We live in a world of trailers — which is a short way of saying that we live in a world of anticipation and delayed pleasure, a world where every major feature film is preceded by a vanguard of teasers and leaks and convention panels. And games are surely not exempt from this phenomenon; if anything, gamers are even more rabid for early information and big, cinematic reveals than movie-goers.
A first impression can often be your only chance to make any impression at all; subsequent interest may not exist at all if you don’t catch those eyeballs with your first release. And in an age where so many of these projects are increasingly dependent on crowdfunding, hitting early and gathering positive buzz and word of mouth might mean the difference between staying financially solvent and cancellation.
So how do you grab the attention of those crucial early adopters? How do you ensure that first bite of the apple is delicious enough to ensure a second? It all starts with timing.
Choose your spot
The most important part of launching a marketing campaign is finding the sweet spot — a time not only when your project is most likely to get in front of the largest audience but also when it’s at a stage where it can be shown to best advantage. While developers are starting to cotton on to the fact that there’s really no lull in gamers’ appetites based on time of year, there are still definitely windows where it’s a lot thinner on the ground than others, notably during the summer months. But every marketing campaign should be researched well in advance, allowing for plenty of lead time as well as some flexibility to adapt to events as they develop.
Take a long look at what’s been announced or is likely to be announced around the time of your marketing launch, and bear in mind that you’re not just competing with other announcements but also with other launches. If a huge triple-AAA behemoth is coming out at the same time you’re trying to get people talking about your game, your odds are much lower of getting that valuable exposure.
Increasingly, word of mouth is dependent on podcasts and YouTube talk shows getting a sniff of what you’re cooking, and if they’re all devoting an hour to talking about how incredible Breath of the Wild is, there’s much less chance of your indie RPG bubbling up.
And to the second point, it’s critical you have something worthy of announcing, and enough content that you can not only reveal some of the sexiest details up front also some have enough meat that people looking to really dig in and investigate can do so; it’s those people that will become the biggest evangelists for your game, if you treat them right.
And you need to keep the long game in mind as well, you’ll need enough additional features and details in the marketing pipeline to maintain a consistent level of hype and excitement on the road to launch.
The other main key to making a potent first impression is carefully choosing the sexiest content — not literally, necessarily — to include in that first microburst of information and then polishing it to a blinding shine. There’s something to be said for letting a third party that specializes in making sharp looking, gorgeous, eye-catching trailers work their magic, if you can afford them.
If not, you need to make sure you’re giving the time and attention to that first reveal that it deserves. Again, the importance of that first impression can’t be overstated, and may be the difference between success and failure for your entire project, so while it may seem like a big distraction from properly developing your game or a waste of resources, building a proper first reveal will pay dividends for months or years to come.
Pick the biggest, flashiest features of your game, of course, but also focus on the reasons you wanted to build your game in the first place. There’s nothing more powerful or infectious in marketing than real passion, and if you can get people to care about you, your story, and to see how invested you are in creating this work of art they’ll eagerly open their minds, hearts and most crucially, wallets.
Especially for indie projects, selling your game is as much about selling yourselves and your imaginations as it is about selling a product, and the more personality and passion you can inject into your marketing the more traction it’s likely to get.