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Indie Game Developers Need To Think Globally

One evening last week, representatives from the United States Department of Commerce met with myself and other Los Angeles chapter board members of the International Game Developers Association to discuss policies to promotes economic growth, technological competitiveness, and sustainable development of the game industry. I kicked off the conversation by saying that the big game publishers already have a voice in Washington through the Entertainment Software Association, but who really needs a voice are the indie developers, and what they most need is funding for doing development.  We talked a bit about different sources of funding, but what seemed to really perk their interest was funding from other countries.

As it so happens, two days later I met with a representative from a Shanghai-based game publisher who told me that there is indeed a lot of money in Shanghai for funding game development.  What they lack are creative ideas for games, and they are looking to the United States for development teams with proposals and even individual American game designers to lead teams.

Now, both these conversations are just in their infancy stages, and I will share more when and if anything develops, but what last week confirmed for me is that indie developers need to look beyond their own borders. There is a whole world out there that has an interest in games, and here are some things you can do right now to take advantage of a world-wide audience.

One decision impacting your ability to reach a worldwide audience is your selection of a publisher, assuming you are not publishing the game yourself.  While there are many advantages of going with a worldwide publisher like Activision or Electronic Arts, ironically, they may not have distribution in some territories.

One alternative to consider is to use smaller publishers that each focus on one of the counties in which you want to distribute your game.  You may find that these smaller publishers may give more individual focus to your game than the big publishers do, and you can probably negotiate a higher royalty rate too.  However, the big publishers dominate the U.S. and U.K. markets, and it may be difficult to get physical distribution in these countries if you take the country-by-country route for distribution.

You selection of which countries in which to distribute your game will require you to do a little homework on each country.  Some questions to ask yourself include:

  • Is there an emerging game market in that country?  If there is a growing interest in games that isn’t already saturated with product, your game could be one to satisfy the country’s desire for interactive entertainment.
  • Does the country have any prohibitions on marketing or data collection?  If you can’t promote your game or use metrics for measuring the effectiveness of your marketing campaign, you’re going to have a hard time getting potential customers in that country to find out about your game.
  • Does the country have access to digital stores?  If you plan to distribute your game digitally instead of physically, you’ll need to be sure there’s a way for the country’s citizens to actually download your game.

However, if you can jump over some of these hurdles, you may be able to tap into markets that are not as crowded as the U.S. market currently is.  Of course, you have to develop your game first, and that requires money.  Hopefully, in the coming months, I’ll have some information to share about obtaining foreign funding.



These High School Kids Could Tell You Why Your Mobile Game Isn’t Getting Any Downloads

Last Saturday I was a volunteer judge of student presentations at a business academic event for the Granada Hills Charter High School DECA team. DECA, if you don’t know, an international association of high school and college students and teachers of marketing, management and entrepreneurship in business, finance, hospitality, and marketing sales and service.  As an alumni of the high school, I was asked to help the student team practice for a state-wide competition they are attending next month.

For this practice event, students would have to quickly prepare presentations to solve business problems such as creating a social media program to poll hotel guests about how best to spend a facilities investment fund, coordinating grocery store departments to promote National Family Meal month, and improving customer relations on a food delivery website.  The students would then present their plans to us judges, who would role-play as their bosses.  The winner in my group was a bright young lady named Fatima who presented a plan for training hotel lobby personnel on new registration policies for assigning guests to two hotel rooms above a noisy atrium.

So, what does all this have to do with video games?

Well, recently I was contacted by an indie developer who complained that he was only getting five downloads a day on his new Android game.  He wanted me to take a look at his game to see what he was doing wrong.

I told him that I was not going to bother to look at his game. Nor was I even going to ask him about what makes his game special; that is, what its unique features are. I am going to assume that his game was engaging (even though he admitted that “it is not the best game in the world.”)

No, I wanted to know about something most indie game developers don’t even think about until after they launch but that these DECA team members would have thought about from the first day of development: What have you done to market your game?  I’m talking about branding, social media, promotions, advertising, and customer relations.

Two hundred and fifty Android games are launched every day. It is an extremely competitive market, so if your game isn’t getting any downloads, my question back to you is, “What effort have you made to make your game stand out from all that competition?”

Or, more specifically:

  • What did you do to build a customer following before launch?
  • Did you create a website with a game trailer, screenshots, mailing list, and press kit?
  • Were you active on social media, especially Facebook and Twitter? And if so, did you interact with your followers rather than simply post stuff?
  • How did you promote your game to the mobile game press so that they will cover it?
  • What advertising have you done?
  • What steps have you taken using keywords and other factors to improve your game’s search engine ranking?

These are all things you should have thought about long before you released it, if your hope was to get a lot of downloads. It’s very, very rare to launch a game without any marketing effort and have it go viral on its own merits.

The high school kids in the DECA competition had only ten minutes to come up with their plans.  But you probably spent zero time thinking about marketing.  All you wanted to do was to make a game.  But if you want to actually sell that game, you should allocate about twenty-five percent of your time on marketing it — starting months before the launch date.

So, what are you doing wrong? Well, my guess is that you are doing nothing. That’s what’s wrong.

But you know what? That’s okay, since he said it his first game. That’s because his first game probably sucks (as I said, I wasn’t going to even look at it). He’ll probably need to create quite a few games before he make one that doesn’t suck. Rather than worrying about downloads right now, he should worry about whether his game is engaging. He should have lots of people play each of his games and give him feedback on it.

I know, providing feedback on his game what he originally asked me to do, but since he asked about downloads, I decided to focus on marketing.  Besides, I was so impressed with the students at the DECA event, my bar has been set a little too high to evaluate a sucky first game right now.