Tips for Developers: Effective Marketing Habits (Featuring Marroni Electronic Entertainment)

Welcome to the second edition of Tips for Developers, a semi-regular feature here on GamerSyndrome. This feature gives developers tips and advice from other experts in the industry. And, if you’re not in the game industry, will give you an idea of how different companies work.

A special thank you goes out to Nick Marroni, Owner, Designer, and Producer of Marroni Electronic Entertainment who wrote this article to share with you guys.

Seven Marketing Habits of Highly Effective Indies

By Nick Marroni – Owner, Designer, & Producer of Marroni Electronic Entertainment

2010 may be the Year of the Tiger iBailout!!, but it’s also the year of the independent developer, affectionately (and trendily) referred to as indie.  And, as we all know, with great indie-ness comes great responsibility—especially when it comes to marketing your own games.  With that in mind, here’s seven friendly neighborhood tips from your friendly neighborhood iBailout!! (Trailer) and iLikeCereal!! (Trailer) developers, Marroni Electronic Entertainment (MEE) and NightIrion.

1. Be honest—really. I know, it may seem like a radical and just plain scary idea, but simply stick to the truth in all your media dealings and resist any temptation to exaggerate too much or portray your game in a false light.

Good (I hope): “iBailout!! is a viciously satirical, new-school, action arcade bonanza (where players assume the role of the Federal Reserve—really, truly) with classic, yet innovative, gameplay that simply satisfies.  It’s also just been nominated for Best Arcade Game in the 2009 Best App Ever Awards.  Vote iBailout!! now @!!”

Very positive and confident, but also all very true—at least, subjectively, anyway.  (Oh, and seriously, please click the link above and vote iBailout!! now; it really does deserve it and it’ll only cost you $1.99 to find out for yourself too.)

Bad: “iBailout!!’s state-of-the-art 3D graphics push the iPhone to its very limits and beyond!!11” or “iBailout!!’s about to make you its bitch!!”

Well, ok, iBailout!! actually will make you its bitch, but nobody’s actually trying to hear that, right?

Mainly, you’ll want to be honest in your representations of your game, because accurately describing it will give people that are genuinely interested an opportunity to learn about it; doing anything else will only end up ensuring that your target audience may never end up experiencing (or buying) your awesome indie game.  (You might find this to be a solid rule to generally follow, in marketing your game or otherwise.)

2. Be interesting. Seriously, as an independent developer you’re a pretty neat person and, obviously, you must be interested in something beyond just making money or you’d just be another faceless cog in the corporate game industry machine or, more likely, not even making games in the first place.  Tell people why exactly you’re doing what you’re doing and what your game means to you and what you hope it’ll mean to them.

With iBailout!!, I’m genuinely looking to get people thinking about what the f***’s going on with our, and the world’s, ridiculous economy and whose responsible for it.  I wholeheartedly agree with Heavy Rain auteur David Cage that most games are meaningless and I think it’d be most incredible and beneficial (and not just for my bank account and our next project) to see iBailout!! at #1 on the App Store charts and the kinds of discussions it’ll provoke—Frogger’s cool and Skee-Ball looks fun and all, but, if they did ever generate any discussion in the broader society on what kinds of things we should be thinking about, I must have missed ’em.

With iLikeCereal!!, we were looking to get people to …well, pretty much just give us their money, but, if you’re in the market for a solid milk and cereal physics sim, you won’t be disappointed.  (If I get half-a-chance (and can convince Ivan Galic at NightIrion to program the damn thing), we are going to take iLikeCereal!!’s solid physics base and turn it into a damn fun game, though.)

3. Be funny—heck, be zany. Early last month, when Ivan and I released our humble little entertainment app, iLikeCereal!!, it had an even more humble little 26 sales in its first three days of release (actually, I miscounted and it was really 28, but, by the time I realized it, the 26 number kind of grew on me; there goes habit #1).  And, what did we do?  Despair?  Cry?  Pee our pants?  Then, afterwards, change our pants?  No, an old saying from a good friend of mine from back in my college days at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI came to mind (or maybe it didn’t; I can’t really remember and, anyways, it works): Get funny or get f***ed. (Note: This is not a rallying cry for sexual assault, but, rather, a key phrase to be directed at particularly boorish individuals with bad attitudes.)  So, not seeking to be boorish (never) or feel bad about ourselves, we went to work and cooked up a press release.

