Requirements

Prerequisite knowledge

The topics covered in this article are helpful for all users in the game development industry. Prior experience building and distributing games for mobile platforms is not required.

User level

All

The difficulties related to mobile game marketing have been well documented. There are hundreds of thousands of games available, consumer discovery is challenging, and tier 1 publishers spend thousands of dollars every day acquiring new users. It has never been more daunting to be a game developer and unfortunately, the process of marketing games may become even more challenging as the market becomes more competitive. As a small game developer, your chances of making it big are slim to none. However, all is not lost. There are many strategies you can use to promote mobile games that don't require a ginormous budget.

Developing a marketing plan

Game developers of any size, even those with zero marketing experience, can still find success in the app store by making game marketing a priority. Your challenge is to market a game without spending thousands of dollars. In this article, you'll learn about proven tactics game developers use to promote games and increase the number of downloads, without breaking the bank—at least a first.

Get a jumpstart on game promotion

Starting your game marketing early is vital for success. A simple rule of thumb is to spend an equal amount of time marketing your game as you spent developing it. Commit to facilitating 50% of the marketing campaign before launch, and 50% after launch. For example, if you are planning to spend six months developing a game, start marketing it three months before its release, and continue marketing it for at least three months after.

The list below highlights the key steps involved and this article covers each task in more detail in the sections below. Plan on starting each of these items 6-12 weeks before the game's launch date:

  1. Create, engage, and manage a community with social media networks
  2. Prepare a PR campaign
  3. Launch your game in Canada
  4. Set up cross-promotion deals
  5. Spend some money on advertising

Creating, engaging, and managing an online community

First things first: if you don’t already have Facebook and Twitter pages dedicated to your game or studio, create them immediately. Social media offers a free, direct, path and engagement channel with real consumers – take advantage of it.

Facebook: Ask your friends to like your page on Facebook and dedicate 30 minutes every week to posting two to three times about your game. Engage your community and get your fans to share your content with their networks. Here are some examples of approaches you can take:

  • Pre-release screenshots: Share early screenshots of the game with your fans and ask them if they like the art and the concept. Offering sneak peeks and soliciting feedback helps fans feel “involved” in the development of your game.
  • Distribute trailers: Create short, 30-second videos of the game play and post the trailers online.
  • Run contests: Give away signed art, free t-shirts, toys, pens, or other related swag to encourage fans to like and share your videos or create testimonials describing why they are excited about your game. Offer prizes with relevant promotional materials to customers who express the most interest. Reward vocal community members and create a buzz about the game's launch.

When managing with your Facebook community make sure to tell your fans what you want them to do. For example, asking fans to “Like” your posts has been shown to create a 216% increase in “Likes” and shares over time.

Twitter: Tweet early and tweet often (but not too often) about the game. Research has shown that posting four tweets per day during standard business hours (8 am EST – 5 pm PST) produces the highest results.

  • Include 2 (not 1, not 3) hash tags with every tweet that is relevant to your game, and has a reasonable amount of search volume.
  • Follow prominent game reviewers such as Jeff Scott, Arnold Kim, Jon Jordan, Andrew Podolsky, and other game developers who have large, loyal, followings. Don’t be afraid to message these people and ask for early feedback on your game (don’t over do it though). Most will probably not respond to your request, but you'll never know unless you ask.
  • Include screenshots of your game in tweets, link to video trailer, run contests for your followers to give away promo codes. Brainstorm ways to get fans engaged as early and as often as possible.

As with Facebook, specifically tell your Twitter followers what you want them to do. Research has shown that including “Please retweet” leads to 23 times the retweet rates, while posting “Please RT” only leads to 10 times.

Your primary goal using Facebook and Twitter is to create consumer evangelists who will promote your game to their social networks. Run a beta test and invite ten of the most devoted fans to use your game and provide feedback, implement it, and then run another beta test with a new set of ten fans. Be sure to mention these evangelists in your game credits. Be creative about finding ways to get a group of users excited about you and your upcoming game.

Most importantly, when utilizing social media, strive to create visual impact and have fun. To learn more, read how to utilize social media to promote your game.

Cost: $0

Preparing a PR campaign

Running a PR campaign is not a task reserved for big publishers. Your campaign does not have to be expensive—it just has to be well thought out. A strategic PR campaign helps you obtain game reviews and raise your profile within the developer and consumer communities.

The following brief outline lists the steps to plan and release an effective PR campaign:

  1. Create a media kit which includes:
    1. Screenshots of your game during play
    2. Videos of your game highlighting cool features that illustrate why it is fun
    3. Links to your game website, Facebook, and Twitter pages
    4. Press release
  2. Assemble a press list:
    1. Aggregate a list of game review websites and obtain relevant email addresses, twitter handles, and other means of contact
  3. Sign up for a press release distribution service like PRMac.com
  4. Generate promo codes – available from Apple (not available in the Android Market)

As with all forms of marketing, PR is about building relationships. In this instance, you are building a relationship with journalists. Begin reaching out to journalists at least one month before you are ready to launch with your media kit. If possible, put all press kit materials in the body of the email, including screenshots, a link to the video, and your press release. For best results, follow these tips:

  1. Don’t spam all game review sites. Identify which sites review games like yours, and pitch them on why they should review your game too.
  2. Send promo codes: if you’ve launched in Canada, or have set your release to a future date, promo codes enable reviewers to download and test your game before it’s available. Game reviewers get hundreds of requests to review games. A promo code won’t ensure you’ll get a review, but it will certainly help.
  3. Don’t ask for an embargo. There are very few games that are newsworthy enough for the developer to ask for an embargo, and yours isn’t likely to be one of them. If a journalist wants to talk about your game before you’re ready, that's a good thing. Let them do it.

