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The Indie Developer's Guide to Selling Games 60

Posted by samzenpus
from the private-gamer dept.
Aeonite writes "The word "Selling" is boldfaced and blue on the cover of The Indie Developer's Guide to Selling Games, making it abundantly clear that it's the emphasis of the book. To that end, the book stays away from everything that drifts away from the topic of selling; you won't find advice here on how to design a mascot, or how to create game levels that will keep players coming back for more. You will, however, learn a lot about how best to market your game to the public, both before and after you've actually created it." Read the rest of Michael's review.
The Indie Developer's Guide to Selling Games
author Joseph Lieberman
pages 153
publisher VGSmart
rating 7
reviewer Michael Fiegel
ISBN
summary A guide to marketing PC games for the indie developer.


The word "Indie" in the title is also key here, because it represents not only the intended audience for the book, but its aesthetic as well. While the lessons taught here certainly apply to any business venture, the level of knowledge presumed, and the informal way in which the book shares its secrets, is definitely intended to appeal to the smaller game company (or individual). The reason for this is clear: author Joseph Lieberman founded his indie game marketing company VG Smart (Video Game Marketing, Smart!) after deciding, in his words, that there was "a large market of independent developers who need someone with the expertise and time to establish business side communications with press, news, and publishing companies." This book is by indie, for indie, through and through.

The press material for the book declares that it is "written to be an enjoyable read even if the developer in question despises marketing," and it fulfills that goal remarkably well. Although it covers many meaty topics — vertical and horizontal niches, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), just to name a few — it never feels bogged down in the sort of Marcom doublespeak that we've all heard at one time or another. The concepts are presented in a clear fashion, and the focus is on practical use of the lessons learned, rather than the mere recitation of theoretical concepts.

The book is divided into six chapters, each covering a different stage of game marketing, and each divided up into a dozen or so subtopics. Each chapter and subtopic starts off with a One Sentence Summary that gives you the gist of what's going to be covered, making each little chunk easier to grasp as a whole. Each chapter is also littered with little "Did You Know?" and "Tip" factoid boxes meant to further clarify the point being discussed. Taken out of context, many of them seem a little too obvious and not terribly informative (e.g., "Sometimes it is easier to get better at something you are GOOD at than get good at something you are BAD at!"), but taken in the context of the page they appear on they serve as good visual reminders of what the text is talking about.

Chapter 1 covers Design Marketing, and topics ranging from defining a target market by hobby and niche, to the "Keep it Simple, Stupid" theory. Although the bulk of the book sort of assumes that the reader has progressed a bit further, the material here does make some suggestions about game design itself (albeit with an eye towards future marketing). Should you design for Macs? Probably. How about Linux? Probably not. The chapter also ends with a long list of resources that might prove useful to a fledgling company: pages 27 through 40 cover art and music resources (including a number of individuals), and pages 41 through 50 list and discuss various payment processors.

Chapter 2, In Production Marketing, discusses marketing efforts a game company might make while their game is (naturally) being produced. Link exchanges, copyright issues, pre-orders and newsletters are all discussed, as well as the all-important topic of Search Engine Optimization, which is discussed at some length. Recommendations about price are made ($19.99 to $24.99 is a good range), and information about setting up distribution partnerships and contacting publishers is also present. Website design is covered in this chapter too, but it represents one of the book's weaker points; written by another author, it's rather terse and of questionable utility as it stands. Like the previous chapter, this one ends with several lists, with Distribution resources (pages 76-91) and download sites (92-95) being presented.

Release Marketing is the topic of Chapter 3, with the goal being to "see if we can create the big push that brings your game into the limelight, or at least drags it far enough above the dirt and debris that deluge the market every day to be noticed by those looking." Press releases, types of releases, press coverage, and advertising are all covered, with a good bit of time devoted to ad terminology, including standard ad sizes, CPM, CPC and CPA, and the like. The list at the end of this chapter includes just over two pages of websites that are "indie friendly," and might be a good place to get your game covered or reviewed.

