Pre-orders are an underutilized lifeline for indie developers. The block of time before a game’s full release presents a prime opportunity for building awareness, establishing a community, forming relationships with influencers, and bringing in early-stage funding, all of which can be critical for sustaining a project during the development cycle.
Timing is important when it comes to maximizing pre-order effectiveness. Getting started early and building sufficient momentum are the keys to success. Most indie developers report 15-28% of their total pre-launch sales are made just on the first-day pre-orders are made available. This can be the only thing that separates a successful project from a failed one, which is why you should make time to establish a pre-order pipeline so you can take advantage of this, as well.
Pre-orders have been part of the gaming industry since the 1980s. Back then consumers used them as a way to guarantee their copy of a physical product as soon as it was available. Demand could easily overwhelm the supply, but with a pre-order in place, they knew they wouldn’t be left out in the cold come launch day.
Digital media means supply issues are rarely a problem today, but pre-ordering is still a useful practice for consumers and developers. Players see them as a way to score exclusive extras, get pre-launch discounts, and support a game they’re eager to get their hands on. Developers can use the opportunity to offer unique goods as well as take advantage of early-stage community building.
Thinking of the pre-release period as quiet incubation means skipping over a crucial first step. Between 20-30% of a game’s first-year sales are made up by pre-orders. Don’t be shy, share your game early and take advantage of the benefits a good pre-order campaign can offer.
It’s never too early to roll out your first pre-order campaign. Use the timeline below to get your materials and release plan in order, then throw open the gates and make it official.
First, make sure you have a dedicated launch page. This is one of the most important early steps, as it provides a stable location interested visitors can stumble upon when searching for your game. A good launch page serves as a community hub for all news, media, and discussions. It’s also a prime location to host your own set of ‘Buy Now’ buttons.
Now you’ll want to decide on the details of your pre-order campaign. Some developers are perfectly happy leaving their pre-orders as a straightforward one-off price to get the full game. Others provide founders packs or other exclusives to incentivize early purchases. Below are a few ideas to help inspire you:
Create exclusive goods that can only be obtained through pre-orders. Character skins, maps, in-game items, or whatever is appropriate for your game.
Have multiple pre-order options available, including collector’s editions, standard buy-ins, and founders packs.
If you plan to offer DLC or subscriptions, consider a season pass that will provide a discount for long-term buy-ins.
An easy solution for setting up both a launch page and sales platform is to use Xsolla’s integrated toolset. With this self-run solution, you can prepare packages for other digital distribution platforms and place links to every outlet on your landing page.
Now you’re ready to begin the marketing phase. Your goal here is to make connecting to your team and buying the game a zero-effort experience.
Following these steps will help you build as much potential velocity as possible. Whip the masses into a frenzy, become a champion of all the unique experiences your game will offer. Monitor your site’s analytics closely to see which sources readers come from, then communicate with those influencers and publications to build strong relationships with them.
There are plenty of other things you can do to promote your game, as well, from search engine optimization to traditional advertising and social media awareness campaigns. Be willing to try just about anything during this phase, you never know what will work until you give it a shot.
You’ve hit the switch, your game is ready to pre-order. Put on a pot of coffee, this will be a busy few days. If you’ve built enough awareness you should see a huge influx of traffic. More than 50% of the visitors will be seeing your page for the first time, so make sure your landing page and ‘Buy Now’ buttons are as attractive and easy to use as can be.
Not everyone who stops by will place an order, which is normal. This doesn’t mean they are not or never will be interested in buying, however. To pick up these stragglers, keep that mailing list box just below your pre-order buttons. Even if someone is mildly intrigued by your game, you can get their information and let them know about major events, prompting a purchase at a later date.
To make the initial push as strong as possible, be sure to send out press releases on the first-day pre-orders are available. Hit up social media outlets with the announcement, and contact any outlets you worked with before, as they’re the most likely to publish follow-up announcements.
After the initial rush subsides, pre-orders enter a dead zone where things finally start to calm down. This is analogous to the post-holiday shopping season where workers sweep up all the debris from the rush of purchases. Expect sales to slow down, but don’t take it as a sign of doom and gloom.
The pre-order lull will last until about a week before you launch the game. Use the time to work on your game, but also keep your marketing efforts going to help build an audience and keep pre-order sales from dwindling.
About 7-10 days before your game launches, prepare for another big marketing push. This will be the players’ last chance to get in on pre-order discounts and exclusives, so make sure you keep founders packs and the like easy to buy. Utilize those e-mails you collected earlier to send out a notice that pre-order discounts will end soon, as the full release is nigh.
Traffic will spike once again during this pre-release window. Repeat the marketing steps you took before, and don’t hold back. This is your next best chance to build hype, increase your audience, and earn a new revenue spike. Make it count.
One of the biggest reasons indie developers skip the pre-order phase is due to time. It takes too long to set up landing pages and storefronts, not to mention coming up with all of the marketing strategies needed to take advantage of this push. Why bother with all of that when you’ve got a game to create?
Xsolla exists to make running pre-order campaigns as easy and painless as possible. The Site Builder tool allows for fast click-to-create landing pages, complete with custom distribution platform integrations and the ability to create your own sales button. Xsolla also offers the Partner Network with access to over 650,000 influencers to make the outreach and marketing phases as painless as possible.
Want to see a success story? Atomic Heart developer Mundfish partnered with Xsolla and had a full-featured pre-order campaign up and running in just two days.
Get your pre-order campaign started today! Schedule a call with a monetization expert at firstname.lastname@example.org