Being an independent developer is as rewarding as it is challenging! Being able to be creative on your own terms is something to be envied, for sure, but with that comes a lot of responsibility and struggle that, as a contracted developer, you usually don’t have to worry about. Or rather, somebody’s job is to worry about that, while you focus on development.
One of the main issues is visibility. Ever since the Apple Appstore exploded around a decade ago and gave way to a new, massive wave of super-creative independent developers and studios, it has been a growing struggle to find ways to give visibility to your games or projects. I thought I’d write a little post about what you, as a player, could do to help support your favourite independent developers.
Buy their games
Fairly obviously the main thing you can do is to purchase their games. Even pre-purchasing can have its merits. On certain platforms pre-sales go towards the first week sales on release, which could significantly boost the visibility of the game but pushing it into sales charts. Once a game hits the charts it automatically becomes more visible, leading to more sales, etc. This is an enduring paradox in game publishing: the better a game sells the better it sells. But to reach that first bump to make the ball roll is quite difficult!
Plan to buy their games
On Steam you can “wishlist” a game you are interested in buying once it’s released. This all helps towards metrics and visibility once the game is out. Wishlisting, as well as other types of pre-sales can also show a publisher that there is strong interest in a game, pushing them to pour more money into marketing and other avenues to help the game reach even greater heights.
Leave a review
Not every platform allows for user reviews, but some do and it is super-important for developers that you do leave one! Not only is this a great way to communicate to the developer what you feel about the game, it really helps the game gain traction and visibility on the platform. And believe me, most developers welcome honest, constructive feedback on their games!
The Nintendo Switch doesn’t have any interface for players to leave reviews, but those players could use websites such as Metacritic and leave a user review there, for example. Different gaming portals too have their own user reviews for games. It’d be much better for both players and developers if the route to reviewing the games was quick and smooth, but alas, developers like myself are often asking players to go through extra steps, which is a shame.
Spread the word
Aside from the above there are little things you can do to help out. Talking about the game on social media, or by posting screenshots (a really handy feature built into the Nintendo Switch), really helps towards visibility. Aside from all the marketing, press and PR work the message of a game sometimes still doesn’t reach all the ears it needs to, and by amplifying that message you can help spread the word.
I have been extremely privileged to have players who love the Piczle series or specific games in it, and have done awesome work tweeting about it! Sometimes they tell their friends to check out a Piczle game, or respond to outlets’ tweets asking for their favourites. Not only do those tweets make my heart swell with pride, it also really helps spread the word.
Talk to the developers
A lot of developers, like myself, have a pretty open-door policy towards approachability on-line*. I love hearing from players, I massively appreciate bug reports, I even humbly accept criticism. I know my games can’t and won’t appeal to everybody but if I make mistakes or forget or ignore features that annoy would-be players then I like to hear about that. I can’t act on everything I’m told, but generally it all helps improve my attitude towards my games and future development. Your feedback helps makes the games, and future games, better.
* * *
Spreading the word isn’t the players’ job, of course. However, not every developer has a budget for effective advertising and relies a lot on reviews, user reviews, word of mouth and general excitement surrounding their game to be visible to a wider audience.
* I am aware that I occupy a very privileged majority on the internet. Please be aware that some developers cannot be as approachable as I am because they are women, POC, LGTB or receive a huge amount of abuse and threats. Because a developer isn’t open to on-line communication doesn’t mean they don’t want to be, but often that they can’t to protect themselves.