Chapter 4: Post Release Marketing reminds the reader that "You are Finished When you're Dead," indicating that marketing efforts are never truly over as long as you intend to keep making money off your game. Updates and upgrades are discussed, as well as the power of sequels, cross-selling items, blogging and the like. At only seven pages in length it feels a bit light, but it's still weightier than the three-page-long Chapter 5: Dealing with Change, which is really just an essay discussing the current state of things, and how it's all in a state of flux. It feels a bit out of place here, as it wants to be a conclusion but winds up as a lead-in to Chapter 6, but makes its point well.

The sixth and final chapter, Advanced Marketing, delves a bit deeper into marketing tactics, with a particular focus on motivation and what the author calls the Motivational Pyramid, a perspective on motivating game sales by keeping track of a hierarchical structure of game factors. These are broken down into Macro Motivations (Competitive, Goal-based, Story-based, etc.), Micro Motivations (Rewards, Visual Response, etc.) and Constant Motivations (Sound and Sight). The chapter also covers Guerilla and Word-of-Mouth Marketing and includes a few brief thoughts about legal issues that ends with the always valuable tip: "talk to a lawyer."

The book concludes with a few pages about the author and those who helped the book along. What it does not include is an index, which would in my opinion help the book out a bit structurally. At times, the chapter, topic and subtopic headers get a bit confused, as the font sizes used for each are quite similar. Coupled with the fact that the layout is rather unvarying, and the spacing is a bit erratic on some pages, one can lose a sense of flow moving through the book. Some better organization, such as that provided by an index, could only help a reader along.

As mentioned earlier, the book has a definite "Indie" aesthetic, and neither the presentation nor the layout is polished to a perfect shine. To say "beauty is only skin deep" is only to get halfway to the point; with no graphics to speak of (but for a few tables) and a very spartan design, you can see right through the skin, down to the bone. The book's bones are solid, however, and they provide a good foundation for any Indie game developer to build upon.

The largest issue is probably the book's price. Although I feel that the information within is certainly worth it, some readers might balk at the price tag for the 153-page book ($34.95 for a Paperback, and $27.95 for a PDF, at the time of this review). The author also apparently intends to include some form of downloadable updates for portions of the book; at one point, he explains that a list will "eventually go out of date, but like ALL of the resources in the book you can purchase a new copy of only the resources section (in E-Book form), fully up to date!" The frequency and price points for these updates remains to be seen, as the book is new and there are no updates available at this time.

Overall, the book provides a game designer with a solid foundation of several key marketing principles, with an excellent discussion of Search Engine Optimization and Advertising terminology standing out as highlights. Its Indie aesthetic may turn some potential readers off, but for those who can look beyond appearances, this may be a worthwhile investment for those who don't have the luxury of a Marketing department down the hall.

Samples of the book's first three pages and the table of contents are available at the www.indiegameguide.com website. The book is available in PDF and print format, the latter through CafePress.


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The Indie Developer's Guide to Selling Games

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  • by realmolo (574068) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:36PM (#15564222)
    Just to clarify- A "review" of a book means you give an opinion about it.

    Almost *all* of the book "reviews" on Slashdot are nothing but summaries. Akin to "book reports". And they're completely useless.

    • by twistedsymphony (956982) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:38PM (#15564237) Homepage
      Where's the +1 Gold Star?
    • by stratjakt (596332) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:43PM (#15564271) Journal
      Usually the last paragraph is a pseudo-review, always glowing, and probably paraphrased (if not outright lifted) from the back cover.

      "'Advanced Perl Techniques' is a fabulas book with a kind of a donkey on the front of it, one of those desert kind of donkeys or something. It is copyright 2002 and published by the good folks at SAMS publishing. It has 650 pages with some pictures.

