Our top three tips for sustained indie mobile game success
What is an indie game?
An indie game, or an independent game, is a mobile game created by an individual game developer, or smaller development team, without a publisher’s funding. Indie game development benefits from fewer limitations, allowing developers to let their creative wings spread. However, they are also typically impacted by a more restricted budget due to the nature of their small size.
Why do many indie games fail?
As a result of a smaller budget, many independent developers do not prioritize their marketing strategy. They may not even have a dedicated marketing team, and the developers are unsure of how to best approach indie game advertising themselves. However, a poor marketing strategy is a leading cause of indie game failures.
Indie mobile game success stories
Luckily, there have been some notable indie game success stories over the years. Minecraft is largely considered the most successful indie game of all time. This originally small game even surpassed Tetris as the world’s most sold game in 2019. Angry Birds is another well-known indie game that saw great success, even landing two A-lister movies in its name. Angry Birds went on to team up with Minecraft to release an “Angry Birds mode”, complete with 4 unique missions and 10 character skins.
Other profitable indie mobile games include satirical puzzle game Little Inferno, eerie puzzle-platform game Limbo, point and click horror survival game Five Nights at Freddy’s, farming simulation game Stardew Valley, and endless runner snowboarding game Alto’s adventure.
There are many more indie triumphs in the mobile gaming vertical. Creating a thoughtful, well-balanced indie game marketing strategy is the key to success.
How do I get my indie game noticed?
Marketing from conception through post-launch is critical to indie game success.
Indie mobile game marketing starts earlier than you might think. In actual fact, marketing should begin before a game is even developed. You’ll need to take a running start by conducting market research to find out what types of games players are looking for and what they’re spending money on. Take note of:
- Negative reviews of popular games, or reviews with constructive criticism. Use these pieces of feedback to improve your own game.
- What content has been included on the app store pages of popular games.
- Monetization strategies of successful mobile games in your intended sub-genre.
Once you’ve got a strong grasp of the competition, choose a differentiator for your app. Will it be your game’s storyline? Will you incorporate visually stunning graphics? Or will you offer a unique feature? Now you’ll be ready to start developing. Incorporate what’s worked well for successful competitors, add in your differentiator, and seamlessly integrate a monetization mix that will be a good fit for your particular audience.
Then, use beta testing to improve your app before fully launching. Beta testing is a great way to start gathering testimonials ahead of a public release. You can plaster these everywhere: Your app store descriptions, on your game’s website and promotional landing page, in press releases, on your paywall, and on social media. Beta testing also allows you to iron out any flaws and get priceless feedback from real users in your target audience.
Finally, as you’re getting ready to launch, gather some assets together for the press, the app store, your website, and advertising. You’ll need both high-quality screenshots and video captured which highlight various stages of gameplay. Use these assets to publish a stunning web landing page close to launch so that the page has time to be crawled by Google’s bots and start ranking for search engine optimization (SEO) keywords.
Priority one is now your app store optimization. 65% of app downloads follow search, so you’ll want to take time and care in getting this right. Optimize your app’s name, description, and keywords, and make sure to tailor all of this copy to each app store; Google Play has different search volumes and rankings than Apple’s App Store. There are plenty of app store optimization (ASO) tools out there to help you identify the best keywords to include.
This is also a time when you really want to maximize your social media presence. Highlight your gameplay across visual and video platforms like TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram. Get involved in community forums like Reddit to answer questions, engage with the mobile gaming community, and feature your unique selling points.
Influencer marketing, however, is what will really boost your visibility. Independent developers may be hesitant to add influencers to their strategy due to the infamously large costs of high-profile content creators. However, what’s key here is to remember that a content creator does not need millions of followers to be an influencer.
Creators with smaller follower counts, but whose audience is both loyal and a match for your own target audience—also known as micro-influencers—are what you should look for. These creators are also likely to have fewer brand deals. As a result, their content won’t be over-saturated with sponsorships and promoted posts.
Your marketing work is not done after launch. Another highly popular indie-turned-mainstream mobile game, Among Us, experienced a meek launch in 2018. It wasn’t until summer of 2020 that the app began to see a notable climb in downloads. By September, Among Us had 60 million daily active players. Unfortunately, the app’s popularity has been declining, reaching its lowest average player count since July 2020 in March 2022.
This is a clear example of why it’s equally as important to continue to fine-tune your approach along the way as it is to develop a strong initial strategy. In fact, you will always need to iterate your user acquisition (UA) strategies, and take a data-driven approach to introducing new methods of keeping your existing users engaged while continuing to bring in new users. Fortunately, the more downloads your app accrues, the more data you will have to use to your benefit. Gone will be the days of educated guesswork from market research; now you’ll have actual results to help you test and learn.
For continued UA
Continue to feature positive reviews everywhere you can, and update them regularly. Encourage positive reviews at points in the user journey when a player is both least likely to be disrupted and most likely to feel positively toward the app.
In addition to updating reviews, regularly optimize your app store pages. If your app is experiencing a surge in success due to a current trend or on a specific platform, mention this in the description so that if consumers search for these terms, your app will be easier to find.
For existing players
You’ll need to keep your game continually engaging. Traditionally, this looked like consistently adding new levels to a game. Now, hybrid-casual games are on the rise and have brought with them a new standard for user engagement. Luckily, this new baseline is great for increasing UA, user engagement, and retention. The main takeaway from hybrid-casual games is to introduce varying mid-core features over time in the form of meta layers.
Boost word of mouth in single-player games with a social meta layer; leverage the commercial power of seasonality with limited-time game modes, character skins, or storylines; or introduce a home-base with an unlimited style of gameplay for your users to visit once they have completed all levels currently available. Ultimately, meta layers are another opportunity to test and learn to find out what works best for your unique audience.
Tips for indie game marketing on a limited budget
Marketing admittedly requires an upfront investment on top of the development of your app. Here are some ways that you can squeeze every penny out of your marketing budget.
- Automation: Save yourself time and money with campaign automation. Set rules based on your key metrics to automate budget and bid optimization. This will save you the manual time it would otherwise take to get the best return on your investment.
- Rely on unbiased data: When you buy ad inventory, it’s natural that those sources are going to want it to look like you’re getting bang for your buck. Simply put, they are not objective. Channels often display metrics in a way that presents them in a good light. This lack of consistency across channels can then consume your valuable time as you work to match up figures to get a like-for-like comparison for analysis. At Adjust, our solution Datascape will consolidate your data in one dashboard to give you an impartial view of your true campaign performance across channels.
- Proactively prevent fraud: Mobile ad fraud can eat away at your budget. Click spamming, click injection, SDK spoofing, and fake installs can lead you to misdirect your spend toward platforms that are not truly your highest performers. Make sure that fraud prevention tools are included in your tech stack.
All of these budget-saving methods can be achieved with the help of Adjust. We’ll work with you to get the best value for your marketing dollars.
Indie game success stories show that indie victories are absolutely possible. You’ll simply need to focus on developing a robust marketing strategy that grows with your app and partner with a strong mobile measurement partner (MMP) like Adjust to help take on some of the inevitable elbow grease.
Ready to launch your indie app? Read our guide on how to launch an app for more information.