This is really hard for a single developer, because we do not have much regular reason to return. I’d wager that if you are a regular visit to one of my sites you are either:
1) A reader of this blog. Hello!
2) A poster on my forums.
The problem is, you are never going to pop back to www.positech.co.uk in case there is a new game released, because it’s a 2 year release cycle these days. Eeek.
Because I am a wimp who prefers semi-regular income to sudden spikes followed by two years of silence punctuated by tumbelweed, I am happier if I get regular income from sales over time. Obviously that means I need a regular flow of new potential customers, and an ongoing healthy conversion of potential to actual customers. What ways exist to get this regular traffic?
1) Regular releases of new games. The problem here is you either have to make easy-to-make, small casual games that you can churn out regularly, or you have to expand big time and fund the creation of multiple big games with intertwined release cycles. I much prefer the latter, but it will be a few months before you are likely to hear me talk about that. And I have no experience of doing this yet.
2) Cross-sell affiliate games from other devs. I used to do this a lot, but in the end launched showmethegames.com instead. The problem is, it makes your website looks just like every other casual affiliate site and it stops reflecting your indieness. This is why I stopped it.
3) Build a community. Either through the game itself (MMO’s are a big win) or somehow through other means. Obviously a blog is a great help here, along with facebook and twitter. Youtube can even be a blogging site in some ways. The problem here is it all takes time away from game development. You can hire a PR guy, but the whole point of being indie is that you are close to your customers, so why hire someone to wreck that relationship? I screwed up a bit here on facebook. I didn’t know if I wanted my facebook page to be businessy or personal. I still don’t know, and I hardly ever bother using it now anyway, and almost feel like closing it. I do tweet a lot though @cliffski. Another win for me was the modding scene for all my games, expressed through the forums. Again, the trouble here is it takes time to support and encourage.
4) Spend advertising money. This is something I tend to default to. The main gain here is that it involves money but not time, and I am atrociously time poor. The downside is that it produces very marginal gains in profit. I feel it necessary to remind you that revenue is for ego, profit is where it’s at. If I quadruple the ad budge for democracy 2, I get an increase in profit of 6%. That’s still worth doing, obviously, but it’s also within the margin for error. There is little point in having huge sales, and admin hassles, and support costs, if you actually don’t end up making any more profit from doing so.
So what should the struggling indie do? Well it’s very very difficult. It depends on your strengths. The time-poor should maybe go with ads. people who like shorter smaller games should go with 1) people who love being online chatting 24/7 should maybe go with 3). I don’t have all the answers, I just know how I’ve muddled though this problem over the years.
The other solution is of course the ‘introversion’ strategy. You release games in sudden awe-inspriing bursts of sales-success that means you can finance effectively disappearing for years at a time. This is, after all the strategy of many AAA developers. I just find it a bit scary :D