Indie Game Marketing – Stirring Dragon Style
Since the early days of Stirring Dragon Games, we’ve opted to take a different and sometimes unconventional approach with how we run our company and in particular, how we market our projects. In the age of screenshot Saturdays, hyped up trailers and early access, people might be understandably confused by our more quiet approach, especially when we’ve all grown accustomed to consuming content 24/7. Here’s a little synopsis of some of the underlying principles that drive why we do things the way we do them.
We’ve found that it’s all too easy to lose momentum when you spend time telling people about what you’re making instead of actually making it. In our experience, frequent project updates, dev blogs, etc. can be de-motivating for a variety of reasons. They require time to prepare and usually get very little feedback, or (worse) create a false sense of “accomplishment” that leads to lower productivity. Take Kickstarter updates for example, on any given videogame Kickstarter, post-campaign updates usually generate less than 5% engagement. Comments and likes are the only way creators can tell if their updates on KS are even being read, and based off that, it’s pretty clear that most backers don’t read updates. 5% of backers is a small number of people to reach considering the amount of time it takes to create an update worth reading. It’s a more effective use of our time to focus on finishing the game that we know 100% of our backers are waiting for.
During the early development stages of Unknown Realm, we did not publicize our work at all. We didn’t have a dev blog or a website or even a Twitter account. Aside from a public demo of an early engine build at the Commodore Vegas Expo in 2012, and a handful of trusted friends who knew about it, we created this project outside the public eye. This was hard to do because we were very excited about what we were doing and wanted to share it, however we felt it was the best way to stay true to our vision for the game.
To that end, we decided not to do any marketing of the game at all until the very day we launched our Kickstarter. We obviously had to deviate from our approach during crowdfunding, however, we find that our best work still happens in seclusion, without a lot of noise from the various “peanut galleries” on the Internet.
We’re not big believers in showing work-in-progress screenshots or game previews before our game is finished. Crowdfunding our game required showing practically every element of Unknown Realm during our Kickstarter campaign – probably more than most teams would show up front during development. And let’s be honest, folks, when you’re talking about an 8-bit RPG, most people have a pretty good idea of what they’re getting, and if they don’t, they probably backed this project by accident. We feel like we already had to give away so much of our game already during the campaign. We want to preserve some surprises for when people play the game for the first time.
What we are attempting to do is bring back the best parts of that 80’s game experience, which is hard to do in the age of instant gratification. While the standard advice for indie game devs these days is to publish screenshots, trailers and playable demos early and often, we feel this approach puts developers at a disadvantage, and ruins a lot of the enjoyment for the players.
There’s another reason we prefer to keep our sneak peeks to a minimum…pre-release hype is not a friend of developers OR gamers. We were lucky to enjoy a huge amount of enthusiasm for our Kickstarter project, but unfortunately, there is a downside to pre-release hype: it fades quickly if you don’t constantly “feed the beast.” When that happens, things easily turn negative when there is a lull in activity or at the first hint of disappointment or delay. We’ve had a front row seat to some difficult launches and some major disappointments in crowdfunded games. In many of these cases, it’s clear that early hype almost leads to unreasonably high expectations from the community surrounding the game and disappointment in the end.
Put Out Finished Products
We prefer to forego early access or public beta releases. We would rather take the time to finish things internally as much as possible and minimize the external chatter until our product is done and ready for you to enjoy. It may not be as fun for spectators and backers during the development phase, but in the interest of capturing the old school computer game experience we love, we’re trying something different and hope that it will yield a more exciting and memorable experience when everyone finally gets to play the game for the first time.
Our mission is to create new adventures that set you free to follow your imagination wherever it may lead, and to us, that starts with these principles. It starts with allowing you to experience the game without a lot of spoilers or hype. We want to make games that take you back to your youth and remind you of the wonder and joy of discovering new worlds unburdened by expectations or other people’s opinions. We view the decision to develop and market our games as quietly as possible until they’re finished as a feature, not a bug – it’s all part of the Stirring Dragon Way to bring back the golden age of RPGs. It may not be consistent with conventional wisdom, and yes, there’s a chance it may backfire on us business-wise, but if it brings you back to the good old days when you finally play our games, we’ll be happy and we hope you will be too.