Scientifically crafted for maximum hilarity and zaniness, the headline (iLikeCereal!! HOBBLES ONTO iPHONE APP STORE – Fun Entertainment App Sells Not-so-Epic 26 Copies) laid out the bait and the trap was sprung once one delved a bit further in.  The result: Another not-so-epic 26 (or so; who can remember these things?) copies sold.

Ok, so it didn’t quite get the sales moving for our humble little entertainment app like we needed or wanted, but it did get us quite a decent amount of coverage and went from no one having heard of us before to almost no one having heard of us before (which is actually quite an accomplishment with one humble little press release, if I do say so myself).  For the full details, there’s a neat and, hopefully, entertaining little analysis for you to read right here.

4. Be independent. Yep.  You’re an independent developer, right?  So, act like one.  Make the game that you want to make.  I consider myself almost as much of a business man as an artist, but what the hell is the point of being an independent developer if we’re not actually going to act like it.  There’s no rules saying that you need to have zombies, doodle graphics, physics, stick figures, or anything else in your game.  I understand that a lot of these features and trends were popularized by indies (maybe not the zombies), but, unless you’re particularly passionate about them or have a really great idea to innovate on them, why not ditch the trends and do something completely different?  See what you’re really capable of and figure out exactly what kind of experiences you want people to have when they play your game.

5. Do the damn thing. Uh, huh.  That means finish the projects that you start and fully commit to what you’re doing and the game you’re developing.  No matter where you’re at in the game industry (or maybe you barely even feel a part of it), it doesn’t matter how brilliant your ideas are if you don’t take action and execute on them.

Also, games are an industry and development is a business.  With the crazy (and exciting and, really, inspirational) amount of viable and liberating business models out there for game developers right now, you should really be deciding on how you’ll make money with your game at exactly the same time that you’re first beginning to concept it–this is just as important for a sound business, as it is for a sound design.

Further, with publisher Hands-On Mobile, we’ve got a solid partner to help ensure iBailout!!’s success, but, it’s never forgotten that, ultimately, responsibility for our game and how many copies it sells rests with us and us alone.  And, if you’re going it completely alone, you better be damn well prepared to spend almost as much time and effort (perhaps, even more) in selling and marketing your game as you do developing it.

If that kind of stuff isn’t your thing (though, if you push yourself and try, you’ll probably be very pleasantly surprised what you’ll be able to accomplish when you passionately and personally believe in it), make sure you bring someone on board that can take care of business and that a great deal of mutual trust, respect, and honesty exists between.

6. Don’t follow the rules (unless there’s actually a good reason to). In the case of the App Store, getting featured is crucial and, as just another independent developer, in a sea of many others, how do you make sure this happens to your game?  Or, how do you get word out about this really badass and absolutely awesome new game that also just happens to be a viciously satirical, new-school, action arcade bonanza (where players assume the role of the Federal Reserve—really, truly), named iBailout!! (or maybe named whatever your game is)?

Well, if your game’s really that good, I’d strongly consider seeking out a publisher and seeing if you can get a good deal (i,e., you don’t wake up in a strange place wondering where your pants are, among other even more frightening questions) and a good marketing and sales partner in the process.  If you can’t get a good deal or just don’t want to mess around with a publisher, then, unless you’ve already got a huge reputation from your past awesome and wildly successful titles, it’s time to get creative.

Don’t worry about how you’re supposed to do things or how you will do it.  Just know that you’ve got a job to do and that job’s to get people playing (and buying) your game.  Big iPhone/flash/indie game site isn’t responding to your repeated e-mails and entreaties, then track them down to their home or workplace, find a good hiding spot, wait until they unsuspectingly emerge, and then savagely and brutally beat them into submission until they agree to cover your game and give it a perfect review bake them cookies, write them a sonnet or haiku on the virtues of your game and why they should play it and think it’s the best shit ever, contact them again, go crazy and write them a real, old-school letter and send it through the post office and shock them senseless with the sheer physicality of your communications—whatever it takes.  You made the game, right?  If you’re not going to get everyone and their brother and sister to play it, then why’d you waste your time developing it in the first place?

Basically, just don’t worry about you think you can or can’t do.  The game industry seems crazy, chaotic, and ruthlessly unforgiving, but, really, it’s just getting started and things are wide open for anyone creative, talented, and motivated enough to make it happen.

And, considering the title, I’ll bet you thought there’d be seven habits in this piece, but I do my best to practice what I preach, so I’ll go ahead and take the liberty of invoking habit #6 right now.

Peace and a hearty iBailout!!, all.


While supplies last, get involved and learn how to get your very own personal iBailout!! promo code of viciously satirical, Federal Reservin’, new-school, action arcade delight, right here, right now.

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