      In conclusion, I think everybody should read this book."
    • by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:57PM (#15564381) Homepage Journal
      From TFBR:
      As mentioned earlier, the book has a definite "Indie" aesthetic, and neither the presentation nor the layout is polished to a perfect shine. To say "beauty is only skin deep" is only to get halfway to the point; with no graphics to speak of (but for a few tables) and a very spartan design, you can see right through the skin, down to the bone. The book's bones are solid, however, and they provide a good foundation for any Indie game developer to build upon. The largest issue is probably the book's price. Although I feel that the information within is certainly worth it, some readers might balk at the price tag for the 153-page book ($34.95 for a Paperback, and $27.95 for a PDF, at the time of this review). The author also apparently intends to include some form of downloadable updates for portions of the book; at one point, he explains that a list will "eventually go out of date, but like ALL of the resources in the book you can purchase a new copy of only the resources section (in E-Book form), fully up to date!" The frequency and price points for these updates remains to be seen, as the book is new and there are no updates available at this time. Overall, the book provides a game designer with a solid foundation of several key marketing principles, with an excellent discussion of Search Engine Optimization and Advertising terminology standing out as highlights. Its Indie aesthetic may turn some potential readers off, but for those who can look beyond appearances, this may be a worthwhile investment for those who don't have the luxury of a Marketing department down the hall.
      Everything in bold in the last three paragraphs looks like opinion to me. A good review has little opinion points scattered throughout the review, with a summary at the end. That's what the author of the review seems ot have done.
    • by Cleon (471197) <cleon42NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Monday June 19, 2006 @05:02PM (#15564411) Homepage
      Y'know, I think that might not be such a bad thing. Seriously--a nice, cold, objective look at the book's contents--no agenda, no filler, no snide comments about how wrong the author is. Maybe having more opinionated book reviews in addition to this type would be nice, but honestly, sometimes just having the cold, hard facts is refreshing.
    • by Aeonite (263338) on Monday June 19, 2006 @05:12PM (#15564484) Homepage
      I could have gone more opinion; I felt the material warranted more structure. Sorry it didn't work for you. I would add that Slashdot offers the built-in opinion of the Book Rating (a 7 here), which has its own meaning if you pore through the book review guidelines (5 being average, anything more being positive, 10 being sheer perfection).

      I will also add here (before someone else points it out) that this review has also been posted on Gamegrene.com [gamegrene.com]. The last time I had one of my reviews posted on two websites I was accused of plagiarizing myself, and since I don't want to have to sue myself again, I thought I'd clear that up.
    • It's a space station!
  • by moberry (756963)
    (C) 2006 Duke Nukem
  • by RyanFenton (230700) on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:38PM (#15564232)
    The goal of this book should NOT be interpreted as "how to make money with indie games", as the unmentioned secret way to make money with indie games is actually to write and sell books on marketing indie games.

    That said, I do find the book's topic interesting, and I think I will gladly reward the author economically for his efforts.

    Ryan Fenton
  • by XorNand (517466) * on Monday June 19, 2006 @04:47PM (#15564302)
    How about this for a unique concept: Value your customers as much as you value their money. Stardock [stardock.com] is a tiny software company based out of Plymouth, MI (a small city a bit north of Ann Arbor, not really known for anything). They were recently lauded in Computer Gaming World for not adding a copy protection scheme to their latest game Galactic Civilizations 2 [galciv2.com]. One of their developers took the time to explain their reasoning [galciv2.com] for doing so. They are also highly involved with their user community and are constantly asking for feedback.

    On a related note, if a) you think of independent games are limited to puzzle games and side scrollers or b) dig games like Sid Meier's Civ series, you owe it to yourself to checkout the demo for Galatic Civilizations 2. To be honest, the main reason I downloaded it is because Plymouth is about 20 minutes away from where I live and wanted to check out what the local talent has to offer. I was blown away with the quality of the game. Everything from the game balance, to the graphics and even the musical score. It really makes me wonder why it takes millions of dollars to get most games on the shelves nowadays.
    • I'm interested in reading the explaination of reasoning, but it seems your link is broken with some db error (The event log file is full).

