When you get started with social networks, it’s tough. Nobody follows you. Nobody reads you. Nobody knows you! How do other game developers get those thousands of followers?
2 years ago, no one knew me either. I was terrible at communication, and I didn’t like it. Back then, I had failed a company, largely due to a lack of online presence. And today? Not only do I enjoy the exchanges with the community every day: I learned to communicate the hard way and it paid off. With a niche concept in game design education, I’ve got 30 000 Youtube subscribers, 50 more every day, and companies who come to me with job offers. Thanks to them all, I’m fully independent.
When it comes to getting visibility, there’s no short answer. No definitive formula to drive the people’s interest. It’s hard, it takes time, and it’s a unique skill you must develop and hone. That’s why we got in touch with several independent game studios. Their practical tips will help you grow online and on social networks, from zero.
Tip 1: It takes time
There is no magical solution for you to grow a community in no time. You will see articles about guerrilla marketing or growth hacking, tricks to get noticed fast. Sure, you can come up with creative ways to grow your following faster. But it’ll still take a lot of work, unless you’re very lucky. Especially if you’re working on a niche game, you can’t expect thousands of players to subscribe to your channels overnight.
For one, You can only grow so big as the nature of your creations and your posts allow you to. An accessible title with appealing graphics, vibrant colors and funny gifs will attract people faster than your manic Shoot’em up or yet another Metroidvania.
Have you heard of Permission Marketing, by Seith Godin? In this popular book, the author explains how we can’t just show our products or advertise and expect consumers to throw money at us. Instead, we must talk to people and build relationships. I spent a lot of time helping young game developers, not expecting anything in return. It turns out some of them are now big fans who follow everything I do, and support all of my projects. But it took months, even years in some cases. Before someone gives you that much support, they need to trust you. And building trust takes time.
That doesn’t mean the quality of your game won’t matter: it sure does! But the way you behave, the time you take to design your social posts and articles, the frequency of your posts, the way you talk to people all matter just as much. It will shape your reputation, just like it does outside the internet.
Tip 2: Plant seeds, watch them grow
Fishing Cactus’s approach revolved around trial and error at first. They experimented with different communities and had it figured out by the time they released Epistory: Typing Chronicles. Once they got enough followers, they focused their attention on the major social networks. That’s a clever way to proceed: be present in several places to get started, so some people know you exist.
“Here’s how I see communication: it is like planting seeds. [You spread many of them and watch them grow]
Imgur didn’t always work for us, and it was the same with Reddit. But we received positive feedback on both Twitter and Facebook. There, we are now sitting at 4000 and 8000 followers respectively. We jumped on communities like IndieDB and gamedev.net very early on. We also participated in the Made with Unity, which impacted our visibility for the better.
At first, we shared specific content. We wrote articles for unexperienced programmers, artists, etc. Moving forward, we started doing contests, which allowed us to reach out to our fans’ contacts directly. Now, we try to cross promote our games with our established fan base. It’s not that easy because you still have to respect everyone’s centers of interest.
We have separate accounts for our studio and our games on social networks. It is harder to communicate through the former, because the players want to see the game, not hear about the company itself. Last tip: on Facebook, ads can help boost your growth, beyond honest community management. On Twitter though, they don’t work at all.”
It’s true that Facebook is designed to make you buy ads. Even small companies use them. Once you have at least a modest following, it can help you reach gamers who’ll never hear about you otherwise. Back in the early days, you could grow organically on Facebook. But nowadays, its algorithm will share your posts with a declining percentage of followers as you grow. It also strongly encourages you, or should I say forces you to use the native video system, locking you in the network. If you share a trailer you uploaded on Youtube for instance, almost nobody will see it.
Tip 3: At first, reach out to people
When you first create them, your social profiles will be empty and no one will read them. Your first followers will not gravitate around your pages. Instead, you’ll have to start with forums, reddit, messaging individuals, being active in social groups… you will have to reach out to others and get them to come pay you a visit. It is only once you have enough followers that your messages will reach their contacts. When you have a few hundred followers, ideally including some who have many more themselves.
You still should release insightful and beautifully illustrated posts though. When people visit your Twitter or Facebook profiles, you must give them a good reason to hit the like button.
It took me months of focused work to get my first 100 Twitter followers. I posted on Polycount, TIG source, Reddit, updated threads on a regular basis, and collaborated with the French website indiemag early on. I would release a weekly tutorial, translated in French for the community. It was a lot for work for a slow growth.
Your numbers matter: getting followers will be many times harder at first. Over the last 30 days, I got more than 100 doing nothing other than posting on a regular basis. I don’t even know where people came from!
Tip 4: Don’t fake it to make it
It’s a matter of mindset, but I believe that we live in a time where honesty is essential. We have the power to be social for real on social networks. You can treat your followers in 2 opposite ways: as an audience that you market to, or as a community filled with individuals whom you converse with. I lean towards the latter.
Now I’ve built a community, I learned that the people who follow you will are like-minded. You can act aggressively if that’s who you want to be, for example, but you will attract aggressive people and get into fights. I read numerous times that people get abused on Twitter. It never happens to me. And this boils down to the way you communicate. I can talk about money, business, budget with my followers, unlike several fellow content creators I’m in touch with, because I did so naturally and from the start.
