Game development is challenging, but getting your game seen amidst a veritable endless buffet across multiple platforms can be just as tricky. How hard is it to get noticed these days? Here’s just a glance at what you’re up against:
One thing is certain — it’s now much harder to make your title stand out. But as games have continued to flourish, new ways for them to reach audiences have materialized. In particular, influencer marketing has emerged as a viable method to gain an edge over your competitors. Pitching your game to content creators on Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and other sites can lead to massive success if you know what you’re doing.
Let’s take a look at how small and mid-sized influencers can help boost your game to commercial success.
When evaluating influencers, we typically compare spheres of influence — the total sum of their outreach. We can quantify this by follower counts, total views, likes, and shares. The larger these numbers are, the larger their sphere of influence becomes.
When looking for influencers to promote your game, those with followings of roughly 100,000 or less should be your target demographic. This level is referred to as “micro-influencers,” but they are anything but small. These follower counts and influencer tiers can fluctuate by platform, but this chart breaks down the general relationship between the different levels on YouTube.
Image courtesy of Mediakix
As a developer, you might wish to pursue top influencers. These include some of the biggest household names in the world; think social media stars, sports greats, and even organizations.
You should understand that these influencers are much harder to approach — and secure a partnership with — than the smaller content creators we’re talking about. They are usually inundated with requests, making it easy for your message to slip through the cracks, and they will most certainly be expensive to work with.
With this in mind, it’s probably not worthwhile to pursue a relationship with significant partners like Ninja or Shroud. Indie and mid-tier developers will find that smaller influencers are more targetable and easier to engage. Plus, price is crucial when you’re just getting off the ground.
Image courtesy of Branch & Bramble
Influencers can rapidly vault your game to popularity with their endorsement. While smaller and mid-sized content creators might not have the largest following, you will quickly discover that there is much more to promotion than just follower counts.
Compatibility is everything. You can pursue partnerships with any small to mid-sized influencer, but finding the proper fit is necessary. You need to dive into each influencer’s content, presentation style, and audience in order to decide if they will be a good match for your promotional efforts.
Choosing the wrong influencer can be detrimental — especially if your budget is small. Say you focus on an influencer who seems like a good pairing, but without proper research, you might discover that they posted offensive material in the past or that they tend to hate the type of game you’re releasing.
For starters, you’ll want to seek out influencers who play games similar to yours. You also want to avoid creators (and audiences) who only enjoy major, AAA titles, unless you think your title might resonate particularly well with them because of a game they have played in the past.
The proper fit can generate much more buzz around your title. Influencers who click with your game will share it online and spread the word to their audience, who will in turn tell their friends about it. A particular influencer’s opinion may just be the nudge that gamers need to try out your game!
It is essential to do this legwork and choose smart, because targeting the proper influencer, or influencers, can sharply heighten the impact of your promotion. That will lead to more clicks, downloads, and optimal conversion. Picking the wrong content creator could result in monetary losses and setbacks.
There are two things that the smaller influencers you work with need to possess: trustworthiness and relatability. We can liken this to a business — especially since creators have become revenue engines for themselves, and for many of them this has become their livelihood. Earning influencer status has become an exercise in branding, where audiences are the consumers.
What does that mean for your game? Perception directly impacts an influencer’s pull. Edelman’s 2019 Brand Trust Survey echoes this: 63% of consumers trust influencer opinions more than what brands say about themselves. That’s not all — 58% of people have made a purchase in the past six months due to an influencer’s endorsement. Respondents all claimed that relatability was twice as important as popularity when making these decisions.
Those statistics are vital as you vet your influencers. Look for those who have established tight-knit communities, as small to mid-sized influencers often do. This ingrained trust will go a long way towards popularizing your game because when you build a strong relationship with those influencers, their audiences will trust you more as a developer by proxy.
Image courtesy of eMarketer
Game development and promotion occur in stages. In the early days, you’ll probably want to stoke the hype with teasers and pre-orders. So how do we adapt this to the influencer marketing model?
As an indie developer, you need to get a little creative — television commercial slots are most likely out of reach, as are expensive campaigns launched by agencies. Influencers can help close this promotional gap. Be sure to supply them with gameplay clips, screenshots, detailed information, exclusive material, and more. Giving audiences this sort of sneak peek is an easy way to build excitement.
Smaller influencers are more likely to give robust shout-outs. You can share what the game will include, launch dates, and the unique edge it has over other titles. Your influencer can then relay these key points to their audience. Because these influencers are at the micro level, it will be easier to dictate the presentation of key talking points. Their audiences will care more, and they’re likely to devote a more significant chunk of time to your content as a result.