      You got another link?
      • Cached copy (Score:4, Informative)

        by XorNand (517466) * on Monday June 19, 2006 @05:58PM (#15564863)
        From my browser cache:

        This month's Computer Gaming World has a letter to the editor giving us kudos for not putting CD copy protection on Galactic Civilizations II. In it, he says that not having copy protection helped make his decision to get the game.

        As a gamer, I have a similar point of view. I lose my CDs. I scratch my CDs. My desk is a mess. Nowadays, with games requring 3 or 4 CDs (I wish retailers would universally accept DVDs but that's a different issue), keeping CDs around to play is annoying.

        I don't have exact worldwide sales numbers for Galactic Civilizations II, but we do know they're well over 100,000 units sold worldwide in the first 90 or so days. That number is about as high as a game of our distribution level can sell in that time frame (units sold is a function of popularity X outlets available in the same way that a movie's first weekend take is a function of how well received it is X how many theaters it's showing in).

        The question about copy protection is straight forward in our view: Does CD copy protection generate more sales due to less piracy than it costs in sales due to people on the fence deciding not to purchase.

        CD copy protection to me is a lot like the issue I have with shareware. I don't mind registing shareware. But I know that I'm going to lose that serial # at some point. IF the site has a very very simple way of looking me up and sending me my info that is very apparent, then I'm inclined to buy it. Similarly, not having CD copy protection helps protect my investment -- knowing I'll be able to play the game even if I lose those CDs.

        In GalCiv II's case, our upgrade system even has electronic registration. When someone upgrades to one of the new versions, they enter in their serial # that came with the game and it automatically registers them. So even if they lose the CDs AND their hard drive dies, they can re-download the entire game from us (not just updates the ENTIRE GAME) even yeras from now.

        For these reasons, we are convinced that game developers/publishers can increase their sales by focusing on SERVING their customers rather than focusing on thwarting pirates. If someone is paying $40 for a game, they should be treated with respect, not with suspicion.

    • >Plymouth, MI (a small city a bit north of Ann Arbor, not really known for anything)

      From Plymouth's History page [plymouth.mi.us]:'Daisy Air Rifle was founded in Plymouth and it used to be known as the Daisy Air Rifle Company began here in 1886 and earned for Plymouth the title of "Air Rifle Capital of the World"'

      All those BB guns that shot kid's eyes out [imdb.com] had to come from somewhere!

      (Oh yeah, and it's east of Ann Arbor, not north.)
    • I'm still balking at the price of 40€. At least that's what the box sold at retail goes for.
  • This book sounds like a great formula for selling one game well. If you want to stay in business for more than the term of a single title, you should look into making games that players will actually enjoy
  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Monday June 19, 2006 @05:04PM (#15564431)
    1. Hire a team of 1000 programmers, artists, marketers, executives, executive's kids, executive's semi-close relatives and executive's general layabout buddies.
    2. Program some game that's been done, like, a billion times.
    3. Drive your employees like naked slave children in the salt mines.
    4. Profit

    OK, that's four steps. So sue me. But you'll have to get in line behind Electronic Arts who will be suing me for revealing their secret corporate process.

    Ha! I tease EA! They be my bitch.
    • I sometimes wonder if anyone at EA remembers why the company was founded. It had a lot more to do with giving programmers respect (and treating them like rock stars) than with making money.
      • You are thinking of Activision.
        • Yep. The EA founding statement was that EA will drive innovation and not make any games that have been done to death.

          Well, Activision does indeed treat their programmers like rockstars. Or at least like how the RIAA treats rockstars.
        • No, I'm thinking of Electronic Arts. They company that shipped games in tiny album covers. The company that put their programmers' photos and biographies on the back of every game when the industry standard was to pretend that they didn't exist. The company that ran full page magazine ads featuring developers like Bill Budge and Dan Bunten and giving them full credit for their games.

          That EA.

    • 1. Hire a team of 1000 programmers, artists, marketers, executives, executive's kids, executive's semi-close relatives and executive's general layabout buddies. 2. Program some game that's been done, like, a billion times. 3. Drive your employees like naked slave children in the salt mines. 4. Profit OK, that's four steps. So sue me. But you'll have to get in line behind Electronic Arts who will be suing me for revealing their secret corporate process. Ha! I tease EA! They be my bitch.

