Do indie game awards matter?

In the crowded market of indie games, it’s understandable to strive to make your game stand out in any way you can. Beyond the obvious – having an amazing game and endless marketing budget – there are a number of other strategies out there to explore. One of the avenues many consider in their quest for exposure is indie game awards.

Marketing works best when it has a long run-up time, and having your game amass a few badges to attach to the trailer end card is tempting. Reputation building is one of the hardest PR struggles indie studios can face and having someone else endorse your product can serve as an easy shortcut where that’s concerned. This post will explore the variety of options for indie developers looking to submit their game for awards, and ask the question: is it really worth the effort?

Gotta catch ‘em all

There is a vast multitude of awards out there that an indie game can win. It’d be impractical to list them all, as no doubt it’s into the thousands. Instead, we’ll look at a general overview of the kind of awards you can win or submit your game to.

Let’s get the big ones out the way first. There’s a number of very high-profile awards in the video game industry that offer a great deal of prestige if you can win one for your game. All of these awards are achieved post-launch, so won’t help you bring your game to market, but, no less, it’d be negligent not to include them.

These are the video game BAFTAs, The Game Awards and the Golden Joystick Awards (also known as the people’s gaming award).

Next, and more relevant to indie developers, are the wide variety of awards tied to shows and events across the globe. These allow attendees of the expos to submit their games and be in with a chance of winning one of the converted awards. This participation may be automatic if you decide to showcase your game at one of these shows or you may have to apply for your game to be judged separately.

The bigger of these shows include E3, Gamescom, GDC and the IGF, PAX, EGX, IndieCade, Develop and Casual Connect. Many of those shows have multiple iterations across the globe all offering chances to submit your games and win a variety of awards.

Of course, there’s also a raft of much smaller events down to the local scale, so it’s always advised you do some research and find local opportunities to showcase your game.

There’s also a number of awards curated by editorial websites. These usually take the form of ‘Game of the Year’ or editors choice awards decided by the staff, but there have also been sites that have utilised a public voting system.

Finally, there’s a number of development awards that mostly centre around early game conception, such as game jams. Many of these events are great opportunities to showcase early builds of your game and possibly pick up a few accolades in the process.

Attraction not promotion

There’s a lot to be said about attracting attention to your game without specifically promoting it. In truth, it doesn’t happen a lot and any indie game entering the current market is going to need some kind of strategy behind it to gain any interest.

When you boil it down, awards are a form of passive promotion: something everyone can see when they look at your store page or website that acts as a badge of authority giving testimony that your game is good. That has value beyond what just marketing alone can deliver. You can shout about how amazing your game is personally all the way up until launch, but people aren’t likely to start paying attention on mass until that is verified by an external source.

In this way, awards can offer some solid marketing potential, at least as one component of a greater campaign. For a start, it’s a great opportunity to get in the press, especially if you win one of the bigger awards. Your game might be listed on a website, or featured in a round-up list of winners. This offers an opportunity to get on site your marketing budget might not be able to reach.

Furthermore, it can increase press interest in your game during other periods of marketing. That is to say that media might be more likely to look at your game if your marketing communications mention the game’s awards. Of course, that does mean you still very much need marketing. Winning awards alone isn’t going to get you very far in your promotional efforts.

Counting the pennies

One of the most important things to consider with a strategy such as this is cost. Travelling to shows, hiring booths and showcasing your game can be a very expensive process. And, don’t forget, attendance doesn’t guarantee your game will get any press attention, or win any awards. Some prestigious awards, such as the IGF, even charge developers to enter.

You have to sit down and assess if activities like these fit into your budget and scope. For some of the bigger shows, it can run into the thousands or even tens of thousands, depending on where you’re travelling from, how many of your team needs to attend, and for how long. It’s wise to sit down and consider if that money might be more effectively spent on other avenues of marketing that have a more realistic return.

And then there’s time, which is as essential as money in game development. All the time you could spend travelling to shows and exhibiting your game in a bid to get a few awards behind it is time away from development, or from other forms of day-to-day marketing. This is something that has to be considered and factored in for at the planning stage. Release delays may negatively affect your marketing much more than the positive impact of an award.

You’ve got to be in it to win it

The greatest advice is to get your game out there as much as you can. Get as many eyes on it as possible, as although you may not win every award you set your eyes on, the feedback will be invaluable.

If it’s within your budget and scope then attending bigger expos may be the best way to do this, but think about it strategically. You want to gain something from the relatively high cost of attending shows. Awards may be one element of that, but will ultimately mean nothing if they are not framed in a wider marketing plan.

So, it is beneficial in terms of exposure and prestige to try and get some awards behind your game but you need to think about how that will be used in a marketing campaign. Otherwise, you’ve got an award-winning game nobody knows about.

There’s no such thing as bad publicity

Well, there is, but you get the point. If you win the Turd of the Year award, for instance, it’s not exactly going to make your game sell more. Although, there are games out there famous for being extremely bad.  The point is that you need to get your game out there in every regard, not just to attract awards.

To give your game the best opportunity for exposure and help build your reputation as a developer or studio, you need a community of players, which we’ve touched on before. These are the people that are going to help your game get noticed or get nominated. For instance, The Development Conference in Brighton uses an online public vote system to select the winners of their awards. A strong community of players is really going to help in that respect.

That means you have to think more broadly than awards alone and see it more as one component of a bigger marketing campaign aimed at raising awareness around your title.

So, yes, winning awards for your indie game can be extremely useful – but it’s ultimately pointless if that plan is not part of a wider marketing strategy. This is something you should consider in the early planning stages, well in advance of launching your game, to assess if this kind of exposure will help you to meet your production goals.