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The Indie Developer's Guide To Selling Games

An Interview with Joe Lieberman and his many personality defects:

Let's start with a little bit about yourself, who are you and what makes you competent enough to write a book?

Well, other than being Named Joseph Lieberman, which has it's own game related political ramifications in the United States, I have a number of other qualifications. My favorite of which is that I have studied games since I was a kid. Not just played them in my basement with friends, but actually took time as a kid to understand the various game models and watch the evolution of games. On a scale of 1-10 on obscure game knowledge I would give myself an 8.5. I paid special attention to the multiplayer world, which I had been predicting as the future of games before I was even in high school. Ok, so if being a kid who loved video games didn't impress anyone: I also have a BSBA in Marketing from University of Florida (Go Gators!) and founded my own marketing company while I was still a Junior there. I immediately began working with independent developers on building contact networks and improving the marketability of their titles. So ever since I was a junior at UF I have been building and learning with each passing day what I hope is a reputation that gets as near to impeccable as possible: So much so that I am the only PR service which offers a 100% money back guarantee! Given that I feel MOST PR companies charge far more than they're worth (most, not all), that is quite a boast.

What inspired you to start marketing indie games?

Well, two things really. First, I didn't have enough experience to market anything else. Second, I became involved in a bustling community (now www.indiegamer.com) of indie developers who's extreme level of innovation was only matched by the extreme level of marketing ignorance. Thus I saw a wonderful opportunity, and what I had intended to start as a part time job while in college quickly turned into a fair paying full time job before I even graduated, so much so that I THANKFULLY quit my college job as a manager at Enterprise. I still remember my first paid press release though, it was for Winter Wolves Software (www.winterwolves.com) to the tune of $35. Also my first paid PR work was for Rampant Games' Void War- which I believe to date has paid about $50 (despite getting world wide coverage in both magazines and print- it just didn't sell so well). What inspired you to write The Indie Developer's Guide to Selling Games?

Well, as my popularity has grown so has the size of my clients and the price they are willing to pay me for my services. Because of this I began, over the last year or so, to have to start turning away smaller indie developers. Unfortunately I have bills to pay, a kid to feed, and a limited amount of time to devote. While VGSmart still has the policy that advice is ALWAYS free and I still take the time to answer questions people e-mail me, I hate telling people that advice is all I can give them. So, instead of just leaving the small guys behind I decided to write a guide that would help them on their way.

Who are these clients that have bid up your time so much?

Well, they are primarily a mix between three major clients and multiple smaller clients. The major clients are 'every month' kind of deals, the smaller clients hire me frequently on a 1-2 month basis; this makes it cost effective for a company their size. I try not to have any conflicts between clients interest, so you'll notice they all do different things.
The three major ones are:

Matrix Games (Digital Strategy Publisher) www.matrixgames.com
Tri Synergy (Retail Publisher) www.trisynergy.com
ArcadeTown (Online Portal) www.arcadetown.com

My smaller clients are pretty diverse, but the most consistent are:
Ninjabee Software / Wahoo Studios (www.ninjabee.com)
Caravel Games (www.caravelgames.com)
Amaranth Games (www.aveyond.com)

And multiple others who have hired me for a couple months at a time and probably will again the next time their game is ready J

Who is The Indie Developer's Guide to Selling Games targeted at?

I would say this is a beginner - intermediate book for small companies, all the way down to one man development teams who are selling their game ONLINE primarily.. I put special emphasis on non-casual independent games, because those have more marketability (less reliance on pre-established traffic streams, IE: Portals). If you've got a business degree and several years experience in the game industry there's probably nothing new in this book. However, I do go over one advanced concept in the final chapter that is my take on what causes online purchasing of games.

So, care to share with us what your take on what causes online game purchases?

Well, not to spoil the surprise ending, but basically it all boils down to this: Motivation. The theory I have, which I named Joseph Lieberman's Motivational Pyramid in hopes of someday being as famous as Maslow, is that game purchases online are entirely emotion based. The key factor in increasing sales is to uncover what is motivating them to want to continue playing. I surmise that the higher their motivation to want to continue after the demo ends, the more likely they are to purchase and then break down what are the possible motivational factors involved with games. This goes directly against the idea that you can win over more sales with a logical argument on why your game should be purchased. I think logic in this sense is totally bunk. There's no more logical reason people buy a game than people buy a 25 cent pack of gum at the checkout line (I like Big Red myself). You buy the pack of gum on impulse, with motivation that relates to a variety of factors. I break down what factors those are in games into three prime categories: Macro Motivations, Micro Motivations, and Constant Motivations. Buy the book if you want the whole scoop (See, I'm creating motivation!).

