Toronto is developing quite the reputation for being a hub of indie game development, and for good reason: the city is packed with small teams and individual devs making games, some to great acclaim. But for all our creative strength, i worry that a number of our devs are doomed to failure because we, as a community, lack the business sense required to get our games noticed … and sold.
We’re running a lot of game jams in the city. In addition to TOJam, we’ve had Clam Jam, library jam, and the ongoing Game Prototype Challenge led by Jason P. Kaplan, which runs almost monthly. So a lot of small games and prototypes are getting made, but how are they selling? Are they even being sold? Who knows about them, or their creators? If you’re living outside of Toronto, how many Toronto game devs can you name?
Here’s one:Kaptain Kaplan himself. (Photo by Brendan Lynch)
Stop Building, Start Selling
i can’t remember who to credit this idea to, but recently someone suggested that instead of running game jams, Toronto should have a marketing jam. The need for us to get better at business was never more clear to me than when Jason announced the release of his first indie game, Flew the Coop, on iOS. i asked him “what’s your marketing plan?”, and he just kind of shrugged sheepishly.
i can haz farm puns?
i know where he’s coming from. The rule of thumb i’ve heard is that for every dollar you spend on game development, you need to spend a dollar on marketing. To begin with, very few indie devs actually bother putting a dollar value to their time. “What was your budget on that game?” “Nothing! It was all sweat equity!” Well, fine … but it costs you a certain amount of money to LIVE and EAT, Mr. Clever. From there, you can find out your annual cost of living. Factor in the number of hours you work in a week, on average, and you can determine your hourly rate. Multiply that by the number of hours you sunk into your game, and that’s the game’s budget.
Let’s say your game took $5000 to make. That’s $5k in sweat equity – “free” money – because you didn’t actually have to produce cold hard cash for development. But if the marketing rule of thumb is to be believed, you now have to cook up five thousand real, actual dollars to market the game … Facebook and iAds don’t accept a service barter. Cooking up that marketing cash is often beyond the ability or appetite of small indie devs. The result is that they release their games, hoping they will somehow magically catch like wildfire through word of mouth because they’re so good, and they’ll be the talk of the town. If you’ve spent even an hour reading articles on the success rates of iOS developers, you’ll know that there are thousands of devs out there still waiting for their ships to come in.
The Holy Grail of 3-Figure Sales
The challenge, then, is to come up with marketing plans that don’t cost any money. You’ve already seen what i’ve done to promote my game portals with The World’s Most Meager Marketing Budget – a miniscule $100 pot and a LOT of sweat equity. My pal Matt Rix, the successful developer of Trainyard for the iPhone, set up a great David vs. Goliath battle when he asked the Reddit community to help him dethrone Angry Birds in the App Store. Zero marketing money paired with a good story (and a GREAT game) rocketed him to the top of the charts.
(and it doesn’t hurt that his beard is dead sexy)
i took a look at Jason’s Flew the Coop and thought “if this was my game, how would i market it with zero dollars?” The game is a Canabalt clone that pits you as a baby chicken running away from a farm, bouncing on the backs of animals and avoiding the inappropriate grasping of farmers. The first thing that came to mind is the involvement PETA had with Super Meat Boy, where they created a parody game called Super Tofu Boy. So i tweeted PETA about Flew the Coop:
i don’t think they noticed.
Make a Suggestion, Win a Free Game!
So! Maybe i’m not the free marketing master i thought i was. Or maybe i’m just not trying hard enough because it’s not my game. But have a promo code for a FREE COPY OF FLEW THE COOP for the reader who can cook up the best free marketing idea for the game by next Wednesday June 22 2011.
Can you really market a game with no money? Or are those who have done it just incredibly, incredibly lucky? Post your best idea in the comments section below, and let’s see what Jason can do for Flew the Coop on a … ahem … wing and a prayer.