Marketing your indie game is equally as important as making the game itself.
One of the most common misconceptions in the game developer community is that if your game is good enough, word-of-mouth will be generated on its own and the game will be successful on its own merit.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Marketing is its own aspect of game development, just like the art, storytelling and programming. Untold numbers of indie games no less full of potential than yours have languished in obscurity, never to see the light of day because the devs neglected marketing their own projects. Don’t make the same mistake they made.
Marketing your indie game requires smart, informed decision-making and a lot of things going right all at once. It takes months or even years of consistent effort for it to fully pay off.
Getting content creators like YouTubers and Twitch streamers to play your game is the most guaranteed way to put your indie game in front of your target audience – the kinds of gamers who are most likely to buy and enjoy your game.
We’ll go over the basic elements of a pitch, offer some insight into how gaming YouTubers think, and offer creative ways to get their attention and get them to review your game.
How Much Do Gaming YouTubers Make?
Making a YouTube channel is completely free, and unlike Twitch, YouTubers are not paid by the number of subscribers they have. That means the view count of their videos is the only direct stream of revenue YouTubers get from their channel through the platform itself.
YouTube gives content creators an income stream via ad revenue. YouTubers can make money off of those advertisements. The more people view the ads, the more money the YouTubers make. Views can be calculated differently, and can be affected by factors like the age group of the people watching the video and the video’s genre or subject matter.
Several sources estimate a gaming channel with a moderate following and reasonably engaged audience can make $0.50 per 1,000 views. It’s important to remember though that Youtube ad CPM is not directly attributable like it is in social media or PPC advertising, and that figure is only an estimate. Every YouTuber’s income can vary significantly depending on their audience and reach.
Ad revenue is by no means the only way to monetize a channel either. Many popular gaming YouTubers like JonTron and Angry Video Game Nerd will feature sponsored promotions directly in the content itself, where they’ll endorse products, services or other games. Many gaming YouTubers will promote mobile games like Raid Shadow Legends, or VPN services like ExpressVPN.
Many content creators on YouTube use grassroots fundraising platforms like Patreon to turn their channels into a revenue stream. Popular YouTubers like MandaloreGaming offer their Patreon backers exclusive rewards like access to cut content, submitting AMA questions, or having their names featured in the end credits of every video.
Making a sustainable living as a content creator on the platform is difficult, but by no means impossible. The most popular gaming YouTubers like PewDiePie and Markiplier are among the 10 highest-paid YouTubers of all time and have made millions of dollars off of their content.
The Elements of a Good Pitch
The pitch is the most important part of your game’s promotion. This is effectively the thing that will sell your game. This is your opportunity to get YouTubers and content creators interested in your game, persuade them to try it themselves, and recommend it to a potential audience of millions of gamers.
Here are some of the most important factors to include in your game’s pitch:
1. Researching Your Lead
The first important part of an effective pitch is finding the right contact to pitch to. You’re not going to get very far if you just reach out to any random YouTuber with just a few hundred subscribers or AAA YouTubers with millions of fans to whom you’re beneath their notice.
Targeting is key here. Before you start sending out emails to anyone, you need to have a very clear idea of who your game appeals to, and what kinds of content creators are likely to resonate with it. That means identifying the YouTubers who are most likely to play your game, enjoy it, and feature it on their channel.
A good way to do this is:
- Think of 5 games that are most similar to yours
- Find 10 YouTubers that prominently feature at least one of those 5 games on their channel, until you have a test list of 50 YouTubers
- Find each YouTuber’s preferred name, business email, and social media handles
- Take notes on each one. Did they have a channel anniversary lately? Or have a video that recently went viral? Does their channel focus on games in a particular genre or niche? What makes their channel unique and different from others in their space?
2. Personalizing the Pitch
At this point you should have a small list of YouTubers to contact, just to start with. Now you need to make it specific to them.
YouTubers are usually very busy people, and get hundreds of pitches a week from game developers just like you. They get inundated with garbage pitches that are made from the same template they send to hundreds of other YouTubers. That means they won’t even give you the time of day unless you can prove that you’re an actual human, rather than a bot or a logo. You need to include details in your outreach email that make it clear you know who they are and what they do.
Try leading with humor. Try relating to the other games they care about and how they relate to yours, in a way that’s more specific than “you like [insert genre here]!” Take some time to browse their channel and get a sense of their style, their brand of humor, their in-jokes and running gags, and what kinds of running themes tie their videos together.
3. Refining Your Benefit Statement
A benefit statement, also known as a Unique Selling Point (USP), is a term encompassing what makes your game unique, special, or fun. It’s a 1-3 sentence summary of what kind of identity your game has, who your game is for, and what your game offers that other games in your niche don’t.
Spend some time really considering this. How you can you summarize your game’s core experience in as few words as possible? Generally speaking, the fewer words it takes to convey an important message the better.
4. Share the Basic Information
The benefit statement is what gets the YouTuber interested. What follows is your game’s other defining features and aesthetic qualities after they say “ok I’m listening, tell me more.”