That sounds very intriguing. What other concepts are covered?

Well, you can see the entire Table of Contents at www.indiegameguide.com. In general the key chapters are: Pre-Development Marketing (Finding a target audience, defining what your game should have and shouldn't have, what style of demo you intend to use), Developmental Marketing (Building a website, creating traffic, garnering interest), Release Marketing (Getting Press Coverage, Advertising, Portals and Publishing), Post-Release Marketing (Updates, Upgrades, Re-releases), and The Future (Some silver-lining style thoughts on what the future of the online industry is like. The final chapter is on advanced theories like the one above, grass roots and viral marketing, and others.

What is your goal with this book?

My goal for the readership is that people use it to either learn or remind themselves of what steps they should be taking at what times. It isn't a text book. I don't intend for it to replace actually taking some marketing classes. However, I tried to write it in a far more entertaining and easy to read method than you would find in a text book. My intention in doing so is that even the most marketing adverse developers could use it and understand the concepts without being bored to tears (as I was for four years). My next phase after directly reaching current developers is to shop this book around to some of the game teachers out there as recommended reading.

My goal in sales is to sell a mere 300 copies, which is what I need to repay me at a fair rate for the time it took to write and edit it. I made a post on my blog (vgsmart.blogspot.com) that 300 copies is about $6,000 profit- which is pretty slim. As of the day I am writing this the book has finally broken even in sales, so its all downhill from here.

Are you planning any other books?

Well, I have been asked to do a chapter in another book, but I am unsure if I have the time to commit to that project. Otherwise I plan to update this book every-so-often. Most notably, every year I intend to update all the resource sections with new contacts and contact information. The resource sections are handy for anyone in the game industry. They include the contact info for Artists, Musicians, Sound-effect people, and online publishers, as well as a list of "indie friendly press" and a list of power words (a marketing thing). Each year I intend to put together an updated list, removing any of the people who have vanished and adding in anyone who is interested in taking part. I plan on selling this updated resource as a PDF for a really low price, probably $5-$10 depending on how long it takes me to put it together.

What has been your crowning achievement so far?

I've done a lot in a short time. My crowning achievement could be considered this book! However, I don't think that is what you meant. I think this year's showing at the Independent Games Festival is a good one, in one fashion or another I had worked with 6 of the games nominated as finalists for the IGF to help promote them. Getting to go to the GDC and shake hands with the people I helped (at least in some small way) was really cool. Second to that, possibly, is my first speaking appearance at a conference. Last year at the Independent Games Conference in Eugene a guest speaker didn't show (we would later learn his car exploded on the freeway- but he's ok). Well, I just happened to be there and made my first impromptu appearance at a conference as a guest speaker- not surprisingly on the marketing panel. I just wish I could have had my book done by then! Sadly it wasn't even thought of at that time.

What would you say is the most common mistake of independent developers?


Easy. Giving up. Look, the fact is very few people make any money at all on their first game. Don't consider a game that doesn't sell a failure. Learn as much as you can from it and go make a better (selling) game. Use it to help build a community, even if that means giving it away for free or for free with any purchase of your next game (unless its so bad it would hurt your reputation to have anyone play it). Don't just give up on a product, and don't just give up on making games. The games that are selling best on portals are doing so because of extreme levels of quality in design, graphics, and sound. However, there are many things that these games aren't doing and many resources yet untapped. The key is don't give up. Take a page from Outpost Kaloki from Ninajbee (I mentioned them as a recurring client)- Outpost Kaloki by all sales standards is a failure. They didn't give up though, their game got recognized by all kinds of places. Not only did it result in a slew of contract work, but it also got noticed by Microsoft and is one of the top selling games on Xbox 360 Live Arcade now. If they had just pulled out of making games entirely none of these opportunities would have opened for them- so keep at it even after failure!

Anything else to add?

Buy my book? www.indiegameguide.com - or at least read my blog: http://vgsmart.blogspot.com

Thanks! All profit will go to feeding my gaming addiction or at least feeding my daughter and HER gaming addiction.

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