As an indie game developer with modest resources, it’s important to make sure that everything you do to create and promote your game is efficient and a good return on your time and money. Without the boundless budgets and designated marketing teams of triple-A (and even some triple-I games), indie game studios must rely on really capitalising on using fewer promotion channels but using them as well as possible. Forget posters on the London Underground and whole website takeovers of your favourite gaming outlets; to help your game succeed, your marketing bread and butter are much more likely to be small but strategic PR campaigns and ongoing community building.
Community is key – an engaged community ahead of launch will be worth the time and effort you put into it, hopefully by translating directly into first-day sales and organic word of mouth promotion that is difficult to replicate through paid means. And the best part is – you don’t have to do it alone! If you’re actively building a community, you will find that some members stand out in their love and excitement of your game. These are you budding community champions – the individuals who are so excited about what you’re doing that they – through no encouragement on your part – will go out and tell their friends, their social networks and anyone else who will listen about your game and just how excited they are. So what can you do to find and encourage these super-fans?
Champion of Champions
First things first, you will need to be able to recognise your budding community champions in order to give them the support they need to really shine. What you’re looking for here are the names you always see pop up on your platforms – the people constantly liking and retweeting your Twitter posts, tagging you in their own posts, welcoming new players on your Discord, getting involved in your community and generally demonstrating their love of your game at every opportunity. Community champions can’t be made – their involvement has to be 100% genuine and organic – but they can be recognised and encouraged.
Which brings us onto the next step of fostering your community champions – encouragement. While your super-fans will be doing a lot of organic promotion and community work of their own volition, you should definitely be taking a note and thanking them for their enthusiasm. This can be as simple as a quick reply: “Thanks so much for sharing, I really appreciate it!”, as personal as sending a message to say that you’ve noticed them being active in your community and you’d love some more feedback, or even as formal as getting them further ingrained in your community by becoming a Discord moderator or official game ambassador. Be careful here not to settle too many expectations on your champions – moderating is not an easy job and you shouldn’t expect your fans to be running your server for free. Instead, encourage them to continue the positivity and excitement they were spreading through the server already, just with a more official role within the community.
After encouragement, you may see that your community champions are even more excited about the game, your studio and your community and are spreading the positivity that you would love to see more of. This is great! To take it a step further and really showcase the lovely community you have, you should be championing your champions as much as they are championing you. Whoof, what a mouthful! Publicly recognise them as important members of the community on your server, share their fan art and playthrough videos of the game, direct new members to them to ask questions. Not only will this set the precedent of the community you have, but it will also encourage more people to aspire to become community champions themselves. Most importantly, it makes your current champions feel seen, valued and appreciated, which overall leads to a happier, healthier indie game community full of people who love your game and want to see you succeed. And what indie gave dev wouldn’t love to have that?
Beware of trolls
A caveat we have to mention here, as anything in business comes with risks – keep an eye on your champions. While we all want to think the best of our communities, their intentions and ability to be a force of positivity to everyone around them, sometimes you will come across fans who through malicious intentions or not can become the very opposite. It may be that instead of a welcoming face in your Discord they instead become a gatekeeper that scares new members away. In extreme cases, the very same people who love and appreciate your game can be toxic to your community by making fun of people who are struggling with a mechanic or getting into arguments and throwing names around. That is why it is of utmost importance that while you encourage positive behaviour through champions, you also have a final say on how people behave on your server. Additionally to this, keep an eye out for signs of elitism which may arise if you’re not careful. From the very beginning encourage the inclusion of new members and respond to all members equality – the last thing you want is for people to join only to see a clique group of “dev favourites”. That is a sure-fire way to lose them before they’ve even joined!
As an indie developer, you have an enviable position to really get involved in your community and talk to your players in a way that bigger games can’t quite match. To make this process more rewarding for your community and your overarching goals, finding and fostering community champions can be a key step in your journey to success. As we say in indie games marketing, every little step helps and brings you closer to your goals.