No-budget Game Marketing Strategy for Indie Developers

By
Fariha Akram Bhatti
February 9, 2024

Game development has its own challenges and hurdles, but Indie game developers' predicaments go beyond creativity and developer's block. They adhere to a limited budget, leaving zero to no space for video game marketing.

Timely marketing is the bedrock of a successful indie game, but most developers still skirt past this step and move on to publishing the game. But you can't blame them. Marketing can cost a big chunk of your overall game development budget. Marketing is pricey, from paying for PR to starting a social media campaign. 

The good thing is that you can also do it for free or at a minimal cost. 

Some exceptional free marketing tactics may help your game get noticed. It's worth noting that your time will act as currency in a budget game marketing strategy. 

What’s a Game Marketing Approach?

If you're looking for ways to market your game for free, chances are you're a solo dev or have a small team. In this case, time is of the essence. Planning and compartmentalizing can save time. Before nose-diving into low-cost advertising options, create a game marketing approach. 

By a rule of thumb, a customer's journey is as follows: Awareness, consideration, purchase, and post-purchase experience. 

Marketing is central to steps 1 and 2, with step 3 as the primary goal. The purpose of your strategy should be to raise awareness and make them want to buy your product. In order to make sure gamers consider buying your Indie game, you need to ask yourself a few questions that would help you craft a compelling marketing strategy. 

Product (what you sell), price (how much you sell it for), place (where you sell and promote it), and promotion (how you promote it). Also called the 4 Ps of Marketing, these four questions will drive your game's marketing, helping you appeal to the core audience. 

For example, if you have created an Indie Mobile game, you'll be able to market your product on unconventional platforms like Linkedin, Instagram, and more. We mentioned Instagram here because PC players are less inclined to click on a gaming post as compared to Twitter. 

On the other hand, most social media users play at least one Mobile game or would at least be swayed by an ad or a gaming-related post. This is because there are more mobile gamers worldwide than PC gamers, 2.8 billion to be precise. If you have created a puzzle game or a game like Wordle, you'd have an option for Email Marketing, a method that may not work too well on PC and console gamers. 

Similarly, you'll need to establish a player demographic based on the cost of your game. Can your target audience afford it? Who are you marketing it to if it costs above a regular gamer's budget? 

The 4 Ps of Marketing will do more for your game sales than any other method. By focusing on these questions, you'll find it much easier to develop a marketing strategy and have a tunnel vision. However, you must do a good amount of market research to fuel your video game advertising. 

Here's a quick Marketing Strategy framework for Indie game developers:

  • Establish realistic campaign goals 
  • Define your target audience 
  • Design attention-grabbing assets and content
  • Call to action (CTA)
  • Distribute and promote your content  
  • Launch   
  • Data analysis  

Update Your Dev Blog

If you're actively marketing your game on social channels, you should expect some traffic to your website or Steam page if that's where your game is. In order to maintain a decent returning viewer count, you want to make sure your dev blog is up to date. 

There's nothing that gamers like more than a developer that is communicative and open to feedback. As an Indie game developer, you may already know this. A good example here is Valorant. Even though it's not an Indie game by any means, players have always been vocal in their praises about Valorant. The developer holds consistent AMA sessions to get feedback and share updates. 

In the Indie games category, Rundisc is an excellent example of dev communication and the importance of a game blog. Chants of Sennaar was nominated for "Best Soundtrack" at the Steam Awards after gaining some popularity in the Indie player base. Before the game's release, the dev blog remained updated with recent info, trailer news, and patches. 

Similar to the trailer, include a CTA at the end of the blog to remind the players of the game's release date, platforms, and pricing. This is a great way to keep players hooked before the game releases. 

Create Attractive Social Media Assets

It's not breaking news that social media is the king of low-cost advertising, no matter the product. But only a few game devs are using it correctly. 

Did you know that 65% of people are visual learners? In 2024, an average gamer loses focus every 8 seconds, reducing their attention span. On Facebook and Twitter, gamers may scroll past your text post. It's best to stick to attractive visuals, in-game screenshots, and even memes if you're looking to stand out. 

There are many social media hacks for promoting games without a budget, but the best one is to be creative and design assets yourself. In 2024, many websites offer free tools for effective game marketing—for example, Canva, PicsArt, and more. Use Canva to design custom announcement posts and memes and enhance in-game screenshots. 

Pair your attractive social media assets with links to the game page or your dev blog. This is the best way to make boring info or updates platable. 

