A tribe-friendly ecosystem for Indie games

When I started thinking about creating an Indie game, I also wanted to experiment using marketing techniques employed in our previous projects in a different environment.

What I mean by “marketing techniques” is a new approach to marketing as can be found mainly in Seth Godin’s writings, based on having a strong message  from the start, a notion of quality, transparency, and consisting in an intense dialogue with a specialized audience. It was comforting to find that there are people with experience in the game field that are pointing to evolving game marketing in the same direction: two examples follow.

Here I quote several authors, but of course the opinions here expressed are only mine, and quotes out of context may be misunderstood – read the full linked articles.

First example: What Games Are


In the website What Games Are, game designer Tadhg Kelly publishes excerpts of a forthcoming book.

Post of the marketing category analyze the current game market evolution, taking a perspective which is close to Godin’s, translated (and often enriched) in game marketing terms.

For example, he discusses the idea that having a strong product message should also mean articulating it in a marketing story. See for example the post You need a marketing story:

A marketing story is a tale that you tell to the influential people in your market, which they then tell to other people … Marketing stories are not an ad campaign, nor are they lists of features. Well-told marketing stories capture the imagination of the reader.

Second example: Chris Hecker on AAA Indie Games


In 5 Minutes Worth of Observations about AAA Indie Games, game designer Chris Hecker presents a style of Indie game creation, including marketing.

This is in the same line as above, encouraging to build a tribe of followers, and then follow all consequences.

As he puts it in short, the marketing idea is to create:

A Long-term Slow-burn Grass-roots Awareness-building Campaign

He provides three examples of Indie game developers that reached the market using this marketing style.

Tribe Storytelling

This approach to marketing I’ll call it tribe storytelling. Assuming this is the kind of “marketing” you want to do, it leads to the main question I want to think about here, that is:

Which is a good environment where tribe storytelling can be pursued for games?

Unfriendly environments

An environment that does not allow cultivating your tribe is unfriendly. Unfriendly environments have a master puppeteer who judges what should be most visible and what not, and/or have no real way to search and to get visibility through quality contents – Apple’s App Store is bad in both cases. I know that the App Store actually in a sense approaches consumers to purchases, but the point is that small Indie players have a ridiculously small opportunity to get to be seen there.

Similarly Facebook does not give any visibility to new games, or games with more contents.

Again I quote Tadhg Kelly, this time from Social Games vs Multiplayer Games: A Commentary on Raph Koster’s Social Mechanics Presentation:

This leads me to say that while social games and social structures are interesting in theory, Facebook’s visibility problem is discouraging that innovation from happening. The more that I work in the social games space, the more I think Facebook’s lack of dedicated editorial to assist discovery of interesting apps is a primary reason why many of the more adventurous ideas that Raph thinks should be there are not there.

The problem is that in Facebook you get visibility if you already have a game that has visibility, and that can lead the next, but how to enter the circle without large investments? Facebook does not have a visibility channel for applications.

Doron Nir in Socializing Casual Games (which is a great presentation generally) talks about “how to make social games successful”, and analyzes various Facebook social game mechanisms. He makes (end of speech) the case that if you rely on a closed platform, if you rely on a communication channel and then this gets closed (something that happened to his company), you are in deep trouble.

The idea of spreading your game by using Facebook or App Store as a channel to spread the word seems not to be working.

Friendly environments

The friendliest environment for tribe storytelling is… the web. At least as long as it remains an open environment (see The Importance of Net Neutrality),

Who is already doing tribe storytelling for games? Are there examples online? I asked this online on the GameDev Q&A site: Game sites that provide good community support for that game, and a good example I got is this:

image Wolfire Games, from GameDev:

A good study of the importance of constant, reliable and interesting updates for indie games in development

They post frequently and competently in game art techniques, programming, design, and more; they publish in several formats, blog posts, videos, even online comics. The built a tribe of followers, and they keep them and themselves entertained.

Theirs is definitively not the style of games that we’ll develop, but the “marketing” idea is the same.

I also believe that creating browser-based games puts you in a context which is particularly friendly to tribe storytelling. If you make your game somehow cross-browser, you are giving most of the people access, facilitating spread.

I am not confusing web presence with the channel through which the game is effectively served: my point is that one should be completely aware of not confusing the two. Overlaying them may come to your advantage only in the case of browser games.

What we have realized in other software fields is that if you send to the press a really original idea, you will get reviewed. But then visibility obtained through the press (which of course includes established bloggers) can be amplified and kept alive through twitter, community, blog, releasing and discussing new features and fixing bugs, different forms of communication, documentation, webcasts… . This makes sense if the readers have independent ways to find your contents.

What we did for non-gaming software, we hope now to do in gaming.

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One Comment on “A tribe-friendly ecosystem for Indie games”

  1. […] Pietro Polsinelli on what games are, indie games, tribe storytelling, unfriendly and friendly environments. How do you tell a marketing story? […]

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