I recently got an email asking me to help a developer spread the word about the Steam Greenlight and Kickstarter pages for their game. They seemed to do many things right in their press release, referring to me by name. Keeping things short and sweet. But they managed to leave out one one major detail that influenced my decision not to write about them.
There was no information about their game.
Sure, there were links to the press kit and Greenlight page, but nothing in the body of the email itself said anything about the game. Nothing about the genre, the platform(s), the setting, the mechanics. Nothing to give me a hint as to whether clicking on that link to the press kit would reveal something of actual interest to me.
What they had instead were several heartfelt paragraphs about the importance of building a community around their game. Which is true. Fan and critic communities can make or break an independent game that relies on word of mouth and reputation to gain users and sell copies.
However, if you don’t have any idea of who should be in your community, you’re probably going to waste a lot of time and money trying to build it. Like these guys did by failing to explain why I should be in their community, beyond my general support of independent game developers.
Sure, it makes sense for Call of Duty to go broad and spam things that appeal to men 18 – 35 with advertising. They have the money and resources to do that. But most independent game devs don’t. So trying to appeal everyone, or a wide demographic like men 18 – 35, isn’t going to work for them. A better approach is to get as specific as possible about your desired audience and focus your efforts on just those people.
The best way to do this is to start breaking down what makes your game unique. What’s the art style like? What’s the music like? What’s the gameplay like? This can be purely descriptive or you can find other points of reference that are already popular.
If you need to, make a Venn diagram of the 3 or 4 most unique/appealing/descriptive aspects of your game, with the point where they meet being the game itself.
For example, if your game is a JRPG style game where all the characters are magical ponies with a heavy metal soundtrack, your diagram would look like this:
Meaning your ideal player is probably a brony who loves Slayer and grew up playing Final Fantasy. Granted, your game might not have such three distinct selling points, but it’s still a good exercise to narrow down who exactly your “ideal” audience is.
The other thing about this technique is that all those other point where the circles in your diagram meet represent further niches where you can focus your marketing efforts. In our example this would include metal loving JRPG fans, JRPG fans who love horses, etc.
So, while narrowing things down at first seems like it will be very limiting, it is in fact a great way to hone in on unique niches that other games aren’t targeting directly. And while it might take a little extra work to figure out where these niches congregate, it will mean that your efforts in building a community have a much greater chance of being effective than just throwing things out into the wild and hoping that someone bites.