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The top 3 things you can do to build an audience

Last week we looked at 3 things you can do right now to become a better game designer. In today’s article, we’ll tackle a challenging problem that many creators struggle with: how to build an audience.

Everyone should be aware that building an audience is one of the key things you need to do if you want to successfully crowdfund your game. Everyone talks about this. They tell you that “you need to build an audience.”

But very few show you HOW to build an audience.

That’s a question that rarely gets answered.

So, today I’m going to pull back the curtain on this mystery and give you tangible, proven ideas that you can use to build an audience.

#3 Figure out who your audience is and spend time in that space

Many game designers come up with a great game and spend a lot of time refining the gameplay, adjusting the mechanics, and ensuring the theme and mechanics blend well together.

However, they often don’t spend that much time and effort thinking of who this game is for.

If you want to self-publish your game and be successful, I recommend giving this a fair bit of thought.

Is your game for solo gamers? Dungeon crawler fans? Christian gamers? People who are fans of Game of Thrones?

Once you have some ideas around who your game might appeal to, your next step is to figure out where they hang out.

Are there Facebook groups dedicated to the topic? Conventions and events that fans attend? A Board Game Geek forum or guild?

Facebook groups are a really good place to start, especially right now when it’s difficult to get together with people in person, so I will focus the rest of this section on this approach.

This next step may require a little trial and error, as you may have a number of possible audiences in mind, but it is well worth your time and effort. You may quickly find out that some groups are virtually dead or they are not a great audience for you after all. That’s ok. This will allow you to focus your attention on the few groups that could be really interested in your game.

Go to the groups and forums where your potential fans hang out. But don’t, I repeat don’t, go in guns blazing, plastering the groups with posts about your game. That’s a surefire way to get ignored or even kicked from the group.

Rather, start off by commenting on other people’s posts, asking questions, and creating your own posts to engage with the community. Ask them about their favourite characters from a related movie or book, about their favourite games, etc. Just make sure it is natural and that you are asking questions out of your own genuine curiosity.

Only after you feel like you are part of the community should you post anything about your own game. Start off by mentioning that you are creating a game and how it relates to the topic. Ask a question or post a poll to engage with this community. Make sure to check the group’s rules and guidelines as well so that you don’t overstep your bounds.

Over time, you can post more about your game, but make sure this is interspersed with posts about other topics so that it doesn’t feel like your game is the only thing you’re talking about. Also, continue to comment on other posts and engage as part of the community.

Make sure your posts are engaging and interesting, not spammy or salesy. A good rule of thumb is to look at what you’re about to post and think about how you would react if this were someone else posting this about their own game.

Rather than link directly to your site or notification page in your post (which might also be against the group rules), allow members to show interest and ask you how they can find out more, then reply to them in the comments. This is a much more natural approach, as they have asked you for this specifically and you’re simply answering their question.

If the rules allow, you can say that people have been asking about it, so you wanted to share how they can sign up to your mailing list or direct them to your Kickstarter notification page in a post leading up to your launch. Then, you can post that it is live on launch day as well. Again, check the rules for your group to see what is allowed and what is now. They may allow a limited amount of self-promotion.

You can also ask the admin about renting banner space to announce when your game has launched if they allow this and you feel there are enough members interested that this would be a good investment.

#2 Demo your game in front of as many people as you can

It goes without saying that getting your game in front of a lot of people, particularly your audience, is a good thing.

Attend playtesting events, conventions, Protospiels, and anything else you can get to where potential fans may be hanging out.

There are several ways to do this. At regular playtesting events, simply take your game and play it with others. As always, be open to feedback and suggestions. I should note that your approach should be to do this throughout your playtesting process, not just at the end when you feel your game is practically done. If you playtest your game with no intention of listening to feedback and only selling people on your game, this isn’t using a genuine approach.

Many conventions have a “prototype alley”, Unpub room, or events that are all about playtesting and/or promoting your game to others. Use these events as opportunities to play your game or at least a shorter demo version of it with others to generate interest.

You can also consider getting a booth or table at a convention. Depending on the size of the event, this could be costly, and you’ll want to get some good signage and displays as well, so know what you’re getting into and determine if you feel this will be a good return on investment.

By renting space, you will have an area dedicated to your game, where you can demo your game and allow people to try it out. If it is a busy convention and your game has great table presence, you might be able to draw in a good number of people. This approach works better when your game is in a polished state, with a great looking, professional prototype.

But how do you ensure that people will remember your game and be there on day 1 of your campaign if they demoed your game months before? What if you were engaging with them in a Facebook group?

That’s where we tie these two previous approaches in with the #1 way to build your audience.

#1 Build your email list

Some think that a Facebook group is crucial to your success. Others say Instagram is #1.

But the truth is, email is King/Queen.

Open rates and engagement have definitely dropped off since the initial novelty of email wore off, but there is still no better way to get your message in front of others than email.

So, whether you’re engaging with a Facebook group, BGG guild, playtesting or demoing your game, you need to have some way for people to connect with you so that you can notify them when you launch. The best way to do so is by having a landing page set up where someone can easily enter their email to get onto your email list.

Here is an example of the one I use for my solo adventure game, Relics of Rajavihara.

Notice the image on the left showing you what the game is about (often referred to as the “hero shot”). The title mentions the name, I explain exactly what you get, and there is a clear Call to Action (CTA), asking people to join. In addition, I include my company logo for added trust and peace of mind.

Please – steal from me! You don’t have to recreate the wheel. Use this as an example for your own landing page. Keep it simple and don’t make people scroll. You should only be sending people to this page who have already expressed interest, so there’s no need to “sell” them further on your game.

Make sure this is linked to your email service provider. Mailchimp is free to start with and is relatively inexpensive as your email list grows. There are plenty of others you can use as well.

Set up a welcome email so that people know they’re in and thank them for joining. Keep engaging with all your subscribers. Weekly is good, but at the very least make sure to connect with them monthly.

At conventions and other face-to-face events, you should have a signup sheet where people can sign up for your mailing list. Just make sure it is clear to them what they are signing up for. One way to encourage more people to sign up is a giveaway or entry into a contest for a chance to win a copy of your game when it is released.

Don’t make the mistake that so many people do, spending so much time and effort to get people to sign up only to make them think you forgot about them afterwards! If you only email them 6 months later when you launch, most will have completely forgotten about you and will consider your email spam. If too many people report your account as spam, you could even get your account locked!

Share artwork as it arrives, ask questions, and provide some behind-the-scenes looks at what’s happening with your game. Rather than share everything at once, spread this out to give yourself plenty of content to share over time.

If you have a Facebook group for your game (which I also recommend), you can let those who have joined your email list know about this and you can encourage them to join so that they can be part of the conversation. This works vice-versa as well when people join your Facebook group first. Just make sure you create a GROUP, not a page. It’s good to have a company Facebook page, but you want a group for your specific game, as this will allow people to interact much easier.

Wrapping it up

There you have it. Three things you can do right now to build your audience. Remember, if you’re planning on crowdfunding your game, it’s never too early to start capturing emails. Even at an early stage, you will get some people who are interested to see how the game is progressing.  

What is one thing you can start doing today to help build your own audience?

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

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    This was a very easy to read and practical guide. Thanks!
    Question on email: How does it work with EU GDPR rules? Did you need to make any changes to your process for this?

    Good question, Shyam! The GDPR rules are all about ensuring people know what they’re signing up for and protecting their information. I was doing this already and continue to do so, but it’s still good to ensure you know all the details. This is a helpful guide: https://gdpr.eu/what-is-gdpr/