All over the world indie developers join forces to raise a fist against triple A studios and their big budget marketing campaigns.
Suppose you have a development budget worth of six months rent and a cupboard full of Cup Noodles. Once the game is done you might find it difficult, if not impossible, to actively market and promote it. All your money is invested in the game and you need cold hard cash for everything these days, right? Well… no. That’s not necessarily true.
There’s a network of connected indie devs around the world ready to lend a hand -or a couch- if so needed. There is a growing number of trade conferences, consumer conferences and other cons happy to show of your new game. And if you play it smart, you can maximize the visibility and buzz of your game without spending crazy amounts of money. Indies just have to stick together. Unite. Make themselves heard.
Rami Ismail, business guy at Vlambeer, world traveler and -according to Gamasutra- ‘an omnipresence’ within the indie community, calls it ‘absolutely vital’ for indie developers to work together. “Indie can’t exist without uniting. We’re too small as individual studios to have any impact on our own, but together we can make a difference.” It’s one of the reasons why Ismail travels around the world and spends so much time on helping out with several initiatives and meeting different people. “I feel it’s important to support things like the Indie Megabooth and local Dutch conferences like Indievelopment and Control Conference. Free flow of information, support and having people to talk to is such an intrinsic part of the culture of indie games.”
Ismail is convinced that there is an increasing amount of possibilities to reach an audience. “But there is also an increasing amount of competition to deal with. I feel democratized platforms like YouTube Let’s Play and distribution methods like itch.io seem increasingly popular. Also you can team up with a publisher to let them do the marketing.” Ismail is also associated with Indie Megabooth, one of the largest organized initiatives to improve visibility of small indie developers at game conferences like PAX, Gamescom and GDC. “PAX and other consumer events are such a great way of reaching out to gamers, to get feedback on your game and to figure out what you’re up to. Indie Megabooth represents a lot of my values, which is the reason I invested so much time and effort in the whole thing.”
Driving force behind the Indie Megabooth is Kelly Wallick. She started the first one at PAX East 2012 when she got 16 companies together in one booth to compete for attention against the triple A studios. Since its debut the Megabooth has seen incredible growth. Starting with those 16 indie studios, the current count is over 80. Wallick didn’t know much of the games industry when she first organized Megabooth. As an outsider looking in, it just felt wrong to her to see small studios struggle to get the gamers’ attention. “What struck me was how passionate and thoughtful the developers were”, Wallick says. “It’s really inspiring and I think an important part of the creative side of games. When we first started this, the need to unite was mostly because it was so unheard of and indie games were not part of the normal gaming community. Working together allows everyone to benefit and helps developers create a network and community that will help them be successful outside of traditional corporate structures.”
Indie Megabooth is so succesful that Wallick had to start up a selection procedure that all new games have to go through. Wallick: we want to make sure that when people come to check out the Megabooth they are able to find what they are looking for and are not overwhelmed by the amount of options.” According to Wallick selection is not just a question of ‘good enough’, but also on market trends and the number of games within a specific genre. “For the games we don’t offer space to, we try to give them some alternative options, hook them up with space outside the Megabooth and invite them to parties and such if they plan to attend anyways. We want to be as helpful as possible. In 99 percent of the cases it’s not that the game is bad, it’s just that it might not be far enough along, or not a good fit, or just part of a tough decision. We don’t want to discourage anyone!”
Indie Prize Showcase is also an event for indie developers. Set up to give smaller developers a chance to attend Casual Connect conferences and come into contact with potential publishers, distributors, platform partners and of course press. Indie Prize Director Yulia Vakhrusheva emphasizes the importance for indies to unite. “Being part of the community means free educational resources, getting various discounts for attending game industry events and it’s always cheaper to travel together. Making friends in the industry means more people to support you with advice or to help you spread the word as you release new games.”
But as with Indie Megabooth success brings its own set of problems. Here too a selection is being made of all the games that apply. Vakhrusheva: “When we first started the Indie Showcase, our goal was to be inclusive, not exclusive. But since the space in the showcase is limited, we have to make a selection. Luckily we have a panel of jurors that help us select the games, and, eventually, the future winners of Indie Prize Awards. The juror’s names are no secret, you can find them on our landing page. That way we keep everything transparant.”
So next time your game is done and you’re looking for a way to promote the damn thing, make sure you explore the countless options at your disposal. There are friendly indies all over the world to share a Cup Noodles with. •
Published in Control International March 2014