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Ditch the press, pay Facebook: one indie’s small scale experiment on promoting his game

Ditch the press, pay Facebook: one indie’s small scale experiment on promoting his game

Ryan Creighton has been beating the street to promote his upcoming game Spellirium. He’s been posting developer diaries, fun videos, and reaching out to the press. The reaction has been less than enthusiastic. Then he tried something different: Promoted posts on Facebook.

While his experiments thus far have been limited, the return on investment has been great. We exchanged e-mails for a bit to discuss this strategy, and the lack of return you get from being covered by large sites. The results are interesting.

Kotaku ran the story! But wait….

Creighton walked me through the response to his videos.

“Posting and promoting these videos every day has been a LOT of effort.  The very first one got picked up by Kotaku and has had over 6000 views. The rest get about 30-70 views,” he said. “All told, all videos - even the Kotaku-promoted one - have accounted for sixteen click-throughs. As I said this morning on Twitter, I would have been better served getting a job at minimum wage flipping burgers, and then spending that money on ads.”

This sort of standard PR simply doesn’t work for many games. Tom Ohle of Evolve PR recently shared some stats from a recent game he was promoting.

“Dear all developers, some scary press stats. 30% of press opened trailer announcement email, of which 12% bothered to watch it,” he wrote. It’s hard to get the attention of the press via a standard press release, and even if the small number of press who opens the trailer covers it, the response is minimal.

Creighton has had what seems like success with the press, but it’s not turning into sales, or any attention to the game itself. “I've had articles on Kotaku, Polygon, Joystiq, Gamezebo, JayIsGames, RockPaperShotgun, and on and on,” he said. “I can say definitively that for this niche product, broadly-focused video games press has been a waste of time. The Joystiq article, for example, resulted in nine click-throughs.”

Other ways of getting the word out may have been more effective, but they’re hard to count on. “Jerry [Holkin's] tweet was much appreciated, and the Tim Schafer and Mojang tweets were both great,” he said. “But it's tough to compel famous people to tweet about something, you know? That's just serendipitous.”

So what’s next? He turned to Facebook.

Promoted posts

He told Facebook that he would spend $15 on promoting the game, and he put together the following post:

Spellirium is a trashpunk comedy adventure game. Solve puzzles by spelling words in an eye-poppingly gorgeous ruined fantasy world filled with monsters, mystics and magic.

There are 4 days remaining for our Pretty Decent Voiceover fundraising goal for Spellirium! We're at 78%. Help us get there! http://spellirium.com/

The image that goes along with the post has a character with large eyes, because Creighton was once told at GDC that 2DBoy had good success getting people to click on images with large eyes. You had better believe this was a scientific experiment.

At the time of our conversations, Facebook told him that he’s spent $5.30 to reach 1,466 people, leading to 25 people visiting the site. He’s made $195 since the campaign began.

“I don't quite know how to measure visits against sales, but that $195 is definitely a boost from the $15-30 I was averaging in the days before I began promoting,” he told the Report. In other words, even at this lower level, promoting posts on Facebook has given him a much higher return on investment than being talked about on some fairly major sites.

He’s going to try buying some targeted Facebook ads next, and he’s had people tell him that Reddit ads have an even better return than Facebook ads. He barely understands how any of this works.

“Honestly, I don't quite grok the wizardry behind it.  Are they showing my post in the feeds of friends of friends of people who Like the Spellirium page?” he asked.  “If I promote a second post next week, is it going to show up to all the same people, or to different people?  Marketing types say that for a brand to stick, people need to see something 9-12 times in a favourable light. Is a Facebook post a favorable light?”

These are interesting questions, but it’s turning $5 into $195 isn’t a bad deal.