[ I wrote the article below for Wireframe, a British game dev magazine which ‘lifts the lid on video games’. And, inexplicably, lets me have a monthly column. This one’s from Issue #13, in May 2019. ]
This is an ode to organic indie streaming strategies. I’m confident Shakespeare will forgive me for the title. Firstly, he sounds like a hip kinda guy. Secondly, if streaming were a thing in Elizabethan England, he’d have been ALL OVER IT. Our closest gaming comparison is probably Lucas Pope in a ruff, and he doesn’t set up paid streams. He waits for influencers to come to him and simply gives them keys.
Bully for him, you might be thinking. Shame I’m not a multi BAFTA-winning genius. And that’s fair enough. It might take you a little longer than ShakesPope to tap into the ‘free’ streaming network, but if you put the time in and have a game that isn’t terrible, it’s entirely within reach.
Streaming is now the indie developer’s number one way to convert eyeballs to sales. It’s your most direct way to connect with consumers and their purses. People watch streams because they’re interested in games and because they like the person streaming. If someone’s watching a stream, it means they’re theoretically up for buying a new game, and they’re likely to be swayed by their chosen influencer’s opinion (hence the name). If you get an influencer genuinely enjoying themselves while playing your game, the marketing funnel you’ve been dripping consumers through suddenly gets a lot shorter.
[ streamer who likes your game ]
people who like your game
The way this worked for Cultist Simulator was simple but time-consuming. I drew up a list of similar games to the one I was developing, then went looking for streamers who’d played those games or similar titles. I reached out directly to offer keys, then repeated the exercise with YouTubers, Steam curators and whoever else I could think of. Once we’d seen a bit of pick-up, I started getting enquiries from streamers who’d seen other streamers playing it. We all watch our direct competitors to see what they’re doing, and so do influencers, too. They saw a bunch of people playing this weird game, and a bunch of nice audience response to it. So they wanted in.
In my experience, you can leverage this vast, unknowable community of photogenic game enthusiasts without a budget, so long as you put the time in. Time is something indies actually have. Anything that builds a community over the course of development is great for us. The author Roger Zelazny has an excellent phrase for this:
“An army, great in space, may offer opposition in a brief span of time. One man, brief in space, must spread his opposition across a period of many years if he is to have a chance of succeeding.”
And, you know, just replace the gendered language. It was the sixties.
I don’t believe that spending on influencers is the key to indie success. Influencers themselves are – but in an unusual twist in the natural order of things, you don’t need cash to leverage the system.