For top-secret reasons, I’ve recently been looking at a bunch of indie game websites. Some are great, most are not. Some are laughable.  I’ve had an indie games site since 1997, and obsess over it’s performance. Here’s some things I think newcomers to indie game selling should take note of.

1) Show me a game. NOW.

I’ve arrived at your site. well done, that’s 99% of the effort done. But if you want me to skip a flash intro or hunt the screen for a button that says ‘games’ then I may well get bored. Check your webpage stats for people who arrive at the site but bounced out before even seeing a game name. That was money you just set fire to.

2) Show me a screenshot. NOW.

I know, I know. Your game isn’t about graphics, it’s about the fun! You need to engage the user in the fascinating story of your protaginist ‘klaude’ and his awesome backstory about when he was a small boy…<click> That’s another bored visitor. You need a screenshot, because that’s how people make an immediate editing choice about continuing further. I can tell your game is a high quality and colorful side scrolling 2D platformer within 2 seconds of seeing your screenshot. Quicker than I can even read ‘high quality and colorful side scrolling 2D platformer’. Screenshots are what get people to hang around and read about the game. You need them. Preferably lots.

3) Give me a demo and a buy button.

Preferably two of them. One at the top, so I can immediately skip to the demo if I like. One at the bottom, so when I’ve finished reading the blurb, I am right next to one. Use a big clear font, make it obvious it’s clickable.

4) If the game warrants it, add a video

Watching a 30 second youtube video tells me tons about what your game will be like as a player, at least initially. Video is often better than static screens, but it depends on the game. Kudos looks crap on video, so does democracy. Gratuitous Space Battles looks way way better. While we are on the topic, use youtube. Youtube works for everyone, and hosting is free. having some fancy java video player embedded in the site will go wrong for a non trivial percentage of visitors. Make sure you have a good reason not to use youtube.

5) Study your web traffic.

Which gets more downloads. This

or This?

I don’t know yet, but I will do in a weeks time. Yes, this sort of testing does make a difference.

6) Optimise

Go to googles homepage, look at the source. Holy lack of whitespace batman. That’s getting really anal, and I don’t bother much with the text, but try to be sensible with screenshots. Jpgs can very very often be reduced in quality and nobody but a computer can tell. Not everyone has fast broadband, and some are sharing it with other people streaming video or surfing other sites. Assume the worst, and make sure the filesizes are as small as possible. It takes just minutes to do this.

7) Don’t make it too short.

Is your game worthy of my time? If you can’t write two decent length paragraphs about the game, then I guess not. I guess you knocked it up in 10 minutes and have nothing to say on the topic. The screenshots get people to stay, but the text is what justifies to people that you should get their money. People making an adventure game have it easy here. By all means have some backstory, some concept art sketches and so on. If your game is a casual game, you are screwed on the PC selling direct anwyay, so assuming it’s a relatively hardcore PC game, there should be LOTs to say. make it look like your game is worth buying.

I know, some of the games on my site break these rules. But not the big ones. Not the ones that I promote, and that sell.

16 Responses to “why most indie game websites suck at getting sales”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by GameStreamer and @Leenygma @Chellemo, David Amador. David Amador said: Nothing new but always a nice reminder. "why most indie game websites suck at getting sales" http://bit.ly/9DeJ50 [...]

  2. Pike says:

    I don’t know if this would apply to your sites but Mozilla ran some small tests on their download page which were quite interesting:

    http://blog.mozilla.com/metrics/2008/12/04/the-download-button-drives-downloads/
    http://blog.mozilla.com/metrics/2009/06/19/firefox-is-green/

  3. Cap'n Lee says:

    Very interesting, i enjoyed that read

  4. Spliter says:

    Very interesting read.
    on a side note: as soon as I saw the download demo buttons I wanted to click the Download Demo (50mb), having that bit of extra info really helps especially since I consider around 50mb to be a standard demo size of a fully developed indie game (demos below 10mega seem like garbage that’s eventually gonna clutter my HD, while bigger demos are easier to find when I clean).

    I would also suggest adding either a news section or a blog on the front page,as it would show me that a game is still being supported so there’s always hope for a community and patches.

  5. kone says:

    Having CG which is not playable sometimes helps too.

    Interesting stuff – so green buttons get more attention?
    Green Gratuitous Space Battles – now with more code efficiency,
    promising more stable code and less energy needed…

  6. Bravo says:

    I love your posts man. Keep up the good work.

  7. Sean says:

    Hi Cliffski

    Considering quite a few people now use some form of Noscript and Adblock addons in their browsers would this not impact on the webstats you collect for your website? Or is it not that big a deal.

  8. [...] Cliffski with another great article, this time on some of the reasons why indies often struggle to sell their games [...]

  9. cliffski says:

    I’m not sure noscript is that widely used. So many websites actually need javascript these days that I’m sure most people must be showing up on analytics

  10. [...] why most indie game websites suck at getting sales [...]

  11. Andrej says:

    Very good read and very spot on!

  12. fhd says:

    Thanks for sharing all these insights, it’s really interesting for someone who wants to become an indie one day.

    One note about point 6: It’s ridiculously important to optimise your site as part of the larger enterprise of search engine optimisation, which I regard as utterly important. Your page’s load speed will be considered by Google’s page rank algorithm, which determines whether you show up among the top search results or not.

  13. [...] Cliffksi’s Blog — why most indie game websites suck at getting sales “For top-secret reasons, I’ve recently been looking at a bunch of indie game websites. Some are great, most are not. Some are laughable. I’ve had an indie games site since 1997, and obsess over it’s performance. Here’s some things I think newcomers to indie game selling should take note of.” [...]

  14. Matt L. says:

    Just a quick thought on your last point, I think people should also be careful not to go too long. Nothing bores me faster than a wall of text about a game I haven’t played yet. Especially in the Twitter age, brevity is incredibly important.

    Note, I said ‘brevity’ not ‘shortness’. The key is that on top of being ‘brief’ the text must also be descriptive. Lots of information in as few words as possible is the goal.

    The Minecraft website (minecraft.net) is brilliant at this. There’s a sentence of text, followed by a video, followed by another sentence and yet those two sentences smartly sum up the personality of the game with the video to add context. If the viewer wants to learn more they can click on the ‘About’ link, but even that page is smartly written.

  15. Sean (different one) says:

    Not that this matters in the same way, but I thought it was kind of amusing given the topic: if somebody ends up on a page like this one (a single blog post) from a link from somewhere else, there does not seem to be a link anywhere on the page leading to the blog’s main page. I have to guess the URL, or go out to the positech page and then find the “blog” link (which is itself hard to find because my font size makes it too large).

    Of course you’re not trying to sell anything on your blog, so it’s not the same thing.

  16. Jon says:

    Sound, a good read :)

    Regarding technical performance of web pages, I’d recommend checking out the exceptional website performance work done at Yahoo!
    http://developer.yahoo.com/performance/rules.html

    For example, number of HTTP requests a page makes will have much more of a bearing than whitespace — GZIP compresses whitespace so well (in fact duplicate bytes in the stream generally) it only really matters at the largest scale. There’s an excellent tool called YSlow to profile your pages, firefox extension or standalone app.

    As for Javascript blockers, they are used often due to bad flash movies (esp. ads) killing the browser performance. Non-JS users are a significant proportion of the users of Y! & Google, and a common guideline is not to use JS for essential functionality — but a Flash games site has little choice. As long as core site navigation, layout, forms etc work without JS then cool.