I’m going to put this bluntly. If you aren’t using YouTube to market your game, you’re doing it wrong. YouTube is currently the best marketing tool in an indie developer’s toolbox. Think I’m exaggerating? Strap in and keep reading, because I’m about to blow your mind.


Why Should Indie Developers Bother with YouTube?

Thanks so much for asking. Do any of these titles ring a bell? Maybe a few even incite a little success envy in your developer soul?

What do these indie games have in common? Aside from all ranking among the top selling indie games on Steam, I mean.

If you Google any them, one of the top results will be a video from Youtube. And more importantly, according to BuzzSumo, the most socially shared content related to any of these games are YouTube videos.

That’s right. I used up all of my free BuzzSumo searches for the day so you wouldn’t have to. You’re welcome. But what does that really mean for your marketing strategy? Simply put, it means YouTube is the number one social platform for game related content. It means your audience is already on YouTube, waiting for you to join them.


How About Some Numbers?

Sure thing!

JackSepticEye’s first Let’s Play episode of Undertale has more than 7.5 million views, and his first episode of The Escapists is not far behind, clocking in at just over 6 million views. Markiplier’s first Five Night’s at Freddy’s video has been watched more than 50 million times.

Do you have any idea how much it would normally cost to get your game advertised to that sort of audience? A lot. How much did it cost the developers to have their games featured on these channels? At most, giving away a copy of their game for free. Often times, not even that.

GameTubers present the extraordinarily unique opportunity to get free advertising for your game. GameTubers are paid by YouTube, not the people whose games they play. And they are always looking for awesome new games to play, because that is how they build their own audiences. The best kind of professional relationship is one that is mutually beneficial, and that is exactly what relationships between GameTubers and indie developers are.


But I’ll Never Get the Attention of Those Big Name YouTubers!

Not with that attitude you won’t.

You should still email them. You might be surprised how often they pick up games most people have never heard of. Like I said, playing awesome games that no one else is playing yet is in their best interest.

But, okay fine. Maybe you won’t be able to just shoot Markiplier, JackSepticeye, or Pewdiepie and email and get them to play your game. Obviously you won’t be the only indie devs with that idea, right? But there are tons of smaller GameTube channels that you can also reach out to. Google around and find a few who like playing games in the same genre as yours, and reach out to them. A lot of them will be just as excited to work with you as you are to work with them.


But If People Watch My Game, They Won’t Want to Play It

I get this fear, I really do. If your game is narrative based, like Firewatch or Oxenfree, it may feel a bit counter intuitive to encourage someone to play your game for the whole internet to see.

Brace yourself: another harsh truth is coming your way.

If someone sits down and watches a GameTuber play a narrative based game from start to finish instead of playing it themselves, they weren’t interested enough to play the game in the first place, despite the apparent benefits of actually playing games instead of watching them. If they were genuinely interested in playing your game, they would have stopped watching the Let’s Play as soon as they decided they wanted to play it and have bought it themselves. Personally, I do this all the time. I stopped watching Jack play Undertale as soon as I realized it was something I wanted to play. I still have yet to watch a single GameTuber play Unraveled because I know I want to play it myself first. However, I always watch YouTubers play horror games, because they simply aren’t games I’m interested in playing on my own.

But let me tell you a secret: having people uninterested in playing your game watch someone else play is excellent for business. Because even if it isn’t their thing, they might know someone who would love it. And they will recommend it to that someone. And that someone might just go ahead and buy it.


Anything Else to Consider?

YouTube allows for people to share their creations, their ideas, promote a product, and just about do anything as long as it’s in a form of a video. If you are adept enough in your execution of using YouTube as a marketing tool, you can connect with tens of thousands of people and possibly more, with features like direct one-on-one connection through a comment section and the ability to deal with queries pre- and post-release of your game. An important step, however, is to be active: if you choose to use YouTube, you must consider your subscribers. Creating content on a specific schedule base—at a frequency of about two to four videos per month—is key to a successful and active developer channel. Videos can range from trailers and developer vlogs to general behind-the-scenes of your project and even featurettes.


1. Content is the Essence of a YouTube Channel

Nowadays, it’s fairly common today for a developer or publisher to start up a YouTube channel to promote a new game, but sometimes I see companies either mismanage that channel or fail to use it to its full potential. I feel what is key is building up a viewership, creating content for them, and interacting with them as much as is possible for either community managers or head staff members themselves.