Create a Press or Streamer Kit

Indie developers are recommended to connect and network with journalists to get their games featured on a gaming website. Once again, social media may help you here. Follow and interact with journalists who like to talk about Indie games. For example, gaming reporter Jack Lucky often shares trailers of Indie games for free. 

If you don't have many connections in the industry, it's still ideal to create a stellar Press Kit for journalists—shortlist journalists who are most likely to respond to your request and distribute your Press Kit. It's worth shooting your shot. 

You may also look towards Influencer Marketing, which is generally pricey but cheaper at websites like Lurkit. Of course, it might be tricky and even unethical not to pay a streamer to play your game, but you may be able to get a low-budget streamer to play your game to a small following. 

Lurkit has a variety of low-budget influencer partnerships for indie game developers. This is by far the best way to reach a larger audience without emptying your bank account. 

An Eye-catching Trailer

The first step in video game marketing is to have enough content to show for your game in development. Unless you are a AAA publisher, no one will buy your game without seeing what they are paying for. In fact, a report from EEDAR2 showed that an XBOX 360 game without either a demo or a trailer sold on average less than 100,000 units, compared to games with a trailer. 

Create an immersive trailer with snippets of gameplay, lore, backstory, and other spicy elements to retain players' attention. Add a CTA at the of the video, and before publishing, make sure you optimize it with apt keywords. The last point is for trailers going on YouTube. 

The algorithm changes constantly, so make sure you're avoiding mistakes that may push your video to the bottom of the barrel. An SEO-optimised title, description, and video will help you pop up on the feed of relevant audiences, resulting in free marketing. 

Here are some key pointers to optimize your YouTube video:

  • The video title (main keyword)
  • The video description (main keyword and 1-2 related keywords)
  • The video's tags

Be Relatable and Personal

While you struggle to market your low-budget Indie game, someone out there is paying top dollar to get their video game on Steam's front page. How do you market your game in a saturated industry like Indie games? We’ll go ahead and make a bold claim: Popping up on your audience’s feed is easy, and anyone with a bag can do it. 

Gamers on social media scroll past hundreds of ads daily because they are all the same. No amount of money can make them pause, but a good post speaks for itself. Instead of copying your AAA developer, focus on their flaws and weaknesses. When doing market research, look at what players are complaining about and leverage that information to shape your video game marketing strategy.

For example, AAA developers are often straightforward, formal, and even cold. Their marketing lacks soul, something that gamers are hungry for. In order to stand out, use the language of a gamer and be relatable. Moment marketing is an excellent example here. Find out what gamers are talking about, which meme is hot, and what's trending. Use this information in your next social media post. 

In 2024, even businesses are using memes and pop culture references to associate themselves with an ongoing trend. However, it's worth noting that you must have the right data and understanding of your target demographic before jumping on a trend that may seem harmless on the surface. 

Email Marketing Campaign

Email Marketing is also an ideal way to reach a wider audience without putting in too many resources and funds. Crafting the perfect newsletter with attractive assets would still require ample time. As mentioned earlier, this free marketing tactic may not work on all gamers. But, it may work on a specific demographic. 

For example, this tactic may not work well if your target audience is under 24. According to statistics, Internet users under the age of 24 tend to ignore emails and newsletters. Only 21% of young internet users read an email marketing a product. However, this data can be helpful for developers marketing a puzzle game to an older player base. 

Share, Share, and Share 

When it comes to social media marketing, most people think of the big three: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. But the internet is as vast as an ocean. 

Consider sharing updates, game trailers, and announcements on Reddit. You’d be surprised to see how niche forums welcome Indie developers and deliver honest, sometimes brutally honest, feedback. You may even be able to nurture a small community of gamers who may consider trying out and streaming your game for free. 

Share your dev blog, news, and game-related announcements everywhere and as consistently as possible. A simple way to do this is to allocate a time of your day to no-budge game marketing. Let’s say you have two hours. In this time, you may design a simple photo asset and create two separate descriptions for it, along with tags. 

  • For Facebook and Instagram: A longer description with tags. 
  • For Twitter and Reddit: A shorter description, no tags. 

Share on all social media using the descriptions. You may also use this time to answer queries and engage with other developers and gamers on the web. Doing this consistently for a few weeks should set a solid base for your Indie game launch.

While it's challenging to market an Indie game with zero budget, it's not impossible. A low-budget video game advertising strategy may not draw in thousands of viewers, but it will make a lasting impact.

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