The most important metrics for indie game marketing

Tracking the success of your indie game launch can be a complicated and daunting task. For a start, there’s not a lot of information out there as to what numbers indicate success. That’s, in part, due to the fact that a game’s success could be viewed in a variety of different ways depending on the desired outcome. In this blog post, we’re going to assume that the desired outcome is for the game to make a small profit.

Which numbers should you care about?

To figure out which numbers you should care about it’s best to start with your sales metrics. What sales are you hoping to achieve for the game to make a small profit? This will be different for every game depending on your costs. There are a lot of variables here, from the amount of time the game takes to develop to the number of developers working on it and, of course, how much you are planning to invest in marketing. In this blog post, we assume an overall cost of $40k for a solo developer across a year’s development, which is quite a modest sum to develop a game, but the figures can be scaled to adjust to your project. Let’s assume this means it’d take 4,000 sales to break even, and – say – 5,000 to make a small profit.

From this point, you can build outwards and assess what you need to achieve from your pre-sales metrics.  To do this, we need to establish ‘pre-sale metrics’ and track our progress against those. And to reach those goals, we’ll need to plan awareness-generating promotional activities, and set metrics to track for those too.

Working backwards from the end goal, a simple indie game marketing campaign is likely to involve the following metrics to track::

  • Sales metrics
  • Pre-sales metrics
  • Community metrics
  • Press/PR metrics

What are pre-sales metrics?

This refers to pre-sales indicators that can be used to estimate final sales. An example of this is the number of people on your Steam wishlist before you launch your game. This can also refer to metrics such as pre-orders, demo downloads or mailing list sign-ups. All of these metrics can give you an indication of how well your game will sell.

Steam wishlist numbers are the most useful for many PC developers as they’re a metric everyone will have access to. So, what should you be aiming for? Data suggests that the average conversion rate of people on your wishlist who buy the game on launch is roughly 10%. This is, of course, an average and exterior factors, such as price, or particularly polarised reviews can affect that. But, with that in mind, you can get a basic idea of what kind of wishlist numbers you’ll need to make the sort of return you’re looking for on your game. For the example we are using, 10,000 people on the wishlist at launch would be a good number – since for a $10 game that would roughly bring in a return of $10k sales in the first week, setting you off on a good path toward your overall goal.

So, what helps you grow your wishlist? Visibility, awareness, and engagement. One way of achieving this may be PR. Another might be would be social and community traction, but we’ll come to that in the next section.

Each time your game appears in the gaming media, each time a new trailer is promoted and each time influencers play early versions of your game or discuss it you will see a noticeable spike in wishlist numbers. There’s a direct correlation between PR activity and the number of people signing up to your wishlist. This is something to consider when planning your marketing strategy and the number of wishlist sign ups you are hoping for by launch.

It is worth managing expectations. Having those initial day one purchaser on Steam might help your game get on the ‘new and trending’ list for a day or two, but what every developer wants is to be featured on the store. According to Valve, if you want to make it as a featured game on the store then you should be aiming for 50,000 wishlists by launch. As you can imagine, this is a pretty unattainable goal for most indie devs – even 10,000 is a lofty figure to aim for and requires some work.

With these figures in mind, you have to consider what return you’d like to see from your PR activity in the build-up to launch.

How to measure press coverage

Press coverage is not something that’s easy to obtain, especially for indie developers, as we’ve covered in the past. But, if your PR activities pay off and you have some success there are certain figures you should be tracking.

First, in terms of online media, you’ll want to know what the reach of your PR activities was. This is broken down into two halves. Total potential reach, and estimated actual reach. The potential reach is worked out based on the monthly visits a site receives. So, if there was an article about your game on PC Gamer, which gets around 42M visits per month, you’d have a total potential reach of 42M. But, that’s probably not how many people read the article on your game. For that, we conducted research analysing a number of high-profile sites to access how well general coverage performed. The average read rate of an article is estimated to be 0.5% of the total monthly visits. So, in the case of PC Gamer, we would estimate the reach of an article to be around 210,000. With this system you can get an idea of how many people have seen and read about your game depending on the success of your PR, in turn, giving you an indication or prediction of success.

If you can get influencers to play your game, such as YouTubers, it works in a similar way. If a YouTuber has 100,000 subscribers then the video covering your game won’t get 100,000 views. At least, it’s unlikely to. You’d work out the reach by the content creators AVV (average video views), which is the calculated average views across at a wide range of their content. This would give you the reach of the video and, again, indicate the success of your game based on that. Get thousands of views on YouTube before launch and your game is likely to do well. That is taking into consideration your PR was effective and aimed at the right target audience.

With the example we’re using in this blog we’d want around 70M total potential reach from media and an added 100k views from influencers within launch week

What matters when it comes to community?

Levels of engagement with your community can provide a whole host of valuable metrics which you can measure as a good indication of how well your game will perform. Assuming that you have a game in development and you have an active Twitter account you’ll need to know what numbers matter.

The first and most obvious number to take into consideration is your follower count. You want to aim for the account that will be used to promote your indie game to have anywhere between 2,000 and 5,000 followers by launch. That’s quite an achievable figure and there are a variety of strategies you can use to gain a valuable following which we’ve gone over in the past. This is based on the average following a mildly successful indie game gathers in around a year’s time in the build-up to launch. This should help you to get the kind of exposure you want on social media during the most important times in your marketing.

There are some other numbers to consider, though. It’s great having a large following but it doesn’t mean much if no one is engaging with your posts. The two figures you’ll want to keep an eye on to track this are your tweet impressions and your engagement rate. Your tweet impressions will show you what reach your tweets have. Reach means how many people see your tweets. So, the higher the better and you’ll want to track that this isn’t decreasing over time. Your engagement rate will show you how many people, on the whole, are interacting with your tweets. A good figure to aim for as an indie developer with active social media channels would be between 1% – 3%. This would be a good indicator that people are interested in your game. Any higher, and you’re onto something special.

Finally, Discord is a great way to build an engaged and excited community ready to buy, play and review your game at launch. In the example we’re using in this blog we’d be aiming for 2,000-3,000. That figure or above would be a good indication that the game will be successful at launch and have an active community to help promote the game.

As you can see, there are a lot of numbers to bear in mind when you’re launching an indie game and this is only an introduction. You can go a lot deeper into tracking metrics, particularly for mobile games, a sector where more sophisticated tracking tools are available. In today’s market, data-driven PR is a powerful force and using that information to adapt your marketing strategy is important. So, if your planning to launch an indie game soon it might be time to get your calculator out, as competition is stiff and the numbers might just tell you everything you need to know to predict your success.