How to promote an indie RPG?

Hey, folks,

I recently released my first indie RPG, Paranormal Affairs Canada. It’s a Fate-based game of paranormal investigation and monster-hunting:

I’m struggling to figure out how to promote it. I realize that by setting the game in Canada, I’m giving up on some potential market share, but Thirsty Sword Lesbians, Dungeon Bitches, and Coyote & Crow have all shown that a game can be made by and for a small demographic while still reaching beyond it.

So far, this is what I’ve done:

  • Posted about the game on Reddit and other online forums
  • Contacted a bunch of RPG sites and podcasts to request reviews or offer to run actual plays
  • Run targeted ads on Facebook

I’ve got an interview with one site coming and will be running an AP session for a podcast that was interested. But the majority of podcasts that do AP sessions charge you to come on their show, and I haven’t figured out if that’s worth the investment.

I’m selling the game digitally for $5.99 CAD, which is less than $5 USD, so I’m definitely at an attractive price point. But this also means that the amount I can spend on advertising is low. For an example, my first Facebook ad cost me about $0.29 per click, but I only make about $3.11 per sale, and most of the people who click the ad don’t end up buying the game.

What have you folks found is the best way to get the word out and find your audience?

Thanks,

  • Tom Hart
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I hear finding the right social networks for your demographic can save you time, and that time is a resource you want to save because presence on a social network is mostly handmade.
But I am not a publisher or anything, so this piece of advice is literally worth less than
2 cts.

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Unfortunately, word-of-mouth on Twitter can go a ways. I would also suggest cross-listing it on Itch.io just to get another market avenue.

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Thanks! I did share on Twitter for sure and I’ve got it on itch.io, though all my sales have been on DriveThruRPG so far.

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Maybe check out what was done for Beak, Feather, and Bone? I’m not sure what was done except for releasing it during the Kickstarter 'Zinequest last year but it’s gotten remarkable exposure for a tiny 'zine with very little marketing. I’m not sure it makes sense promoting it on The Gauntlet-Podcast but I have certainly heard a few. I’ve also seen broader but still indy appeal games like Stonetop (Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures meets Dungeon World do a kickstarter after hitting a steady level of blog reads as the initial design was decided and playtested. They are having a very successful Kickstarter now. One other thing I would suggest based on a friend who self publishes books regularly without an editor - make the game on loan or Free on a limited basis. Americans LOVE free stuff when it is only available for a limited time! You want to get these free copies out there so that those folks can be your sales force with a word of mouth campaign. This worked for many popular indie rpgs in the past. A number of them have also used the model where they sell their game very cheap but then always charge full price for campaigns or adventures.

One last idea: Run some games of it in Gauntlet gaming sessions. If people love it, it might get a free mention on the Gauntlet podcast.

That said, I’ve only followed successful campaigns, never planned one, so feel free to ignore my suggestions. It’s largely a mystery to me. I’ve just seen these ideas work in the past and thought any idea might be useful for brainstorming.

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Thanks, Deckard. I didn’t know about the Gauntlet gaming sessions, and that’s good to know about in and of itself!

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This is an excellent question and one we as designers often take into consideration a bit too late.

From my observations, it seems like slowly building an online presence beforehand is the most reliable way to build hype and market your game.

Deckard mentioned Stonetop and I think it’s a great example: before going on to make a 200k$ kickstarter, jason et al spent a good three to four years making excellent content in the form of homebrew world, FotF, etc. The community notices, I think, but it does take time.

As for your own game, I really don’t know. Have you tried canadian rpg groups on facebook and stuff? My experience is that folks tend to appreciate local creators as long as the “localness” isn’t ham-fisted. I’m not sure the gauntlet is big enough of a community to make much of a (financial) difference but hey, it’s worth a shot.

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What a big question. I like what you’ve been doing already, so my encouragement is to keep doing things like that.

And remember, that just like in physics, inertia is a terrible beast, and it takes all the effort and passion and et cetera that you fear it will take, and then some. Your game has to compete with a very flooded and (I wonder) post-peak indie game world. Even the most talented basketball player finds it nearly impossible to break into an even semi-professional arena.

That being said, you certainly seem to have the passion to break that inertia, so find ways to keep that up.

Create an online presence through all the medias social, Twitter, Twitch, Instagram, etc. Be known not just for your game but for your insight and passion to the hobby (or more narrowly, of FATE if that’s your angle.) Co-op by doing unto others as you would have, so you both AP for each other, etc.

I saw the link on DriveThru, but does it have its own page? Perhaps a subpage of your own “professional” presence? These days, it’s all about community and branding behind the brand. I don’t know how different that is in the indie rpg space.

Also, is 5 bucks too inexpensive? I say this as someone who is hippie enough that I would prefer to just give things out for free, but it’s paradoxically true that if it’s perceived as too cheap, that “it’s not worth it” and won’t be taken seriously. If any economists in the room can tell me I’m wrong, I’m happy to be corrected.