Rebecca, the designer behind Ooblets, has a warm twitter page. She also wrote a guide to get started on Twitter
Tip 5: Avoid superficial tricks, collaborate instead
On Twitter, you’ll see people who follow thousands, if not tens of thousands of users. Don’t bother interacting with them. Most of the time, they use scripts or bots to automatically follow and unfollow users, hoping to get them to follow them back. This will effectively help your numbers grow, but that’s not how you get fans: you’ll just have more idle followers who don’t care about you at all, if they even know you exist. This hurts your image, because aficionados will see you randomly follow people. On top of that, your Twitter feed will be a mess.
I would also advise against random shout outs on Facebook and youtube. Do not ask people to talk about you out of nowhere. Directly sharing a link to one another’s account is also bad idea unless this is valuable for your followers. Otherwise it will feel like an ad, and will look deliberate. You want to be respectful of your followers’ time and attention: this is a scarce resource in today’s world.
However, collaborations can have a positive impact on both parties and help you maintain high quality standards. For instance, you might exchange gifs with fellow developers who make similar types of games on Twitter. I collaborate with other content creators on Youtube, if we make tutorials for the same game creation tools and we are about the same size. In those cases, we often make a two-part video on a popular topic and we each share one part in our respective channels. Every time we do that, we get spikes in both views and subscriptions. Plus, we have a fun time!
Tip 6: Be consistent
When it comes to communication, consistency is essential. You must feed the beast to get momentum.
You should post once a day on Facebook, Instagram or Google plus. Twice a day on twitter. Mostly pictures, animated gifs if possible. Avoid using text or text with links only to maximize engagement. You should not only be consistent with your schedule, but also with the quality of your posts. Finally, you’re communicating with people, so you want to make them part of the conversation. Talk to your followers, ask them how they are doing, what they think of your work, what they would like to see next, etc.
Beautiful and helpful posts work best. As Alain Puget, the founder of Alkemi explains:
“The tweets that bring the most followers are good-looking gifs and links to technical articles. To be more precise, links to our technical articles.”
Tip 7: Focus your attention on fewer channels
You do not have to be everywhere, all the time. If you try, you’ll see how much time it costs, often for negligible benefits. When you first post on a new social group or forum, you will reach a fair portion of the community. If you post often, you’ll reinforce your reputation there, but there’ll be less and less potential to get new eyes in front of your game. Regardless of the forum or network you share your work on.
On top of that, different social networks work in diverse ways and might not fit your personality. I’m a lot more comfortable with Twitter than Facebook or Google plus because interactions are more direct. Despite the 140 characters limit, Twitter was designed for conversations since the beginning. Even back when it was a service to share SMS. It is simpler than the other 2: there are few features to learn. On the other hand, Facebook is more complex and it feels a lot more corporate or professional.
Game developers tend to focus on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Youtube to share their trailers. Here’s how I see them:
- Facebook wants you to pay for ads and will artificially reduce your organic growth over time. However, that’s where everyone is.
- Youtube requires you to put out content frequently if you want to benefit from the search engine and referrals as much as possible. The time investment to get started is enormous. If you only post your trailers, you’ll get some views, but nothing extraordinary.
- Twitter is the place to meet industry professionals. As it is limited to short messages, conversations can get out of hand rapidly if you’re not careful.
- Reddit is a huge catalogue of what feels like forums: the subreddits. Each of them is a separate community and may have its own rules. In the game development community, self-promotion is only allowed if you contributed before that. Try to bypass the rules and you’ll pay the high price.
Give several options a try and focus on the ones you like best. When you’re closer to a release though, then comes the time to roam the web looking for players:
“I like to define an official hub, typically the Steam forums, and try to be everywhere where the players are: on Reddit, forums, Twitter, the PlayStation community…” Damien
Tip 8: Show your expertise
“I feel like it’s easier to get noticed as a technical experts rather than just a game company.” Explains Damien, co-founder of Pixelnest.
When we got started, we would share an interesting article daily at 5 PM on Twitter. That was back in 2013. When Unity launched their 2-D tools, we managed to get access early. We released a game creation tutorial at the same time as the engine’s update came out. This was an enormous success: it got millions of views, boosted all our social channels, and it is still read today.
Eventually, we stopped posting those articles, and we communicated more often on the game with gifs, videos and announcements. On top of that, we go to events and stay in touch with the press too. But in the grand scheme of things we are still unknown, and we don’t have a huge fan base.”
I have a similar experience with Youtube: if you share useful information, if you make a great article or you cover an original topic that people are interested, it keeps getting views over time. Be sure to always include a call to action and direct links to your social networks, as we explained in Marketing Your Indie Game On A Zero-Dollar Budget. Some visitors will want to follow you, but they won’t search for the link or might not think about it if you don’t remind them.
Tip 9: Call to action
It comes back repeatedly. As we exposed in our Marketing with a Zero Budget guide, if you want people to do something for you, you should ask politely. Don’t spam them with requests, but asking for retweets every now and then is fine. Be it publicly on a post (“please RT”) or asking somebody in private. If you want your followers to see and buy your game, you’ve got to share a link to it and tell them they can buy it now. If you don’t, most won’t. Otherwise they might not think about it for one, and they likely don’t want to spend the time to search for the link themselves. That is why Youtubers often remind people to like their video and subscribe. This call to action really drives engagement.