I was rambling to someone a few days ago about advertising and risk, and something hit me about indie attitudes to risk and promotion.
I know a lot of indies who never do any advertising. I don’t mean word-of-mouth promotion, tweeting, updating facebook and sending people press releases, that’s PR, it’s not advertising. I actually mean paying for banner ads, and search advertising, and even print or video adverts. For most smallish indie teams, the advertising budget is zero.
it’s easy to work out why. Advertising often seems to give a low Return On Investment (ROI). You can do your best to measure it’s effect, using tracking cookies and lots of charts and graphs. I do a lot of that myself, and just about manage to be sure that I am getting a small, but measurable ROI. The problem is that it only really works accurately for your direct sales. if you run $1,000 of banner ads on www.randomgamessite.com. and then track 500 visitors from clicking them to your site, and then witness 50 sales and calculate it as $1,000 then you know you got your money back. The problem is, if steam + impulse + gamers gate is 80% of your sales, you might be ‘losing’ a lot of those potential buyers to those sites, and be selling extra copies but not knowing it. All stats checking can do is tell you people left the site, not if they then bought elsewhere.
Theoretically, you can work out the proportion of your customers who buy direct, and use a multiplier that implies that the other visitors did buy. So if 80% buy elsewhere, and you got 20 sales, you can infer 100 total sales. You then need to take into account the publisher cut, so those 80 portal sales are really 56 or so direct sales. Plus you don’t get the email address, they are probably ‘worth’ 50 sales… I digress…
Now if you read this blog a lot, you will know all this. What I’m basically saying is ‘the ROI from advertising is difficult to calculate’. And on that basis we can all forgive all those indies who never advertise.
But hold on….
Most of the non-advertising indies are passionate believers in Expos, conferences and trade shows. They attend them all the time, with promotional T-shirts, big projection screens, multiple PC’s, lots of leaflets and demo CDs. I haven’t heard of anyone giving away home-made cookies on their expo stand yet, but they should do…
You can tell my argument from here I’m sure. Tracking a sale from a banner ad is really HARD, and vague, and ultimately you kinda have to ‘have faith’ in the power of advertising and be prepared to spend $10,000 on it before you can really tell if it’s going to work for you. Sound scary? Tracking a sale from giving out a free T-shirt at an expo is really ++++HARD v 2.0 with extra bacon and double cheese, and by the time you factor in your plane tickets, booth hire, pc hire, power surcharge, t shirts and cookies, you eat through $10k just as fast.
So why do indies, (especially the more hip and young indies) vastly prefer expos and networking over advertising? I think it’s down to the ‘feelings’ associated with them. Advertising is something big evil corporate people like EA do. Something old-school. Old-fashioned and for people stuck in the past. Expos and shows are for the young and trendy people who are undermining the system from within. It’s cool. Indie Game: The movie had some footage of fez at expos, it was cool. They didn’t show them setting the budget sliders on an advertising campaign. That would not be cool.
But I ask you, does it matter how a promotional technique ‘feels’, or does it matter how well it actually works? Advertising is much more controllable. How many people from the UK have seen your game at the Expos you attended? How many from Spain? Did you pick the date of the expo? And so on…