THURSDAY 21 MAR 2019 2:11 PM

INDEPENDENTS’ DAY

Based in London, independent game developer Failbetter Games led a campaign to raise awareness about the indie video games community. Antonino Lupo reports on the strategies behind #LoveIndies week, which is set to repeat later this year

Challenge: Every day, around 40 new independent video games are released on digital delivery storefronts such as Steam and PlayStation Network. Most of them are sheer drops in the ocean, titles seeking to be discovered – which is arguably the biggest challenge for digital businesses in present times. Operating within a strong and supportive national gaming community, London-based game developer Failbetter Games came up with an initiative to raise awareness of the struggles involved in indie game development.

On digital storefronts, something as seemingly insignificant as a user review can go a long way toward improving a game’s store page. But, because writing reviews is time consuming, most users don’t bother to leave ratings for a game they enjoyed. Yet, according to Failbetter Games’ communications director Hannah Flynn, indies know they can count on each other and are always on the lookout for some ways to raise other houses up. Building on that idea, the software house put together #LoveIndies week, a digital campaign carried out in July 2018, aimed at engaging indie players and developers to actively support the games they loved playing.

“The outcome that we were looking for was more reviews for our games,” Flynn says. “It didn’t matter if they were positive or negative, we didn’t want to limit people.” Flynn and her team figured that, working together with indie developers and fans of indie games, they would be able to create an engaging campaign by which other indies would get more reviews for their games as well.

Strategy: There were a few issues to consider. First, despite having operated in the UK for over 10 years, Failbetter Games was an independent studio and had no budget for the campaign. Because of that and the fact that it was an entirely organic initiative (coming straight from the in-house marketing team), the company could not turn to anyone but itself to put together the campaign. Thus, #LoveIndies Week started blooming from Failbetter’s own core team.

The platform of choice was Twitter, to be supported by the company’s organic platforms. Since the company had a relatively good amount of Twitter followers for an indie developer, the key idea was to generate involvement and interest in the indie game community from within the social platform, reaching out to other studios and their sympathetic audiences. At the same time, Flynn and her team would sometimes call upon the rest of Failbetter’s employees to help with the campaign, by actively sharing reviews for the games they themselves played and loved.

Email marketing was part of the game as well. Failbetter Games has an email list of almost 400,000 people, which was vital in bringing more people on board.

For a week, tweets would be shared with the hashtag #LoveIndies and a request to leave more reviews for the company’s games, encouraging other indie developers to do the same for their works. The hashtag was instantly picked up and employed across the UK and the world, getting increasingly more gamers and indie developers involved with the campaign.

Some indie houses, such as Fireblade Software, would tweet lists of games made by other developers to show their support to the community. And some media outlets such as PCGamesN and Variety joined the event as well, allowing it to spread across Twitter and the gaming community as a whole.

Results: The campaign exploded, bringing some pleasant surprises along the way. At some point during the week, indie digital game store Itch noticed the event and became actively involved, coding up new functions on its website to modify how players could organise their game library. The website allowed the players to filter out those games for which they had written reviews, letting them focus on the ones they still needed to leave a rating for. During #LoveIndies week alone, Itch recorded more than 7,000 new ratings and more than 1,000 reviews. Around 1,200 of them were for previously unrated projects.

The result was that many indie games – most of which had never gotten a review before – suddenly had crowds of people reviewing them and boosting their visibility on Itch, Steam and other gaming
digital stores.

Things worked out brilliantly for Failbetter Games as well; the company received 90 reviews for its games during the event, having received just half a dozen in the previous months. Overall, the campaign was a concentrated success.

“It was particularly helpful to us because we had a large in-store base and not many people proportionally had left reviews,” Flynn adds. “The thing that other indies who got involved found difficult was that, if you didn’t have a lot of people who’d already bought your game, then you didn’t have those potential audiences to convert.” At the same time, however, those studios mentioned that they recorded a boost in awareness, and that they would be happy to participate again.

Following the recent launch of Sunless Skies, the company’s latest game, Flynn and Failbetter Games plan to repeat the event later this year, at a date yet to be announced. But they wish to let it pan out for more than a single week, possibly over several weekends as well, to compare results and activity with last year’s campaign. They are hoping to put more emphasis on surfacing new indie games that not many people have discovered, and they would like to engage other big indies in helping the smaller studios emerge.

In the meantime, the company was satisfied with the results of the campaign, as it helped to raise awareness of the independent gaming industry. “Anything beyond us getting those 90 reviews was a great bonus. For us, our visibility, for the good will in the industry,” Flynn says.

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