It’s not easy being indie.
Many of us in the industry may see the indie development sector as a source of interesting and new games, but according to James Mardsen, director of Brighton-based indie FuturLab, this isn’t true for the wider gaming audience.
There’s an indie stigma. Indie games aren’t worth your time, apparently,” he tells MCV.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. If gamers don’t want to play it then journalists don’t want to write about it because it’s not going to drive traffic to their sites. It’s not in their interest to cover indie games apart from the ones that gather traffic – such as the successful Kickstarter campaigns.
You can’t rely on making a good game and having people write about it. There are tonnes of new releases coming out every day that are really good, and which teams have spent ages working on.
Indie is a buzz word if you are on the business side of the industry. If you’re a journalist or a developer you’ll know about these games, but if you look outside of the bubble you’ll see that the majority of comments are just flame about the fact that Sony is just promoting indie releases.”
The solution? Be as controversial as possible. Earlier this year Marsden wrote a post for the PlayStation Blog in which he declared Velocity 2X as ‘the Game of the year’. And it got people talking.
We are very confident with the game – whether it wins Game of the Year I have no idea. Unless you come out and say something controversial people don’t notice you. But it created a lot of buzz on forums and got gamers talking,” Marsden says.
We needed to come out and say something brave just to pique people’s interest and to make a challenging statement and get people playing it to see if we’re right or wrong. Even if it gets panned in reviews the job will have been done by making that statement.
"Unless you come out and say something controversial,
people don’t notice you."
James Marsden, FuturLab
It’s these kinds of guerrilla marketing tactics that FuturLab has been using to push the game. Another was drawing Twitter avatars of some industry members.
We have three artists working on Velocity 2X – a character artist, a background artist and one for visual effects,” Marsden explains.
When you look at what we can possibly do on the cheap in terms of marketing, we saw the quality of the character art of this one chap and thought we should draw some people on Twitter – most people have a picture of their face on profile. So we decided to draw [president of Sony’s worldwide studios] Shuhei Yoshida.
We’ve built a relationship with him and he really appreciates what we do. That gives us a platform to reach out. We thought if we’d draw Shuhei that might go down well and it did. So we drew a bunch of other people. Then we decided that we’d try and get some YouTube Let’s Plays out, so we approached PewDiePie. Unsurprisingly he’s very busy and really hard to get hold of so we decided to draw him. That single retweet continues to bring us followers today and that was a few weeks ago. That man has an phenomenal amount of influence on Twitter.
And then there was the interview with Yoshida where he said he didn’t know why the PS4 was selling so well. By that point we had [SCEE boss] Jim Ryan drawn and [SCE CEO] Andrew House, as well as Shuhei and [strategic content for SCEE] Shahid Ahmad, too. So we thought let’s get those four avatars on an image and have Velocity 2X’s Kai asking why PS4 was selling so well (pictured above). That got retweeted by Shuhei and everyone enjoyed that because we’re using our Scrappy Doo overconfidence to raise awareness using a bit of humour.”
He concludes: There’s not a lot you can do as an indie dev. The Holy Grail is making something that goes viral. We just focus on the strength of what we’ve got, which is the quality of the art style.”