Truly being a publisher is its own challenge. Being a good designer is different than being a good marketer, manager, art director, and all the other aspects that goes into making “a game.”

You have acheived way more than many would be able. Congratulations! Maybe the hardest part of all will be patience and time required at this point.

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about “free stuff for a limited time” :
Scarcity marketing works. But it’s also unethical from my point of view.
That said, pricing too low cheapens a product, and the whole sector, post peak, flooded and all. So maybe to strike a balance : find at what price games for the same demographic are actually selling.

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If using scarcity to market a game is the worst thing I do in my life, I could probably live with myself.
:money_mouth_face: , but everyone has to draw a line somewhere. Meanwhile, using that strategy Tom doesn’t get paid for a while, which is a bit of a bummer.

I also thought of more suggestions where Tom can still get paid. I would make sure you get a review of Paranormal Affairs on rpg.net and rpggeek.com. I would also mention your game at every link posted at the Evil Hat Fate Community links. Discord seems like the place to find games online, and your game needs the Fate Community to buy in to the premise. I would also suggest running it a bit on the discord link.

If you try any of this and find it works, that would be awesome to know if I had any inkling of what I’m talking about lol

P.S. This game got 2 nice 5 star reviews yesterday on DRTRPG and you have the #3 spot in current
Fate sales so I think the momentum might just be starting to build.

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They say that the best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago. The second best time is today.

This is kinda true for game designer publicity too.

Most really successful games are a combination of luck (hitting the zeitgeist) and building an audience before launch. Getting on podcasts is brilliant, but as you’ve seen is really hard (there are only so many podcasts out there and they are choosy about what they present - and often they choose to present the things which already have some groundswell behind them).

Since it is a FATE game you may have opportunities to get involved with every place where FATE is talked about; getting people playing your game is key as well, so arranging online sessions is really helpful. While many conventions are virtual because of the pandemic you might find that this is your lowest bar to entry for getting people to try your game; I’d recommend signing up to run your game at conventions because every successful game gives you 4-6 more people who are likely to talk about it and possibly choose to run it themselves one day.

Cheers

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Thanks, Hades, posting to dedicated RPG groups is a good suggestion. Especially for Toronto and Winnipeg, since the book explicitly fleshes out the PAC offices there and I can talk about the local NPCs in greater detail than I could in an ad!

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@Deckard and @Alex, these are ALL awesome suggestions. Thank you.

Especially organizing games on Discord and online, since (a) that costs time, not money, and (b) it’s fun in and of itself, and gets me immediate community feedback.

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I’d like to push back on this a bit. There are a lot of rpg podcasts and they’re always looking for content. You might not be getting actual plays, bit if you’re willing to send out review copies, they’ll at least give you the time of day to see if they want to feature it.

My advice would be it costs nothing to ask for a feature. Even if it’s just a five minute mention, exposure compounds.

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Sorry for showing up late to the party but did you read Ashley May DM’s Guide to self promotion? it’s was meant for D&D and the DMs guild but the tips there are solid across the board.

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Thanks, Uri, I hadn’t seen that! What they wrote about Facebook ads is really interesting. Comparing the number of clicks reported by Facebook to the number of sales reported on DriveThruRPG, I can definitely see that most people who clicked haven’t bought the game (yet), and the ads have been a net loss so far.

Facebook makes it so easy to set them up and cap the amount you spend, though, that I’m not sorry to have experimented with them!

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You’ve all given me great advice! Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • I reformatted my PDF for print-on-demand dimensions and I’ve submitted it to DriveThruRPG. The profit margin there is significantly higher than a digital download, and I know there is a customer segment who prefers physical books.
  • I’ve started posting in various RPG groups on Facebook. So far I think this is more successful than the targeted ad campaigns, and also free.
  • I promoted the game in the Fate Discord server and offered to run an introductory game. I’m not sure how successful the introductory game is as a marketing tactic yet, but the opportunity to talk about it is valuable.
  • I managed to give an interview about the game which I think went well!

I’m starting to see a mild uptick in sales, so I think these have been working. I’ll see if it starts generating positive word-of-mouth.

Also, if any of y’all are interested in trying it, there’s still room for 2 players in the game I’m running: Saturday, May 1, 8pm–10pm EDT. Reply with your Discord username if you want in!

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First media coverage! Nathan Adler and I talk about the value of sensitivity reading with Andrew Girdwood of Geek Native: https://www.geeknative.com/130930/sensitivity-reading-what-does-it-do-and-does-it-make-rpgs-better-a-paranormal-affairs-canada-case-study/

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Copper seller status! Hurray!

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WHOA! I didn’t even see that. Thanks, Deckard, you made my day!

FWIW I have 53 sales. I guess that’s the magic number?

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