The day before you launch, send your list of journalists a message with the following:

  1. Reminder that your game is launching tomorrow
  2. Media kit
  3. Promo code that you previously sent them
  4. Reviews and feedback from Canadian users
  5. A friendly request that they review your game

PR alone won't turn your game into an overnight success, but it can make a meaningful difference over time. Don’t give up. Let journalists and reviewers know when you launch an update, point out how much your fans love your game, and keep them updated.

Cost: <$100

Participating in cross-promotion programs

Game cross-promotion is the practice of setting up two games that promote each other to their audiences. Cross-promotion is a wonderful, free way to promote your game.

There are a variety of options available for developers to implement cross-promotion:

  1. Create direct deals with other game developers. Agree to use your game to send traffic to their game, in exchange for them sending traffic to yours. You will need to add a mediation layer, or a tracking mechanism. Or if you prefer, you can use a service like Chartboost.
  2. Implement advertising in your existing games. If you have several existing games in the mobile market, implementing any mainstream ad network enables you to create House Ads and run them to promote your new game.
  3. Utilize an in-game advertising service that offers in-network cross-promotion. Advertising services are a great, free way to access a significant amount of traffic without the work involved in setting up individual cross-promotion deals. For example, PlacePlay provides free in-network cross-promotion for its game developers.

Cross-promotion works best when you have developed existing games. If you do not have existing games, you are best served integrating a third-party service like PlacePlay or others to enable access to a large number of game users.

Cost: $0 + time

Launching games in Canada

Admittedly, launching your game in the Canadian market isn’t a tactic to actively market your game. However, it offers an opportunity to learn more about the game and how to promote it prior to making it available in the US. Launching your game in Canada helps you:

  1. Understand key engagement and monetization metrics of your game and learn how to positively affect them
  2. Understand ARPDAU (Average Revenue Per Daily Active User)
  3. Most importantly, understand how much money you can make from every user

If this is your first time measuring these metrics, keep it simple. Determine the answers to the following questions during your Canadian trial:

  1. Daily active users: How many users play your game every day? Repeat this mantra: Game downloads don’t matter, active users do. Unless, of course, you are charging users for every download.
  2. Thirty-day user retention: What percentage of users is still engaged with your game thirty days after they download it?
  3. Daily revenue: How much money do you make every day?

This information will enable you to not only understand ARPDAU, but also understand the LTV (Life Time Value) of each user. The following quick example identifies APRDAU and LTV over a six week period after launching a game in Canada:

  1. Daily active users = 5,000
  2. Thirty day retention rate = 15%
  3. Daily revenue = $500

As a result of analyzing this data, you can determine:

  1. The game has an ARPDAU of $.10 ($100/5,000)
  2. 15% of users stick around for 30 days or more. The LTV on the most active users is $3.00 or higher.

There are a variety of additional factors that can be added for a more comprehensive picture – but keep the metrics simple when you first start tracking game revenues.

The goal is to understand how much money you can make for every user, in order to identify how much you can spend to acquire a user. Keep making changes to your engagement and monetization strategies until you are comfortable launching the game in the United States.

Cost: $0 + time

Spending money on advertising

The time you spent creating and engaging a community, setting up a PR campaign, and setting up cross-promotion deals helps you build a marketing base for your game’s launch. Combining that base with an understanding of your game’s ARPDAU and LTV enables you to spend money on advertising, and ensure your investments are profitable. Advertising is not free and requires an up-front investment, but if you promote your content correctly, it can generate income.
Consider the following when determining how much to budget for advertising:

  • Advertising should accelerate the existing success of a game. If your game’s metrics are not optimized, don’t spend money on advertising yet. Always optimize for engagement and monetization first.
  • Don’t spend a great deal of money (maybe $250) but spend it all at once, on the same day. This strategy enables you to understand what affect that money has on your game ranking. You can evaluate the results of the advertising campaign and discover how many additional organic downloads and how much additional money you make for every dollar spent on advertising. 
  • Spread your advertising dollars around. Not all ad networks are the same. Try testing several game networks and identify which provide you with the most return on your investment (the combination of increased downloads and profit).
  • Model all of your expenses and gains in an Excel spreadsheet, to identify how much you can spend.

Spending money on advertising can be a scary proposition, especially when you don’t have a lot of money in your budget. By carefully tracking metrics, you can learn what your customer LTV’s are and determine how many additional users are accumulated for every dollar spent on advertising, and that information takes the risk out of advertising.

Cost: $250 - unlimited

Where to go from here

In this article, you learned about some proven strategies and best practices to promote your mobile games on a shoestring budget. To summarize, review the recommended steps to promote games in the mobile marketplace:

  1. Start promoting the game early, while it is still in development
  2. Create and engage a community on Facebook and Twitter
  3. Prepare a PR campaign
  4. Set up cross-promotional programs
  5. Launch the game in Canada first, to better understand your metrics
  6. Spend some money on advertising to drive growth

Marketing a mobile game is hard and can be extremely expensive. But, as a small developer, you do not have the constraints that big developers encounter. You can be patient, take the time to get everything right, and spend advertising money to make your game stand out. Best of all, you can reap the rewards yourself!

To learn more about marketing your mobile game, visit the Mobile Advertising Hub or the PlacePlay blog.