      You are both i

  • Sounds like crap (Score:5, Interesting)

    by appleprophet (233330) on Monday June 19, 2006 @05:13PM (#15564486) Homepage
    My twin brother made the independent game Lugaru. I am developing Lugaru 2 [wolfire.com] with him.

    a) "Should you design for Macs? Probably. How about Linux? Probably not."

    How about designing for computers and then trivially porting it to Mac, Windows, and Linux. Lugaru gets about 65% Mac, 30% Windows, and 5% Linux. If Wolfire followed this guys advice then instead of talking to Ryan Gordon [icculus.org] and getting a Linux port in a matter of days, we'd be out 5% of our sales and Linux users would be screwed out of another game. This also goes to show you that for an independent developer, Windows is not necessarily the best platform. The tiny, tight-knit community of Mac users is much easier to break into than pissing into the wind that is the Windows game market.

    b) "the all-important topic of Search Engine Optimization"

    Search engine optimization is not for game developers. Unless you're running one of those giant portals with like 200 mini java games, you shouldn't even think about SEO. A strong, well designed website is critical (yeah, Wolfire isn't the best example of that right now - we're trying to find a web designer) but realistically, you will get 98% of your hits from game sites linking to you, magazines mentioning you, forum word of mouth, etc. No one seriously goes into google and types "3d ninja ragdoll rabbit game downloadable game linux shareware" which is what you would have to type to pull up a review of Lugaru. People find their games through download sites, not search engines.

    c) blogging, "motivational pyramid", power of sequels, cross-selling items, etc.

    This makes me ill. Part of the charm of indy games is that they are not made to squeeze every last penny out of a game. The good ones are made more for fun by the developer as a hobby. More often than not, if you treat it as a soulless business you will fail, but if you stick to your indy roots, you will succeed. Your blog should not be a place where you try to plug all of your games and entice people to purchase everything, they should be a community where you keep your fans in the loop. My brother and I both are approaching 1000 posts on our forums and business is never even mentioned.
    • "I am developing Lugaru 2 with him."

      "Part of the charm of indy games is that they are not made to squeeze every last penny out of a game."

      I'm having trouble reconciling these two sentences. I'm also having difficulty figuring out who elected you to say what is, and is not, "the charm of indy [sic] games".

      Reminds me of the punk scene. How much energy was expended deciding what was or was not punk? Here's a hint: Arguing about what is or is not punk, is not punk.
      • It is my own opinion. I don't claim to represent every single independent developer; there certainly are plenty of "official" indie organizations to try and do that. I didn't even think the term "indie" was contested. Since when does it have such a complicated definition?

        As for Lugaru 2 "squeezing every last penny" out of Lugaru, I feel like you're taking my statements out of context. I could explain how my brother came to decide that Lugaru 2 was going to be his next game, but I have a feeling you don'
        • Okay, you drew a parallel between the notion of sequels (among other techniques) and the apparently objectionable notion of squeezing every last penny out of games. I was simply trying to understand it in the context of your indie sensibilities.

          But, hey, if you prefer to antagonize potential customers, I guess that's one way of going about it. Good job!
          • Okay, you drew a parallel between the notion of sequels (among other techniques) and the apparently objectionable notion of squeezing every last penny out of games.

            Actually, he didn't. That was his background information so that we know he's not just talking, but that he has actual experience in indie game making.

            But, hey, if you prefer to antagonize potential customers, I guess that's one way of going about it. Good job!

            Pot to kettle, pot to kettle. Come in please. Nothing he said was antagonistic at all.

            • His brother has experience in indie game making. Obviously, the poster has experience in indie game marketing, which is to say, "The more people who know about our game, the less cool it is, so I'm going to be rude to people."

              Who's riled up? I see the foolhardiness of my initial sally at a civil discussion, but that's life.

