Today, a guest post from our illustrator and sales expert, Allie McCarthy.
So—you’ve made an awesome indie game. This is the part when you get to take a moment to fully and un-ironically congratulate yourself. Seriously. You just accomplished something amazing, and you deserve credit for it. Also, you’re going to need to feel really, really proud of your game for what comes next—convincing people that they should be as excited about your game as you are. (If you aren’t excited about your game, you either need to fix it or talk to someone who isn’t a total perfectionist. That means you, Kit La Touche).
There are a few ways to do this. Transneptune has found that IPR has worked really well for them, but I believe this has been in a large part due to their wiliness to talk about Becoming Heroes online and sell it from their own booth at Gen Con. This piece is largely aimed at people using forums and the Con community to build an audience for their new game.
Since most of us have fairly unpleasant memories of the last time someone tried to sell us something, the idea of selling your game might feel at little seedy, like you’re sullying this beautiful, sacred world of game design you’ve entered into with your desperate materialism. Rest assured, you can retain your integrity as a game designer and as a human being while still giving your game the chance it deserves by selling it. It shouldn’t even feel like selling. Don’t think of it as selling. Stop. Pink elephants.
Anyway. Some tips on how to make the experience of “selling” your game as pleasant and effective as possible. Bear in mind, I am an introverted, fairly nerdy (surprise surprise) person who grew up on the kind of heroic fantasy that generally eschewed such mundane pastimes as “sales” and “marketing.” I am pretty resentful of the fact that the games that I’m involved in don’t magically sell themselves despite being Things of Beauty That Will Solve All Your Problems. Magical tomes of Great Wisdom and Knowledge don’t need to be sold—why should my awesome game need to be? Psh. Reality. Psh.
Despite all this, I have worked for three years in sales, sometimes in the field and more recently training other salespeople, and I’ve found some methods that really, really work without making me feel like a total ass and, pun intended, sellout. Here goes.
Believe in your game, know your game.
I decided to start with this one because it’s really obvious. You won’t be able to get people excited about your game if you don’t believe it’s good and if you don’t know much about it. Duh. On another level, your belief in your game’s awesomeness will be conveyed through your vocal expressions and body language, which are pretty contagious and will likely make other people excited as well. At the very least, you’ll be really fun to talk to.
That said, if you’re excitable, it’s easy to get carried away. Onward!
Listen about twice as much as you talk
When I’m simultaneously excited (Gaminggaminggaminggaming!) and nervous (there is a human in front of me and sounds are coming out of their face!) it’s hard not to railroad. That is, talk and talk at increasing speeds as the person I’m talking to gets fog-eyed and shifty, but I can’t stop because this next thing I say will definitely get their attention, surely it will… anyhow.
A good way around this very human tendency is to focus on slowing down, and on listening. And the best way to listen is to ask questions, which will provide you with things to listen to. Huzzah! Ask what a person’s favorite game is, ask them why they like it, ask them to tell you about a really good campaign they were a part of. Paraphrase what they say back to them so that it’ll stick in your mind and make them feel heard. But please, for the love of Cthulhu, don’t parrot them. They will notice and be irritated.
There are probably many different facets of your game, and listening will help you find out which facet will make the gamer you’re talking to most excited to play.
Don’t sell features—sell awesome.
Ok. Imagine you’re at GenCon, and you’re looking for a new Indie Game to try out. What sorts of things are you looking for?
Most people (including me, the first time) answer this question by listing off features that appeal to them—in my case; less combat oriented, lots of magic, short character creation, handfuls of Chessex d10’s bathed in the tears of fairies, etc etc. The thing is, I only listed those features because in the past they’ve given me what I’m really looking for—an amazing, transformative, mind-blowing gaming experience with my friends.
This is going to be a little long, but that’s because it’s extremely important. People may think they’re buying features, but what they’re actually buying is the much more general benefit of the game—the extraordinary amount of fun (or education, or enlightenment, I’m not sure how one would pitch something nevertheless great like Grey Ranks as “fun”) they will gain from it. This should be at the center of your pitch.
