You’re not ready to launch an indie game.
Well, you might be ready but your game is most probably not. And even if your game is ready, your audience isn’t. In truth, there is almost no good time to launch an indie game.
But if you’ve finished designing it, the bugs are exterminated and it’s perfectly playable, then it’s time to unleash it to the public, right?
Well, not necessarily. If you are a solo developer or even a two-dev team, it is very likely you’ve been so fully immersed and so totally consumed by the development of your actual game, you haven’t had the time or resources to develop the other half of your project: your audience.
Spend equal time developing your game and your audience
Maybe it’s my bias as a marketing nerd, but I strongly believe that for every minute spent developing a product, equal time should be spent developing an audience for the product. If you want to sell your game, make sure you have someone to sell it to.
Some devs have the disillusioned belief that Steam—or Google or the Playstation Store or whatever—is going to handle the marketing for them. Just because they worked so hard to “finish” and launch an indie game. They think the developer simply has to click the publish button and Steam will slap their banner on the homepage carousel and make it immediately visible to their millions of users. Or that whatever distributor will put their little icon in the Hot & Trending category where everyone will see it.
Forget about that. It’s not going to happen.
Pretend it’s not even a possibility. There are too many games and too much competition to assume anybody is going to organically stumble across your game.
Steam, Google, Nintendo and every other distributor use algorithms to determine which games are trending, which games are featured and which games deserve a little extra spotlight. And by understanding a little bit about the algorithms used, you can try to set yourself up to receive extra attention, make it to the trending category and cheat the system. A little.
At the heart of that idea is probably the most important aspect of selling your game. Your product launch!
What makes launch so important?
For a visual answer to this, let’s look at some graph. To avoid any copyright nonsense I’m using a chart from my YouTube channel, but when you launch an indie game it will follow the same general trajectory.
It’s easy to see how quickly sales—and interest—drop off after the initial launch date. And this is true of just about everything: games, books, blog posts, YouTube videos. Kickstarter projects follow a similar path, but because they only last a limited time, there is usually a bump at the end of the campaign.
Regardless of the game, the developer, publisher, or whatever insane marketing campaign exists for a game, most sales are completed within the first month or two of launch.
There are ways to prolong that downward slope and make it less precipitous. We’ll discuss that later. And there are ways to experience bumps and high points further down the road (such as with big updates and DLC). Generally though, you want to sell your game as hard as you can from day one.
Gamers want to own your game before their friends do
People love new stuff. And people love to be the first to have something. Capitalize on their desire to get your game while it’s still hot in the middle. Before their peers. Having a good launch is all about setting up for a big opening day. And that’s why your game is almost definitely not ready to launch.
In the past I’ve outlined the steps to market your game successfully. Actually, I published a book about it. Treat launch day like the very end of that process. Excitement about a product grows with anticipation. Successful marketers are masters of the tease, revealing just enough game to get audiences excited and thirsty for more.
It takes time to develop an audience and prime them to actually spend their hard-earned money once you launch an indie game. Don’t rush it.