Organic Marketing Proven Practices for Indie Games

Grow a community and spread the word about your indie game using organic marketing proven practices.

Rafael Smeers
13 min readMar 18, 2023
Background: 24 Killers

This article is part of notGDC 2023. You can find many other submissions by accessing the notGDC archive.

At last, an special opportunity to write about two of my favorite things: marketing and indie games. And for notGDC, no less! The idea for this article appeared after coming across a rather comic meme regarding an unfortunate situation.

If you check the replies, it won’t take you long to find devs stating they have no clue where to begin other than their empty Twitter accounts. Not only is this struggle understandable, but also common content on how to improve organic growth are usually not as helpful to indie devs as they could be.

For those with a marketing background, approaching this topic often feels like stating the obvious or getting into details about something easily replicable. But the truth is there is quite a lot to it, and it may come off as a waste of time when you have a lot of other stuff to take care of and don’t fully realize it pays off.

But what is Organic Marketing and how will it come at hand in your case? Also referred to as inbound marketing, it stands for a long-range group of actions and strategies that seek to make you or your products and services known without relying on paid media. It’s mainly about accurately getting your points across, consistency, and networking — which turns out to be the very essence of marketing despite what gurus might want you to think.

Staring at analytics graphs and throwing money towards the screen as you hit “Boost” in the hope posts will go further won’t do you any good. In fact, it hardly ever does anyone any good except for those who put a ton of knowledge, time and budget into it. And even then, the competition is fierce and platforms usually give the upper hand to those who pay more.

Oyaji from 24 Killers

Anyway, there’s no shortage of topics and details to get into. But to avoid turning the article into a monotonous handbook, I’m going to focus on the ones I have more words to share and think indie developers may sometimes not give as much attention.

Branding and SEO matters

Branding is key to setting the ground for your other strategies. It’s what makes you closer or farther from your target and sets how much trouble you’ll have in the long run. More often than not, it’s what draws interest into the game.

As much as I love and totally understand what bold titles like “AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome” are going for, it’s not hard to see why it would send a marketer screaming out loud. Can you even get it right without using copy/paste?

There are also inconsistencies between text and key arts, likely due to the full name exceeding Steam’s character limit.

The sooner you make your mind on a visual identity for your game, as well as a core mechanic, fitting name and tone of voice, the better. There are countless tricks for each of those, but the aim should always be setting your game apart and making it stick into people’s minds. Be sure to take account of acronyms, pronunciation, meaning across languages, and keep consistency high.

In many cases, it’s also possible to draw interest by sharing on what your game takes inspiration from. But be careful not to raise false expectations: many negative reviews to indie games on Steam are due to said games not delivering an experience similar enough to those they claim to take inspiration from.

Now, do note weird doesn’t mean bad. Pizza Tower’s huge success proves there’s no need to be overcautious of your artistic choices. Just be aware your choices have significant impact on what strategies are going to work better, as some brands may rely on support from content creators more than others.

Can you imagine Poppy Playtime’s Huggy Wuggy making it all the way to Brazil and being sold in front of football stadiums were it not for YouTubers? Me neither! | Photo by Thiago Batista

Putting your mind into all this stuff will also come at hand to your Search Engine Optimization, which I also recommend working on. I don’t mean to say you should know the intricate inner works of how Search Engine Result Pages are put together. But knowing simple practices can give just the extra push you need.

For that, I highly recommend Backlinko’s Google SEO Beginner’s Guide, which makes great use of pictures and is equally convenient for those unfamiliar to marketing. Smart use of keywords, managing your meta descriptions, and adding internal links become common use as you go.

Official Website and Newsletter

Thanks to tools such as Notion and Super, creating a website isn’t half the struggle it used to be — and yet, most self-published indie games don’t have one. More than just a neat way to present your game, it’s meant to be a calling card people can share and refer to anytime they need to find your social media profiles, e-mail address, and more.

It’s also a great opportunity to create and nurture a newsletter. There’s a huge misconception that people hate newsletters, while in fact, automated emails with click-bait titles and false deals are the hated ones. As long as you use your newsletter to reach out to subscribed users who are looking forward to your game in an engaging way and have them feel part of the journey, it’s sure to be another excellent tool.

In this 2019 GDC talk, game developer Chris Zukowski exemplifies how newsletters can be used in a mindful way to reach great results.

For reference, I really like Onion Game’s approach to newsletters. By subscribing to the “Secret Onion Cellar”, you opt into receiving exclusive development diaries featuring hand-drawn comic strips, concept arts, and a lot of other goodies made by Kimura himself. The contents do a wonderful job spreading the studio’s philosophy and having subscribers know they’re valued.

Excerpt from Kimura’s Diary Issue 12/24/2022

To get the most out of it, you could also look into Ebbinghau’s Forgetting Curves. The way you handle your newsletter, however, shouldn’t be the only thing preventing your game from being forgotten.

Discord Server

Speaking of building a fan club, it should be pretty obvious by now that a Discord server for your project is mandatory. You could get away with not creating a newsletter (though I don’t recommend it), but a Discord server brings up way too many benefits to let go.

It’s a way to directly get in touch with people increasingly enthusiastic about your game whom you’d do well to collect feedback from, ask what content creators they believe you should reach out, and much more. It represents the pinnacle of a long-due closure of the gap between developers and users in a mutually beneficial way.

In this 2019 GDC Talk, No More Robots founder Mike Rose shares his experiences using Discord to build multiple game communities in creative ways.

By holding events and creating a workshop channel, you can also arrange for people with common interests to share their talents and engage in productive discussions. The more means you give them to be active in your channel, the better.