When you’re talking about your game, don’t talk about game mechanics, how character creation works, or delve into the minute details of the setting. It is easy and tempting, but don’t, unless of course you’re asked. It will be necessary to give an overview of the setting and the premise, but what you really want to hone in on is what a fantastic gaming experience playing your game provides. Talk about the adrenaline rush play testers felt during combat scenes, talk about the transformative conversations you had afterwards, talk about how much you laughed and cried and yelled and about that one game where two of your players started dating in the moments following a game’s conclusion. This is why people game. This is what your game is ultimately about.
Unique Selling Proposition (your Thing)
Unique Selling Proposition is a fancy term my boss uses for That Thing That Makes Your Game Special. This is the Thing that your game does to create the fun, transformative benefits that people are looking for. Most games do it pretty differently, and talking about it in your pitch will help determine whether your game is a good fit for the gamers you’re talking to.
For instance (it is now shameless plug o’clock), I’d say that Becoming Heroes‘ ‘Thing’ is its adrenaline-rush inducing combat and storytelling systems, and its ability to make players feel connected to heroes from their favorite media. On the other hand, I’d say They Became Flesh‘s (a game I recently discovered and loved) ‘Thing’ is the way it allows gamers to deeply experience some very compelling philosophical ideas, and opens people up to the point where they can feel comfortable talking about them. I find both games emotionally rewarding, but in different ways. Know what your game does for people.
Hand a copy of your game to the person you’re talking to
It makes them feel like that copy already belongs to them. It makes them feel like you’re giving them a gift. It’s just sort of nice. They can get a closer look at the pictures. Magic.
Don’t sell yourself short
If a rich guy were presented with identical #2 pencils, one priced at $1 and the other priced at $10, and he had no idea that the pencils were identical, he’s probably pick the $10 pencil. He’d figure he’d get more out of something that’s worth more.
On that note, if you price your 150-page game book that you spent a year on at $5, people aren’t going to think, “Oh man! What a fantastic deal!”—they are going to think that it must be a piece of luh suh. If you price your game at what you think it’s worth, people will have an easier time seeing the value in it.
If you’re shy, there are ways around it.
This is a big one for me. My mom once had to pay me $20 to go talk to a boy I liked at a neighborhood party because she was sick of seeing me mope around the punch bowl. I’m not a natural salesperson, but I had to learn it out of necessity.
Remember: If someone approaches your table, if someone asks about your game, if someone so much as glances at the little flyer thing you printed out to promote your company, they are curious about you. They want to know more. It is not an imposition to ask them a question, to get into conversation, and politely enthuse about your game.
I’ve found that no matter how anxious something makes me, pushing through and doing it three times or so, no matter what the outcome, makes me much, much more relaxed about it. This includes mind-numbing anxiety inducers like karaoke and talking to strangers wearing cool clothes.
Be a human. Unless you can be the Geico Gecko. Then always be the Geico Gecko.
I could wax poetic about this little guy for hours. The way he modulates his voice, the way he gestures with his hands as though he’s offering you a gift, the way he respects his audience’s agency, the way he’s so damn polite…
Love him or hate him (love him.), the Gecko is a sales genius, and when you’re wading through mires of doubt and shyness, try to emulate him. Do the accent if that makes you feel better, I guess, though I can see that particular tactic yielding mixed results.
I think what makes him really effective is his quiet confidence in his product and ability to make it appear that he’s offering you a choice—he respects your time, he respects your decision, he simply wants you to consider Geico. This makes people feel safe and competent, and thus more receptive to his opinion. At the same time, he makes it quite obvious that he thinks his product is the best. You wouldn’t be stupid if you didn’t pick Geico, but then again, why wouldn’t you? ::little green gecko shrug::
Gecko doesn’t waste your time with features. You’re busy. Gecko just talks about what he knows you want—to make this stupid car insurance thing as cheap and painless as possible.
Allow yourself to put a lot of warmth and emotion in your voice. Smile or, if you think a smile will look forced, be thoughtful. If you want to read about how to act like an awesome human or lizard at cons, I highly recommend this article.
Go forth. If you have anything to add or argue about your own experiences, please feel free to share it.
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