Jeff Hangartner – Revealing the Path Less Travelled in Video Game Industry

Jeff HangartnerJeff Hangartner, the founder of the gaming start-up, Bulletproof Outlaws has been a professional developer of games over the last half a decade. Creator of Pixelation, the 1st Pixel Art Forum and also originator of the Pixel tutorials which have been published in the form of a book. Jeff has always been a pioneer of the gaming industry.

CG Today is proud to present Jeff’s exploration as he shares the whole process of creating a start-up right from day 1. With the belief that gaming development is coming back to its original “one programmer in the basement roots” idea, Bulletproof Outlaws is chronicling every step of its start-up process from strategies, to marketing, setting goals and outsourcing, successes and failures. The aim is to help other developers who have ideas but are intimidated by the whole start-up process and are not sure how to go about it.

You can visit his website Bulletproof Outlaws to know more about him or send an email to get connected.

Lots going on these days but here’s the first article of 5, covering marketing as an Independent Game Developer! I’m just finishing editing the other parts right now, and then it’ll be digging out my iPad 2 to see if I can get Elusive Ninja running on it. I bought an iPad 2 like a month ago and it’s actually just been sitting in the unopened box collecting dust in my closet because I basically just bought it to test Elusive Ninja on it. I’m hoping the iPhone 5 doesn’t come out anytime soon, I can’t afford it!! haha I heard the screen was going to be bigger and go to the edges of the phone, I wonder if that means the resolution will change…that might be annoying from a gameDev perspective, so we’ll see what happens! Anyway, on to Article I:

INTRO

Hi, my name is Jeff Hangartner! Recently I started a small Indie game studio called Bulletproof Outlaws. I’m an artist working from home and outsourcing the programming, music, etc. I’ve just finished my first iPhone game – Elusive Ninja: The Shadowy Thief. It was officially released on June 6th, 2011. I’ve jumped into the wonderful world of marketing and I’m approaching it from a bunch of different angles and trying various marketing avenues out. I’m fortunate enough (and planned ahead strategically enough) to have some money to spend experimenting with marketing and I figure by sharing what I’ve learned, these marketing articles can help other small Indie Developers who can’t afford to waste money heading down dead-ends and trying experiments that might not pay off.

There are 5 marketing articles:

ARTICLE I – Social Marketing

Using word-of-mouth marketing via Twitter, blogging, forum threads, etc. to build awareness for your game, and a realistic look at the pros and cons of price drops and using microjob services.

ARTICLE II – Traditional Advertising

An in-depth look into the sketchy side of the industry that people don’t seem to talk about like buying downloads, paying for reviews, etc. Also covering traditional expensive marketing like banner ads and marketing agencies and ad services like AdMob.

ARTICLE III – Game Related & Maintenance

What to put in a Press Kit, using Press Releases, creating screenshots and trailers, etc. Plus how to efficiently maintain everything we’ve talked about so far.

ARTICLE IV – Psychology

How to survive the internal side of marketing as an Indie Developer and dealing with the stress of spending your money, watching sales figures rise and fall, making big decisions, handling critics and pushy marketers, and a big blunt look at how rampant iPhone App piracy is.

ARTICLE V – Optimal Marketing Plan

A summary of everything, condensed down into 36 steps from Pre-Launch to Launch Day to Post-Launch, that I feel make up an Optimal Marketing Plan for an Indie Dev with little to no money who needs to make sure every dollar spent counts.

ARTICLE I – Social Marketing

Where My Game Is At

No beating around the bush: Elusive Ninja is down to basically around 2 sales a day right now. The game itself is a good game, it just doesn’t have any exposure. The reviews from people I don’t know (obviously the first few reviews of any App on an App Store are the Developer’s friends haha) are all positive and I know the game looks great and plays good (I spent lots of time with testers tweaking the balance) and overall it has lots of polish. So I know I’m not working with a bad, low-quality product. Honestly, when I see someone saying “Banner ads don’t work!” and their banner ads were made in Paintbrush and they’re advertising a game with terrible art and unbalanced gameplay, my first thought is “okay, well it’s not that banner ads don’t work, it’s that your game sucks.” I’m also throwing in some knowledge based on other people’s experiences from other articles I’ve read along the way, and Developers I’ve talked to about the whole subject.

Elusive Ninja iPhone Screenshot

Understandably, you might be thinking “Wait, if your game isn’t selling, why would I bother reading your articles on marketing?” haha In these articles, I outline a lot of the mistakes I’ve made and why they didn’t work, so you don’t have to make those same mistakes yourself. I also break down efficient ways to use some of the marketing avenues you may be thinking of trying out, which I learned through trial and error over time. When you’re an Indie Developer, you’re already wearing a dozen hats at once as it is just developing your games. Throwing on maintaining a Social Media presence and running contests and price drops, writing Press Releases…it can all be pretty overwhelming and time-consuming if you don’t have a plan.

Theory

The summary: I’m an optimist, but also a realist. My Indie Dev side wants to believe that the right strategy can lift a game decently high in the App Store, but my logical side knows that expecting to pull off an Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, or Tiny Wings on your first go is a little overambitious. I think it’s possible for a Developer’s first game to hit big, but that you shouldn’t bank on that and that you should expect to approach things from a long-term “piling up” strategy that’s slower, but more solid.

Piling-up would involve stuff like building a brand name for your company, building an IP (your game’s look, characters, story, etc.) that people can become familiar with, cross-promoting your previous releases with your new ones, releasing updates for your game and re-marketing the major updates as if they were new releases, building relationships with the Press, with Gamers in general, other Developers, your customers, fostering a fan-base, rewarding loyal customers, encouraging word-of-mouth advertising, etc.

So while the first game might not do well at first, when the second or third game you release comes out, you can use that as an opportunity to get your first game more exposure or a new boost in sales, etc. The Internet has affected the way marketing works, especially the whole Social Networking concept…I don’t think that being a mysterious unknown anti-social Indie Developer in your shadowy basement is the optimal strategy these days. It’s the equivalent of being the totally impersonal huge mega-corporation that doesn’t interact with the “common folk”. Both of those CAN work, but they’re not really embracing Social Media. It’s kind of like when the Internet first became widespread and marketing consultants would tell companies “you have to have a website, everyone has a website these days! You don’t even need to have a fancy one, you just need SOMETHING out there!” Some basic participation in Social Networking is important. It takes some work, and it’s a slower strategy than just going “I’m going to buy a $5000 ad on the biggest game site on the net and cross my fingers and hope that I make jillions” but by building a Social Media presence you’re rolling a snowball down a hill and watching it build up into a much more reliable marketing avenue over time.



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