              Anyhow, if I'm going to play a game with a giant anthropomorphic rabbit, the main character's name needs to be Fiver or Harvey. But that's just me.
    • How about designing for computers and then trivially porting it to Mac, Windows, and Linux.

      Well the main reason is that this is a least common denominator approach. Many of the cross-platform libraries that get suggested around here are not that great. To be honest I would use Apple's CoreAudio on Mac.

      Secondly, developing a game is only part of the process. There is testing and supporting a game too. Which Linux distributions will be supported? Will you support users who have modified/rebuilt their k
      • Soul/passion and profit are not mutually exclusive. Indy does not require a vow of poverty.

        No but if you design your games thinking "what kind of game will sell the most copies" rather than thinking "what kind of game would I like to make/play?" you risk ending up as yet another clone maker. Many think "what will sell?" and make a marginally different version of some successful game.
        • "Soul/passion and profit are not mutually exclusive. Indy does not require a vow of poverty."

          No but if you design your games thinking "what kind of game will sell the most copies" rather than thinking "what kind of game would I like to make/play?" you risk ending up as yet another clone maker. Many think "what will sell?" and make a marginally different version of some successful game.


          Like passion and profit, appealing to a large audience and being original are *not* mutually exclusive. If you focus
  • by mugnyte (203225) on Monday June 19, 2006 @05:19PM (#15564557) Journal
    Author: Michael Fiegel
      Pages: 2
      Publisher: Slashdot
      Rating: 4
      Summary: A quickie read about game marketing is summarized.

      Skip this review. It consists of 12 paragraphs of rambling, none of which relate the content back to the reviewer's personal experience. It's hard to tell if the reviewed book is useful since we don't know anything about the reviewer's usage of the information. We are told it's all about "Indie" gaming markets, but that term is never defined. Akin to other genres of creative marketing, it's probably "outside the large market players".

    Tip: Begin good at reading books does NOT mean you are good at reviewing a book.

      The reviewer then goes on to decribe content that seems easy to derive from interacting with search engines advertising agents, and simply includes lists of sites that hold the real content.

      Various soapboxing from the content author are kept to a minimum, ensuring the 28-35$ book keeps its costs low. The review tells us the Web Marketing portion was ghost written, and poorly.

        Overall, I thought the review lacked any in-depth opinion (agree/disagree) and saved its commentary to words like "light" and "confused" and "may be a worthwhile investment". I didn't really have a comparison of the book against others in the market.

      In comparison to other reviews on slashdot and elsewhere, this one was pretty incoherent. I would probably scrap most of it and start over with a bit more of the reviewer's background (why should we respect his opinion?) and relevance to other materials in that sector ("Compared to Secrets of the Game Business [slashdot.org]..." for example).

    --
    Mugnyte is the president of the "Reviewers' Reviewing Viewpoint", a nonexisting publication delivered to your dog bowl twice an eon.
  • $34.95 for a Paperback, and $27.95 for a PDF is a hell of a lot for a book, I think.

    But then again, have you ever bought an indie game for $19.99 to $24.99?

    • But then again, have you ever bought an indie game for $19.99 to $24.99?

      Yeah. Indie games usually don't cost $*.99, but a simple $10 or $45, or something like that.

      Depends on what you call 'indie' ofcourse. Shareware games tend to go for $10 to $20, whereas games with real publishers, like Galactic Civilizations 2 and Dominions 3, tend to go for the same price as the big-name games. I've got the feeling some people are talking about the first category when they say 'indie', and others are talking abou

  • study spiderweb software and do everything they do.
  • Right, This is just what we need. Focus more on marketing your game. Forget about the content. If you spend enough money and time on marketing it will pay off. Sad but true.
  • I purchased this book and it has been well worth the money! I've already learned a ton about how to go about marketing indie games. It has great ideas for stuff I never considered before.
  • Sounds to me like some good advice that many could use, even those that just need to be reminded of the things that they already know. The advice here probably would help software companies too, not just game companies, but really, almost and company selling a product could probably benefit from the advice given.

How many NASA managers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? "That's a known problem... don't worry about it."

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