The Indie Developer's Guide to Selling Games
The word "Selling" is boldfaced and blue on the cover of The Indie Developer's Guide to Selling Games, making it abundantly clear that it's the emphasis of the book. To that end, the book stays away from everything that drifts away from the topic of selling; you won't find advice here on how to design a mascot, or how to create game levels that will keep players coming back for more. You will, however, learn a lot about how best to market your game to the public, both before and after you've actually created it.
The word "Indie" in the title is also key here, because it represents not only the intended audience for the book, but its aesthetic as well. While the lessons taught here certainly apply to any business venture, the level of knowledge presumed, and the informal way in which the book shares its secrets, is definitely intended to appeal to the smaller game company (or individual). The reason for this is clear: author Joseph Lieberman founded his indie game marketing company VG Smart (Video Game Marketing, Smart!) after deciding, in his words, that there was "a large market of independent developers who need someone with the expertise and time to establish business side communications with press, news, and publishing companies." This book is by indie, for indie, through and through.
The press material for the book declares that it is "written to be an enjoyable read even if the developer in question despises marketing," and it fulfills that goal remarkably well. Although it covers many meaty topics -- vertical and horizontal niches, SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), and SEO (Search Engine Optimization), just to name a few -- it never feels bogged down in the sort of Marcom doublespeak that we've all heard at one time or another. The concepts are presented in a clear fashion, and the focus is on practical use of the lessons learned, rather than the mere recitation of theoretical concepts.
This book is by indie, for indie, through and through.
The book is divided into six chapters, each covering a different stage of game marketing, and each divided up into a dozen or so subtopics. Each chapter and subtopic starts off with a One Sentence Summary that gives you the gist of what's going to be covered, making each little chunk easier to grasp as a whole. Each chapter is also littered with little "Did You Know?" and "Tip" factoid boxes meant to further clarify the point being discussed. Taken out of context, many of them seem a little too obvious and not terribly informative (e.g., "Sometimes it is easier to get better at something you are GOOD at than get good at something you are BAD at!"), but taken in the context of the page they appear on they serve as good visual reminders of what the text is talking about.
Chapter 1 covers Design Marketing, and topics ranging from defining a target market by hobby and niche, to the "Keep it Simple, Stupid" theory. Although the bulk of the book sort of assumes that the reader has progressed a bit further along, the material here does make some suggestions about game design itself (albeit with an eye towards future marketing). Should you design for Macs? Probably. How about Linux? Probably not. The chapter also ends with a long list of resources that might prove useful to a fledgling company: pages 27 through 40 cover art and music resources (including a number of individuals), and pages 41 through 50 list and discuss various payment processors.
Chapter 2, In Production Marketing, discusses marketing efforts a game company might make while their game is (naturally) being produced. Link exchanges, copyright issues, pre-orders and newsletters are all discussed, as well as the all-important topic of Search Engine Optimization, which is discussed at some length. Recommendations about price are made ($19.99 to $24.99 is a good range), and information about setting up distribution partnerships and contacting publishers is also present. Website design is covered in this chapter too, but it represents one of the book's weaker points; written by another author, it's rather terse and of questionable utility as it stands. Like the previous chapter, this one ends with several lists, with Distribution resources (pages 76-91) and download sites (92-95) being presented.
Release Marketing is the topic of Chapter 3, with the goal being to "see if we can create the big push that brings your game into the limelight, or at least drags it far enough above the dirt and debris that deluge the market every day to be noticed by those looking." Press releases, types of releases, press coverage, and advertising are all covered, with a good bit of time devoted to ad terminology, including standard ad sizes, CPM, CPC and CPA, and the like. The list at the end of this chapter includes just over 2 pages of websites that are "indie friendly", and might be a good place to get your game covered or reviewed.
Chapter 4: Post Release Marketing reminds the reader that "You are Finished When you're Dead," indicating that marketing efforts are never truly over as long as you intend to keep making money off your game. Updates and upgrades are discussed, as well as the power of sequels, cross-selling items, blogging and the like. At only seven pages in length it feels a bit light, but it's still weightier than the three-page-long Chapter 5: Dealing with Change, which is really just an essay discussing the current state of things, and how it's all in a state of flux. It feels a bit out of place here, as it wants to be a conclusion but winds up as a lead-in to Chapter 6, but makes its point well.
The sixth and final chapter, Advanced Marketing, delves a bit deeper into marketing tactics, with a particular focus on motivation and what the author calls the Motivational Pyramid, a perspective on motivating game sales by keeping track of a hierarchical structure of game factors. These are broken down into Macro Motivations (Competitive, Goal-based, Story-based, etc.), Micro Motivations (Rewards, Visual Response, etc.) and Constant Motivations (Sound and Sight). The chapter also covers Guerilla and Word-of-Mouth Marketing and includes a few brief thoughts about legal issues that ends with the always valuable tip: "talk to a lawyer."
...a good foundation for any Indie game developer to build upon.
The book concludes with a few pages about the author and those who helped the book along. What it does not include is an index, which would in my opinion help the book out a bit structurally. At times, the chapter, topic and subtopic headers get a bit confused, as the font sizes used for each are quite similar. Coupled with the fact that the layout is rather unvarying, and the spacing is a bit erratic on some pages, one can lose a sense of flow moving through the book. Some better organization, such as that provided by an index, could only help a reader along.
As mentioned earlier, the book has a definite "Indie" aesthetic, and neither the presentation nor the layout is polished to a perfect shine. To say "beauty is only skin deep" is only to get halfway to the point; with no graphics to speak of (but for a few tables) and a very spartan design, you can see right through the skin, down to the bone. The book's bones are solid, however, and they provide a good foundation for any Indie game developer to build upon.
The largest issue is probably the book's price point. Although I feel that the information within is certainly worth it, some readers might balk at the price tag for the 153-page book ($34.95 for a Paperback, and $27.95 for a PDF, at the time of this review). The author also apparently intends to include some form of downloadable updates for portions of the book; at one point, he explains that a list will "eventually go out of date, but like ALL of the resources in the book you can purchase a new copy of only the resources section (in E-Book form), fully up to date!". The frequency and price points for these updates remains to be seen, as the book is new and there are no updates available at this time.
Overall, the book provides a game designer with a solid foundation of several key marketing principles, with an excellent discussion of Search Engine Optimization and Advertising terminology standing out as highlights. Its Indie aesthetic may turn some potential readers off, but for those who can look beyond appearances, this may be a worthwhile investment for those who don't have the luxury of a Marketing department down the hall.
Samples of the book's first three pages and the table of contents are available at the www.indiegameguide.com website. The Indie Developer's Guide to Selling Games is available in PDF and print format, the latter through CafePress.