When it comes to indie game marketing, it’s important to start early. If that is something you didn’t know then here’s a handy guide to demonstrate why that is very important). 

Now you understand the importance of starting early it’s time to consider the specifics. Where are you going to start? Are you going to go and make that hilarious TikTok video that you think will go viral first? Are you going to find a marketing agency that can take all the work off your hands so you can focus on development?

Before you can answer these questions, you must first understand what it is that you’re trying to achieve. What are your goals and objectives? How can marketing help you reach those goals, and what approach will work best? How will you know if you have succeeded? 

These are all big-picture questions, which may be difficult to answer at first – but by spending the time and energy thinking about your goals at an early stage, you can ensure that your future efforts are strategic, efficient and put you on the best possible route to success. 

This easy-t0-follow guide will help you get started on setting realistic marketing goals to inform your marketing strategy.

Time for a Reality Check

The first step to setting goals is making sure that they are realistic for your game and your situation. Often, when looking for inspiration, we may automatically go to the well-known examples of success in indie gaming – Stardew Valley, Undertale or Limbo.  These often act as cultural touchstones in relation to what is considered indie success.

Unfortunately, what we don’t see is the hundreds of games (yes, hundreds!) that get released every day on Steam that never go further than having a Steam page and a handful of reviews, if any at all. In most cases, making millions of dollars with your first indie release isn’t going to be possible.

So when you’re thinking about setting a commercial goal for your indie, consider what games similar to yours have achieved in the past. Comparing a triple-I, publisher-backed, multi-marketed release with your single-person studio’s first project isn’t going to realistically represent your personal journey and this could leave you disappointed, even disheartened within the industry.. 

Start at the End

Once you have set your commercial goal, you can start working backwards to better understand how marketing can support you to meet that goal.

To demonstrate how you can do this, we will be using the ever-popular fictional game Magic Capybara: Legend of the Rodent Wizards, a (sadly, still not real) puzzle platformer and a lot of example maths.

By looking at games similar to Magic Capybara and reviewing our investment into the project, we have decided to aim for the commercial target of 10,000 copies sold in the first year from release at £15 a pop. This will give us an overall target of £150,000 which will cover our £75,000 prior investment (including marketing) and allow us to create the sequel: Magic Capybara: The Power of Friendship

The numbers we’ll use going forward are mostly fictional, or loosely based on data. As with any projection work – your predictions can only be as good as the data you have access to!

From this point, we need to work backwards to understand how we might reach this goal.  If we want to sell 10,000 copies in our first year, we need to sell approximately 20% of that number in the first week: 2,000 copies. As Magic Capybara is releasing on Steam, the first thing we can look at is Steam wishlists. Now, the relationship between wishlists and actual sales is a complicated one with no clear-cut answers. However, for the purposes of this example we will use the conversion rate of 20% (to make the maths easy and to match Valve’s 2020 data as closely as possible). 

This means that to sell 2,000 copies in the first week we would need at least 10,000 wishlists ahead of launch to meet our project ultimate goal of 10,000 copies sold in the first year. The most reliable way to grow wishlists is through marketing – so great! We now have a clear and realistic marketing goal going forward. 

Meeting Your Goals

You’ve done the big-picture thinking, looked at your financials and researched other games on the market to help inform marketing goals. Congratulations – you’ve taken a big and hugely important step in preparing for a successful launch.

With your marketing goal in mind, you can now begin to think about how you can shape your marketing campaign to help you reach that goal. There are a huge variety of activities and channels that you can utilise, whose suitability and effectiveness will vary depending on your game, your budget, the current market as well as multiple other factors. 

You can again work backwards to see how these activities can help you meet your goal. For example, let’s say we wanted to use digital advertising on Facebook as one of our marketing channels for Magic Capybara with the aim to generate at least 2,000 of our total 10,000 wishlists on Steam. By carrying out a short week-long campaign we can test different assets and messaging to find the best performing combination and most importantly set ourselves a new conversion rate.

Our imaginary ad test has revealed that 1 out of every 5 people who went to our Steam page through the ad ended up adding Magic Capybara to their wishlist (we wish it was this clear-cut in reality!). That means that to get 2,000 wishlists through ads, we need to have at least 10,000 people visit the Steam page. If our test has shown an average cost per visit of £0.20, that means we need an ad budget of £2,000 to reach our goal. 

This still leaves us with 8,000 further wishlists we need to get through marketing. You can now consider how you might use PR, community building or influencer outreach to help you make up the remainder of your goal. 

In Short

Setting goals may seem intimidating at first, but taking things one step at a time can help you figure out realistic and achievable goals for your indie game. Before you think about marketing, think about what you’re trying to accomplish – is it as much money as possible? Is it building a reputation for your studio? Is it breaking even and funding your next game? Your goals will impact the marketing strategy you choose to follow and will put you one step closer to a successful campaign and launch.