This includes more detail about your game’s core gameplay loop, its visual style, the narrative in its story.
Don’t inundate your contact with details. Instead, front-load the most important information. Summarize them into one-sentence bullet points.
5. Include Visuals
Games are a multimedia art form, and they’re largely visual. People process visual information approximately 60,000x faster than text.
Again, don’t overload the YouTuber with information, but embedding a GIF or including a link to a gameplay trailer is very useful to include.
In his Slime Rancher post-mortem, Monomi Park CEO Nick Popovich breaks down the aspects of their game’s marketing and puts forward the concept of “time-to-grok,” a reference to the popular sci-fi novel Stranger in a Strange Land. Your GIFs, videos, and other social media content should quickly and effectively encompass your game’s core gameplay loop in a way that’s easy to understand and quickly internalize.
People have short attention spans. YouTubers’ are even shorter. Show them something that demonstrates how your game feels to play and save them time.
5 Creative Ways to Get YouTubers to Play Your Game
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s into the fun stuff.
YouTubers have packed schedules and hundreds of responsibilities to take care of. Many of them have dayjobs to support their channels and other passion projects. They hear from gamedevs like you all the time and just don’t have the time, patience, or energy to respond to them all.
Indie games are a hyper-competitive space. This industry is already oversaturated with games and sees tens of thousands of new releases any ear. If you want to get the attention of YouTubers and convince them to play their game in front of their audience, you need to go the extra mile and get a little creative.
1. Focus on Relationship Building
Social media is social.
Before you start executing your influencer marketing campaigns, take some time to sit in front of a mirror and repeat this phrase over and over again to yourself until it clicks.
Many game developers play around with social media with the mindset the purpose is to directly sell your game. It isn’t. Engaging on social media and just being out for yourself is how you lose. Success on social media isn’t about promoting your game or even posting your own content, but found by creating and leveraging relationships.
YouTubers and gamedevs in particular are uniquely positioned to enable each other’s success. YouTubers can get unique content from you that’s only available on their channel. Gamedevs can get free exposure from the YouTubers. It’s a win-win relationship where you both stand to benefit.
Think of ways you can use your game to make friends with YouTubers or other content creators. For example, you could insert the YouTuber’s lore or memes and references into the game, if technical limitations allow. Other than that, just engage with their tweets and their Instagram posts before reaching out to them with a pitch email. Get their attention and try to be their friend first, rather than just asking them for something before they even know who you are.
This ties into relationship building. You’re not likely to get very far if you reach out to a busy YouTuber with a packed schedule and just say “play my game!”
Why should they? What’s in it for them?
When reaching out to a YouTuber, it’s good practice to offer to share the live review on your own social media profiles and your other channels like your newsletter and Discord. You may think you don’t have much to offer them in terms of exposure, but every little bit helps. Content has a funny way of getting around the internet, even if it isn’t viral.
Influencer-exclusive closed-betas are one of the best ways you can build hype for your indie game.
Remember, YouTubers like feeling special. That’s why they chose to become internet celebrities rather than working a 9-to-5 desk job. Giving them special access to your game before anyone else gets to see it adds curiosity and anticipation for your game’s release.
A closed-beta is an instance of your game that only certain people are allowed to play. This format works particularly well for multiplayer or competitive games, like the kinds that are popular on Twitch streams.
You can invite YouTubers to a special beta of your game that’s only available to content creators. Just imagine the hilarious cross-overs and hijinx that can ensue! People trash-talking each other or forming alliances in high-stakes battles. Stuff like that makes for great entertainment.
Put a media embargo on your game until after the closed-beta is over. Then, once YouTubers and content creators put their reviews and let’s plays out, you can start broadcasting them and take advantage of your time in the spotlight.
4. Free Swag
YouTubers like being the center of attention. You know what else they like? Free stuff!
If you have a budget for merchandise, you can conduct free giveaways of your merch – t-shirts, memorabilia, digital assets like art books, downloadable content – as an incentive to get YouTubers to review your game, or at least play it.
Gamers are passionate and community-oriented.
Gaming is as much a subculture and a lifestyle as it is a hobby or an industry. Showing off your game’s creativity ignites that passion, plays to the sensibilities of the gaming community, and gives them a reason to pay attention to you.
One way you can offer the YouTubers you contact a little extra something for playing your game is offering to do fanart – representing the influencer’s avatar or online persona in your game’s aesthetic and visual style.
Doing this may be hard to scale and you should be wary of setting limits on how much art you can produce, but this tactic is highly personalized and a good way to make your game stand out
Networking with YouTubers and convincing them to play and review your game can be challenging and involves consistent effort and creative thinking. However, it’s also one of the best investments of time and money you can make when it comes to your indie game’s promotion.
To sum up, here are some creative ways you can get YouTubers to play your indie game:
- Focus on relationship building
- Offer cross-promotion
- Invite them to exclusive content and closed betas
- Offer free swag
- Offer fanart