The big day is here! Your game is available to the masses, on whatever platforms you’ve released on. Now is the time to really leverage your influencer connections and ignite interest. Just like during pre-launch, your smaller influencers should be more willing to shine the spotlight on your game. Should your title catch their audience’s interest, your sales numbers will increase.
You should have access to better videos and screenshots when launch time rolls around. You’ll also know the main plot points, gameplay features, and future roadmap points with certainty. These are things your influencer can share with their audience to help get them engaged in the game.
Some games cost money, while others are free. If you charge up front for your title, you can share discount codes through your influencers, because people love getting a deal and you can ride the positive momentum to great popularity. If you use the free-to-play model, consider a special discount for your influencer’s audience, or give away a unique or promotional in-game item to them.
View counts typically spike during the periods when new games start trending, and potential gamers will be raring to secure a copy. YouTube’s algorithm tends to elevate videos based around these trends, which will draw more and more eyes to your title. The same thing can happen on Twitch, where being in the top charts for viewers starts a cycle that brings in more viewers for your game and more revenue for your influencers.
Let’s use an example of working with influencers. Suppose we have created a great roguelike game with card battler elements, perhaps something like Slay the Spire. We plan to release the game on Steam in a couple of weeks with a marketing budget of $5,000. What will we do to promote the project with the help of influencers?
Step 1: Define the goals. Do we need to attract potential buyers or increase visibility? For Steam to support our project by keeping it high on the list, we need to maintain the traffic flow to our page at a fairly high level. Thus, at the very beginning, the number of clicks will be more important than the number of purchases.
Step 2: Form a list of potential participants. We find streamers that are not only relatively popular at the micro-influencer level, but who also match the target audience of our game and meet other requirements. For example, they should avoid obscene language and have an open mind. A fairly large number of streamers grab their audience with their shocking behavior or by mocking games, finding any imperfections and shortcomings. Despite many views, these figures are not our customers.
Important features of more suitable influencers include:
Based on these parameters, we would conduct a search among the pool of influencers, using specialized sites like SullyGnome or marketplaces like BuzzGuru. Often, you can also get good results by searching for your competitors’ games on YouTube.
Step 3: Prepare materials. It’s not enough to provide an influencer with a game — you need to help them make the story attractive and informative. Prepare art, game logos, a couple of videos, and text description that contains the most important project features (or fact sheet) so that he can work comfortably. If you can give them some in-game currency or a premium account or in-game items, use this opportunity so that the influencer can speed up their walkthrough and see as much content as possible.
Step 4: Choose the format and price. Small influencers usually have a very flexible pricing policy — they put satisfaction from the process ahead of monetary rewards. Thus, do not shy away from bargaining. Sometimes, you can offer several dozen game keys so that they can organize a raffle — for the influencer, their audience comes first.
Step 5: Specify the format of your placement. If it’s a stream, you should know when it will go live and its duration. If it’s a YouTube video, you should know the exact format and when it will go up. Once you agree on a price, do not forget to put all your terms on paper. Usually, small influencer rates range from $200 to $500, so our budget allows us to count on 15-20 placements — great!
Step 6: Don’t pay in advance! Pay only after the work is done. Influencers are not press, and they often lack discipline. You could end up paying for a video that comes out two weeks after your game releases… or not at all.
Step 7: Support the video. Ask the influencer to support their video by announcing it or mentioning it on their social media accounts. While this may seem like no big deal, it can provide you with an additional 20% increase in views. Do not forget to do your own work as well: announce the streams, create buzz about the released videos, and try to increase the number of viewers as much as you can on your own social media channels.
Step 8: Don’t forget about the links! UTM links are a must — you should evaluate the effectiveness of each of your partners and track whose audience is the most suitable for your goals.
Step 9: Analyze your results and compare them with your goals. Analytics are crucial. How did the videos perform? Who was the most effective? Why was it the most effective?
Step 10: Wrap it up. Be sure to thank your partners for their hard work and pay them. Then, start planning your next campaign.
We live in a culture of saturation, where we’re constantly overwhelmed by options. Navigating those unclear waters can be challenging, especially when so many developers leave gamers to hunt down information on their own. These developers aren’t promoting their titles — they’re just relying on luck for the most part.
In our digital age, connecting with audiences is a must. Studies show that influencer marketing is highly effective, and people turn to them for guidance on a number of topics and products. Smart developers have recognized this trend and capitalized on it. Getting your game over the hump might be as simple as reaching out and getting things started. That could make all the difference in the world. You worked hard — now share your creation far and wide.