the game available for pre-order. This wasn’t what we originally planned, but it seems like games that are available for pre-order are featured on a special part of the App Store. (Now that I have a bunch of iPhones lying around, I check the App Store constantly) If we can get on that pre-order list, we may be placed directly in front of a few million people each week. That would be awesome!
I’m not a big fan of pre-ordering games, personally. I tend to wait until games have been out for years before buying them. But I understand there are a lot of fans out there who don’t want to miss our game and want to play it the second it comes out. Also, any chance to get the game in a premium spot on the App Store is one we can’t afford to pass up. Stay tuned to this blog for more information! Teasers, trailers and announcements will all go up here as well as the Game Revenant Facebook Page, Twitter feed, and Instagram feed.
Journalists and Children First!
There’s another standard industry practice we decided to go with: emailing codes to reviewers ahead of time. Apple will give you 100 free promotional codes that allow iPhone users to download your game even if it’s not released to the public. As long as the build is in the iTunes Connect system and has been approved by Apple, they can use the code to get the game for 28 days.
Journalists will get the game ahead of time, and we’re going to insist that they don’t release their reviews before a certain date. (This date will be prior to the full release of the game, but will likely be after pre-orders have begun.) This is usually referred to as an embargo. I used to think it was a dirty word, but my feelings have changed now that I’m a publisher instead of a consumer. The purpose of an embargo is to make sure that smaller outlets don’t get left in the dust by big sites like IGN. You also want to ensure that people play your game thoroughly instead of rushing out a review. By telling people that their review can’t go live before a certain date, you’re giving everyone else time to catch up with the big boys.
We have no way of enforcing this. If Polygon decides to scoop everyone else, there’s nothing we can do against a media giant. I guess I just hold a grudge forever, and don’t send them a code next time? It’s a bit weird. Anyway, if you think an embargo is something only shady game developers do, I think you’re mistaken. If we insisted on a Day 1 embargo, though… that would be a different story. Reviews for the game will definitely come out before the game is playable by the public, have no fear!
The Where Shadows Slumber World Tour!
Ok, not really.
But at our meeting, we tried to list as many local educational institutions we could possibly think of, so we can go on tour giving lectures about the game. That probably doesn’t seem like something that would attract a massive audience, but I think it’s important. First of all, we’re all dying to talk about our game! We’d love to do a talk at the NYU Game Center, Stevens, some NY high schools, and any podcasts that would have us. We have so much knowledge to share!
More importantly though, we need content to post on our various social media channels to keep people engaged. We can’t just post GIFs of the game, or we’ll eventually give every one of our secrets away. So even if Jack and I talk about the game to a small room of 25 high school students, that video can then get posted to Facebook and reach 4,000 people. There’s really no speaking engagement too small or insignificant for us: everything can be spun into a good social media post.
Our list wasn’t very long, sadly. A lot of these institutions would rather see us become a success before booking us, rather than helping us attain success. No problem – I totally understand. We’ll see how the game does at launch, and try to jump from one talk to another. Hopefully we get to the point where people are dying to book us!
Do you have a classroom, podcast, or event that requires a speaker? Email me at contact@GameRevenant.com with details! We’re doing this pro-bono, so there’s no need for speaker fees or anything.
There aren’t too many conventions happening during the remainder of 2018, other than some Playcrafting stuff. So we’re definitely going to whatever Dan Butchko is throwing at the end of September / mid-October! If we put together an actual “tour,” I’ll put some kind of cool map graphic in a future blog post for you to all see. We might try for PAX East 2019, too. Man, it feels weird typing that. Remember PAX East 2017?
A Website Overhaul
Caroline mentioned last night that our current website could use an overhaul – it’s basically just a splash page right now, because that’s all we really needed. Fairly soon, we’ll be ready for the professional website to go live with screenshots from the final game and a few new features. I’m really excited about that! Web design was never my specialty, but it’s so important for putting on a good first impression.
Most people will experience our game for the first and only time through the App Store. But, for those fans who find out about our game via social media or some kind of ad, they’ll probably get sent to the website. What we have up right now is kind of like a demo website – it shows off the team, some awards we won, and our demo screenshots. We’ve also had a presskit up for a year or two, but I don’t know how many journalists availed themselves of that resource.
The new website should hopefully have a separate section for the team (so it doesn’t clog up the main stretch) as well as some sweet parallax effects. We checked out the Firewatch website and got a little jealous. Don’t be surprised if you see us do something similar in the future…
Wait – Are We Spending Any Money?
So far, everything we’ve mentioned has been free advertising. Since we don’t have any paid conventions planned, and the cost of train tickets to Brooklyn doesn’t really count, none of the above counts as “paid advertising.” That’s a good thing, because our tiny indie coffers are a bit empty these days.
However, we’ll be making use of a few sources of paid advertising. These ad networks let you dip your toe in the water with a little bit of money first before going crazy, so we’ll run some test ads on Facebook, Instagram, and Google Search. If you’ve ever wondered how these companies make money, this is how – from us! I also won a contest last year and was awarded $1,000 in credit for advertising on PocketGamer.com, so we may pick up one of their indie bundles.
Our budget is pretty low here: we’re talking less than $3,000 across ALL of these platforms, for the weeks leading up to launch and then a few weeks afterward. Personally, I would love to see the game make a ton of money before doubling down on these ads. I also need to check the stats on the ads themselves to see if people are really clicking through them to the App Store. If you aren’t careful, internet advertising becomes a dopamine game: put money in, see some orange bars fill up, get happy, and repeat. I want results! We may do an entire blog post about our ads if we get some interesting findings. Stay tuned…
Now that we have this plan in place, we have to actually do all of it! There’s still a few things left to plan, however. I want the team to have a spreadsheet listing every action item we need to do on launch day, with labels for who is responsible and the time this needs to go live. (This is stuff like “when do we post an announcement blog?” and “when do we all change our Facebook header to an advertisement for the game?”)
And of course, I need to plan out a whole series of teaser posts for Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Our Instagram in particular could use some love… I’m just learning how to use that app, and we barely have any followers. I haven’t really spammed those channels over the past few years, but now is the time to let people know something is coming down the pipe. I always hear that you need to see something about 20 times before you’ll buy it. I’ve heard that at least 20 times, so it finally makes sense to me!
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Thanks for reading this marketing update! If you’re new to this blog, you can find out more about our game at WhereShadowsSlumber.com, ask us on Twitter (@GameRevenant), Facebook, itch.io, or Twitch, and feel free to email us directly at contact@GameRevenant.com.
Frank DiCola is the founder of Game Revenant and the artist for Where Shadows Slumber.