IO Interactive and Square-Enix ramped up their channel activity for the recent release of their episodic Hitman game. Being episodic, social networking and connection with the audience is very important. Their content focused on what was being released and also what was happening inside the game world and related events. So in the case of Elusive Targets, a video would describe certain details on an assassination target and players would have only that video as intel to complete the mission. Many other videos could be counted as special event related. Some videos gave the community a chance to vote for the opportunity to kill either Gary Busey or Gary Cole. Other videos included content as if it were pulled straight from the game world. For example, one was a music video made by one of the characters in the game. Coincidentally, this was a target featured on Agent 47’s hit-list.

Now it’s a much easier excuse to have an episodic game and post content along with it, but sometimes, a developer will go above and beyond to show they care about the people playing their game. Techland, the developers of Dead Island, started their YouTube channel specifically for their new game Dying Light. Their first video was their CGI announcement trailer, and shortly following that was gameplay. At first, their channel seemed like a basic promotional channel, posting trailers for the game, but as time went on they posted a lot more. The list of content ranged from developer diaries, dev streams, SDK tutorials, community events, behind the scenes videos, holiday themed videos, zombie makeup tutorials, and much, much more. The effort they put into the channel amassed a strong and active viewership with a decent view to comment ratio for many of their videos. People were constantly sharing and talking about the videos, and it gave the players confidence before and after the release of the game in how Techland managed pre- and post-release.

2. Streaming to Connect Closer with Fans

Streaming is a trend that has grown tremendously over the last six years. Using YouTube to stream is similar to using Twitch, only the difference being YouTube will backup everything to the channel that is being used. Sometimes a fan or general user will only want to ask a basic question, and since Twitch requires login, this can turn someone off and cut out any possible developer engagement with that person. Now, many community-heavy games will have a stream schedule of sorts and if not scheduled, they will be likely active on bringing stream content to the internet. I rarely view these types of streams myself, although my own personal experience engaging with developers directly was back when Lords of the Fallen was released. The developer held a few streams online and engaged with the people who were viewing. It was really great, as I was able to get answers to some queries related to gameplay-specific components of the game. The added bonus of being on YouTube gives the developer a greater engagement range with more people, with those people being able to directly comment to you whilst streaming content. Having backups of those streams allows for more people to see them as not everyone exists in the same timezone.


3. Viral Marketing

Viral Marketing on YouTube is an avenue some people use to get the word out there. There is a big risk factor with it though, because even though a video can stick and gain notoriety quickly with YouTube, expanding that will have less of a chance to work based on certain factors. These factors relate to execution and management. Execution of viral marketing can be related to how your video is edited whether it is clear like a trailer or vague like a mystery in which people will have no idea what it’s about until given more information. Management of the viral marketing will come down to if you are simply relying on YouTube and natural growth or if you will be able to spread the video through various other networks like Facebook or Twitter. Once people see a video, they will share that themselves, and those first handful of shares can lead to many branching networks that lead to exposure.

Dead Island’s Announcement trailer was extremely popular online, although it did not match the final product.


4. Indirect Marketing

This is likely the much more solid route to take when marketing on YouTube. Indirect marketing refers to giving out various copies of your games to known and or popular YouTubers. Now there are a few caveats to this and it comes down to an extremely careful choice: you want people that are 100% honest. Picking and choosing people that only give you a positive reception/review will not reflect what the overall audience may think, so you want an unbiased overview of what you have made regardless of the objective quality of your game. In the same vein as viral marketing, getting a person with a large following to play your game regardless of the opinions stated will give your game exposure in a much greater range than standard advertising. Time and time again, this has been proven to have a massive effect on game sales and interest for the game.

Tips for approaching a YouTuber

  • Catch their attention. They most likely get hundreds of emails a day.
  • Be brief and to the point in contacting a YouTuber.
  • Be personal and relevant. Show that you really want their input regardless whether it is positive or negative.
  • Explain how your game can be fun and entertaining to watch.
  • Link to any promotional footage that you have made yourself for you game.
  • Include a way to download the game, whether using a steam key or direct download.

Shovel Knight was able to get over funded with 20% of the Kickstarter donators originating from YouTube.

Sites like YouTube can be a powerful tool that you can use to your advantage. The best part is that it won’t cost you a dime to branch out onto YouTube. Having a way to connect to people directly will be a clear advantage, as it gives you as a developer not only insight on how to improve on development but also insight on your audience.

A huge shoutout and H/T to both Katie Conigliaro and Alex Cicala for writing all of this content originally!

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