Audience is a strange concept when it comes to games for two reason.
The first is that Audience comes from the latin Audire, which means to listen, so the audience is composed of people that listen, rather passively. Nothing more diverse than the players of a game, that instead are usually very active.
The second reason is that audience is usually used to represent a large group of people, something that is not that commons in games.
Since games, like the majority of design fields, are embedded in the capitalistic culture, we, as game designer, can learn some marketing techniques to sustain ourselves.
In general, to approach your players as audience, or users, or clients, it’s a very limited approach that can be shortsighted, you are not selling food or tools, you’re selling experiences, fun and culture so it’s better to approach the others as allies, or as a community.
Especially if you’re an indie game designer being surrounded by people that can yes - buy a ticket or download your game - but are there also to sustain yourself with a compliment, a forward to their mailing list or a post on a social media (not to talk about helping you play testing your game) it’s a better, more profitable way to go.
The long tail.
Short version: you can survive and have an amazing life as an artist also if you have 1000 true fan.
Long version: read here (it’s an amazing article that has shaped an entire generation of creators, so please do it).
The big splash is not for everyone, but if you are passionate about what you do and you are able to reach the people that are passionate about you, you can create a niche and survive as an artist in that niche.
The math is easy: you want to make 100k/year, it’s enough to sell 100€ of stuff to 1000 people.
The world of music is full of example of this, as platform like Patreon showed us, in theory it’s easy, in practice there are two concept that are important to remember to reach these goals.
Retention and the Funnel
Retention: in online marketing retention means the ability to get a lead (someone that clicks on something yours) and keep it also after the interaction.
Example: if you have a sponsored content in Facebook, someone will click on that and arrive in a landing page that you’ve prepared for them. Maybe scrolling through the page they are not interested on what you selling so they leave.
That contact (that you’ve paid for) is now lost, there is no way that you’ll be able to retrace them back and say, wait, maybe you’re interested in this other thing? (There are ways to do that but this is not the topic here)
Instead you can have a landing page that is offering a free print-and-play game, but, in order for the user to download it, they have to leave you their email.
Some of them will not be interested and you will lose them, but the few that are interested on the freebie (that’s the marketing term for it), they will leave their email and now you can contact them directly for future games, play test, or feedback.
This is Retention.
Especially when we start with our online presence we focus on the craft of a website, or the look of our social media, these things are important but if we don’t have a retention strategy, then all the traffic and visits that we will eventually receive can get lost.
Introducing the second concept, the Funnel.
The Funnel is a visualization of what in marketing is sometimes referred as the client journey.
Example: imagine to have a shop, this show has a large shopwindow right on one of the most walked street of town.
The client journey traces all the steps that it get from a normal passerby to buy something inside your shop. In this example we can identify 7 steps:
the passerby stop in front of the window
the passerby spot something interesting
the passerby enters the shop out of curiosity (dling, dling)
the now potential client looks at other things inside the shop
the potential client asks a price
the potential client picks something of their interest
the now client pays (cash-ing!)
At any of these steps, the potential client can drop off and decide to not proceed to the next step, for example if they don’t like the smell in the shop, or if it’s too crowded they can decide to drop at step 4 and leave.
Another thing to notice is that the number of clients that reach the last level (payment) is always less that the number of potential clients that walks the street in front of the shop.
The goal of the shop is to move a high percentage of potential client from one step to the next (optimization of the funnel).
You can see now why this is called a funnel, at the beginning there is a lot of potential client, but the ones that actually buy are a tiny fraction of it.
The more optimized is the funnel, the less drop there are between every steps, (also the less the steps) the better for the shop owner.
This concept can be easily translated when we talk about online marketing.
The streets are the social media, the window are sponsored ad, the inside of the shop is a landing page/website of our company, the products are our games, the counter is some online payment tool.
The good thing about online marketing is that you can keep track of the % of all the stages, do some test, and optimize your steps.
It’s not easy!
Selling indie games?
Not easy at all
Selling indie games online?
Practically a miracle.
But again it is possible!
The first step is to set up a funnel that has some retention in it, always, in your website, offer something for free that can be downloaded in exchange of an email, you will start growing a mailing list that, although small at the beginning, it’s yours and it’s direct.
Yes, - direct - having a mailing list it means that you can cut all the 7 steps that we have in the funnel and just have a direct communication with your audience.
You can wake up one morning and send an email that says, this is my new game and 50 people will read about it directly in their computer.
This is new and a great opportunity that the internet has given creators, (btw this concept is called disintermediation, aka the absence of mediator).
So now we have access to our audience and we have them with us, it’s time to treat them with care.
First remember that online users subscribe for a lot of things, so it could be that they don’t remember about you.
Second, I don’t know you but I have a lot of email to read everyday, so if you want to be read offer something that is interesting.
Third, maybe when I’m reading I’m not ready to buy anything, I’m on my commute home, I’m in the middle of work, I don’t remember the number of my credit card.
So, if you’re going to sell something trough your newsletter, you need to Prep&Urge (I just invented this term I hope it sticks in your memory
Prep: always send emails before the actual moment of selling so your audience can read about the game with their time, they can research, remember who you are, maybe remember the free game that they have played of yours, just a way to be back on their radar and tell the story of your next project.
Urge: always have a short window of selling + have a discount for your audience that will expire after a while.
When you sell something you want to separate who is interested from who isn’t in the faster way possible. Offer a discount and the ones that were already interested would be happy to buy and support.
Going back to the beginning of this long post, I wanted to clarify again that these concepts are important and can be translated but the best approach is always to maintain a community based approach.
In my experience so many things are sprung because of players deciding to take a step forward, because of collaboration born during playtest, because of a shared commitment to support. So check this guide on Community and this one on Stakeholder engagement.