Marketing for indie developers can be tough and expensive, but a little collaboration can make it significantly easier and cheaper. At least, that was the message Torn Banner Studio's Alex Hayter delivered at the Game Developers Conference Wednesday.
Torn Banner's Chivalry: Medieval Warfare launched about three and a half years ago, with more than 3.5 million players on PC and some more on console, but the studio is still looking for ways to lengthen the game's tail. In thinking about how to do that, Hayter came to the realization that much of his job historically had been marketing the studio's games to a group of people who for the most part had already bought them. That was great for fan loyalty and selling downloadable content to pre-existing customers, but he knew the audience could expand beyond the already converted.
To achieve that, he devised a strategy of speaking directly to players of other games, and in return he would give the creators of those games a chance to speak directly to the players of Chivalry. The end result was a series of cross-promotional ventures with the developers of games like Depth, Payday 2, and Rocket League that saw new Chivalry content created with elements from those games, and new content for those games featuring symbols and themes straight from Chivalry. To access some of this content, users had to own both games. And to ensure interested users owned both games, the cross-promotions were rolled out alongside simultaneous deep discounts as steep as 75 percent off list price.
One of the first keys to this strategy was identifying which games they should work with. To start with, they looked for games with similar appeal and themes. Chivalry is a violent multiplayer first-person game of medieval combat with a grim sense of humor, so they found a fair bit of overlap in the target demographic with games like Killing Floor 2 and Payday 2. However, developers can go a bit further afield if they wish, and to do that, Hayter suggested enlisting the help of SteamSpy.
While many studios use SteamSpy just to get a sense of how many copies the competition has sold, Hayter said the site's "related games" feature is invaluable because it can tell developers how much overlap their game's audience has with another title. For example, they used SteamSpy to find out that 46 percent of Chivalry players also own Terraria, while 23 percent of Terraria owners also own Chivalry. That's a total of 1.5 million players in common, with another 4 million potential players for Chivalry to reach. Torn Banner is currently running a Chivalry-Terraria crossover fan art contest, which Hayter admits is pretty light as far as cross-promotion goes, but it still helps expand awareness of the brand to an audience who might be particularly receptive to it.
While the cross-promotions have helped sales of Chivalry, Hayter there are plenty of other good reasons to pursue the partnerships. They have helped foster relationships between their studio's staff and devs from partner studios, which has been invaluable in seeking advice and mentorship. On top of that, they've done multiple studio visits with partners that have helped Torn Banner improve their own practices by seeing how other outfits operate.
Hayter wrapped up by suggesting any indie developers in the audience look into these sorts of cross-promotional strategies with potentially beneficial partners. For example, he noted, Torn Banner is preparing its next game, Mirage: Arcane Warfare, and is currently looking to line up exactly that kind of partnership for the game right now.