How To Make A Game Part 5: Publishing and Marketing Your Game

So you have finally finished your game and are ready to release it to the world. While there is a lot you can do after you have completed your game to help make it a success, you should always be thinking about marketing your game from the very beginning. The following section will help you with everything from naming your game to how to help it stick out in an overcrowded mobile store. While marketing a game is not an exact science, and its success has a lot to do with the quality of your game and pure luck, you can still take the necessary steps to ensure it gets the most attention possible out of the gate.

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Naming Your Game

The name of your game is going to be the single most important decision you make. Companies spend huge amounts of money doing market research to come up with product names, and what you come up with for your game has lasting effects. The most basic thing you can do to help your game be more successful is to simply give it a descriptive name. Look at other games and how they came up with their names:

  • “Mario” – Named after the main character. While it doesn’t describe what you will be doing in the game, it helps establish the lead and his name defines the brand.

  • “Legend of Zelda” – The word legend implies a deep story told a long time ago, and saving Princess Zelda is the main objective of the game.

  • “Grand Theft Auto” – The name alone implies stealing cars and breaking the law. It clearly describes the main gameplay mechanic the player is going to expect to be doing.

  • “Angry Birds” – Doesn’t get any more basic than this. You play as a bunch of angry birds.

Naming a game isn’t always an easy task, but make sure your game’s name is clear, descriptive, and easy to remember. Also, make sure your game’s name makes sense for sequels and continuations if you find yourself with a hit on your hands.

Getting People to Play Your Game

This topic really goes back to the beginning section on what platform to build your game in. The key to success is really getting your game in the hands of as many players as possible. To do that, you will need to pick a platform with the most reach possible. While HTML5 has the incredible advantage of being published to the Web, you will find that it is more difficult to publish to a native store. Frameworks like GameMaker and Unity will allow you to publish to multiple platforms, but they charge extra for that service. Some features are free, and while GameMaker allows you to export an HTML5 version for the Web and Unity has a Web Player for its game, you really need to do your research and pick the right tool from the beginning.

The ideal scenario is that you are able to release your game on all of the major platforms: Web, iOS, Android, and desktop. From there, you have some granular options to decide on, like what devices to support on each mobile platform, and even what version of the OS you can support. Don’t forget Web stores, such as Chrome Market and Firefox’s new Web-based Phone OS. Also, there are online game portals that do revenue sharing based on ads around your game. While mobile is all the rage, don’t forget how many people still use Web browsers, and every modern mobile device also supports playing Web games, so you get even more bang for your buck. I am now working on having all of my games as Web-playable demos pointing to the app store versions to help broaden my audience, since being found on the Web is much easier than in an app store.

If the Web isn’t your thing, also keep in mind cross-platform desktop publishing. A lot of indies have had success with Steam Greenlight, as well as bundle deals like Humble Bundle. Both of these distribution solutions leverage desktop compiling and usually want games that support Windows, Mac, and Linux. If you intend to ever get your game on Steam, make sure you are able to offer a desktop installer.

Charging for Your Game

With all of this talk about distribution, you are probably thinking through all of your monetization options. Let’s take a look at the three most common options out there now:

  • Flat rate – Your first instinct is probably to charge a flat rate for your game, like 99 cents or more. Some games can command a very high premium on the mobile market, but gone are the days of charging $5, $10, or more, especially if you are just starting out. When it comes to pricing your game, you should do a lot of research on your game’s genre, its competition, and what it costs. If you see a lot of high quality free games similar to yours, it’s probably best to consider an alternative option.

  • Free with ads – This was popular for a long time before in-app purchases were introduced. Basically, you make the game free and use ads to help generate money. While there are clear advantages to making your game free, which allows anyone to download it, it is also incredibly hard to monetize from ads. As an example, my most successful game on Android with almost 50k downloads (roughly 1-2k players a day) only generates $1 or less each day. In order to really make money with ads, you will need at least 100k players a day or more, and show larger, more obtrusive ads that tend to slow down the game’s flow or frustrate players.

  • IAP (in-app purchases) – The final approach, which has gained considerable popularity lately, is relying on IAP (or in-app purchases). Usually, the game is free and you try to upsell so users buy more levels, items in the game, or even ways to speed up their in-game character’s development. What’s good about this approach is that your game is completely free, so you get my people playing your game, and if they like it or you have compelling IAP, they end up paying more than they normally would had your game been sold at a flat rate. This model is extremely hard to pull off successfully, and it’s a fine line between adding additional value to your game and trying to exploit the player’s compulsion loop.

The reality is that, if this is your first game, chances are high that you will not make a lot of money off of it. Having a successful game is kind of like winning the lottery. I am not telling you this to discourage you; I want first-time game developers to have a clear idea of what they are in for. Even seasoned game developers have a difficult time monetizing their games without help from marketing firms. Even getting good reviews on game sites, which is hard to do, doesn’t always translate into lots of sales. The best thing you can do is get featured on the app store itself, but once that promotion is over, unless you have a real hit on your hands, you will see a natural drop off in your game’s sales or downloads.

The last thing I want to talk about, which leads into our next topic, is that making games is a learning experience. The more games you make the better you become as a game developer and grow your chances of making a hit game. While it’s very frustrating for first-time game developers to work hard on something and not see people download it or buy it, you shouldn’t give up. One of the best things your game can be is a promotional tool for you and even your next game. Always be sure to have links to your other games inside of your game to help promote everything you are doing. You may be surprised to realize that, over time, you actually end up building up a following of people more willing to pay for your next game if they continue to play and like the ones you are releasing now.

The More Games You Make the Better

I talk to a lot of game developers each day, and they all have the same story: the more games they have in the store the better their sales are. This happens for two reasons. The first is that, when you make more than one game, they are all featured on your game’s download page under a section that highlights other games made by the same author. That means that each additional game you make basically gives you free advertising for your other games. The second thing that happens is that, when a person likes your game, they naturally want to play more games you have made. This means they will look at anything else you have created, which is the basis for building your own fan base. That means that each successive game you release will naturally help drive downloads and sales of your past games as well. This is another reason why you should not give up if your first game isn’t an instant success and just keep making as many games as you can!

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