Once the game releases, having a Discord server also becomes an efficient way to gather bug reports, solve player’s issues, promote updates/DLCs, and set the tone for what’s next.

Public Relations

You might be fed-up with hearing about press lists. They are an important way to assure your game gets covered by fitting people for the best results. But there’s obviously much more to PR than that.

In this 2018 GDC session, Future Friends Games’ Thomas Reisenegger shows that the combination of marketing strategies and how well you know your own game makes a huge difference when promoting it.

Outlets usually receive tons of press releases everyday, and believe it or not, many of them are a generic and dreadful mess of irrelevant information — the last thing you’d want a press release to be.

Focus on providing a clean layout with a couple of your best key arts and easy access to the links the outlet or content creator will need the most, such as presskit(), media kit drive, and e-mail address. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to reach out to people to ask for advices. I’ve been on both sides of the fence and would be happy to provide assistance.

Also make sure to be as clear as possible about embargoes to avoid any misunderstandings or content going public before intended. And beware of opportunists: no small amount of people will reach out to you with fake websites or channels asking for keys, which they usually sell if they get. If necessary, you can revoke keys by using the Ban or Disable Steam Keys tool.

Last but not least, try to get your press release published in websites like Games Press and consider a Game Developer (former Gamasutra) blog submission about your experiences developing a game.

Content Creators

I’ve mentioned creators several times already throughout this article, and everyone knows why they’re an important piece of the puzzle. There is but one more hint on this regard I feel worth sharing: especially when dealing with smaller content creators, the benefits of your professional relationship goes both ways.

In other words, you should promote their content about your game as much as they should promote yours. After all, if you help their content rise through the ranks, you’re helping yours too. This can be done in many ways, such as through a dedicated Discord text channel, or more commonly Twitter, which brings us to the next topic.

Twitter and knowing what to feed the blue bird

There’s one thing I’ve always counted on Twitter for: leading me to talented artists and promising indie games under development. GIFs and clips of nice-looking games consistently makes me stop scrolling to check what’s up. In fact, that’s how many indie games started spreading their word during development — Pizza Tower included.

Twitter is a powerful platform to share your projects on. Not just because your potential players are in there, but because other content creators and developers followed by hundreds or even thousands of your potential players are there. Indirect networking flows wonderfully and you never know who you’ll bump into, a good sign of how far your tweets can go.

Shun Nakamura is clearly enthusiastic of his work on Samba de Amigo: Party Central.

Nonetheless, just like on any other platform, knowing the algorithm and what sort of content is prioritized is essential to achieving better results. Trial and error comes at hand as what works for others may not always work for you. Retweeting fan arts and other developers’ projects every now and then besides just your clips and GIFs goes a long way towards making it to the screens of the right people and growing your follower base.

Tweet consistently, avoid raw text as much as possible and go for relatable content with rich media. Be mindful of your profile name and bio, both which can be changed to include short info on events when necessary. Ideally, base it all off the game’s brand rather than yours.

What about Reddit?

It’s not utterly impossible to get good results from Reddit, but you have to jump through hoops and be very subtle to get the word across without having your content removed. Self-promotion is unwelcome on most subreddits and personally, I feel the platform is much more adequate for getting your game post-launch exposition, when content is likely to be posted through the hands of players themselves.

You could host AMAs and take part in subreddits committed to sharing experience and educational content, such as r/gamedev and r/indiedev. But at the end of the day, there are more assertive ways to promote your game and you’d well to focus on them.

Full Steam ahead: Steam Next Fest, Store Presence, Curator Connect, Trading Cards, and Points Shop

As it stands, making the most out of the tools Steam offers to developers is one of the most significant actions you can take to reach better organic growth. I’ll hyperlink relevant Steamworks Documentations as we go.

Let’s start with Steam Next Fest, an unmatched opportunity to benefit from improved visibility to have people try your game, wishlist it, and join your Discord server. Recently, participation conditions changed to make so that games can only enter one edition. This asks for a more strategic decision on when to take part of the event, but significantly lowers the competition for visibility.

Next Fest also brought up major reconsiderations over game demos. Around a decade ago, numerous developers dropped the concept believing it had no value and was a threat to the sales. Nowadays, they are known to be a very important part of presenting your game to its potential players. Generally speaking, demos are expected to be a short experience that swiftly introduces the player to the game’s core mechanics, progression, art style, and main characters.

I like the idea of crafting a short adventure apart from the game’s progression line, featuring an exclusive story that will still hold value once the game is out. Add in a bit of replayability and you have an experience more likely to last on the player’s minds.

As bigger names make their way into the Steam Next Fest, knowing how to make your store page and demo stand out can do a lot of difference.

Steam Store Presence can prove to be a bit overwhelming to manage at first, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. First of all, you should create an store page for your game as soon as possible so that people can wishlist it, share it and look for links to your socials.

Accurately tagging and check marking your game’s features has a big impact over its visibility on the platform. You might also want to get your game Steam Deck Verified while you’re at it, as there’s a whole section on Steam to such games.

Through the Community Hub, you can interact with players and share news. Do your best to bring out as many positive User Reviews as possible when the game launches and consider using the Curator Connect program to send copies of your game to Steam Curators of your choice ahead of time. Some of them are home to players in search of very specific features your game may provide.

Supporting Achievements, Steam Trading Cards and Points Shop can also be advantageous. Having items (such as emoticons and profile backgrounds) based on your game flowing through the Steam Community Market and profile pages help raise awareness to is existence. It’s also a handy way to add value to it and check mark a couple more features on its store page.

Even if not compelled to play the game, people ought to at least be thankful to 60 Seconds! Reatomized for the Cockroach Party mini-profile background.

By the way, SteamDB is another excellent source of information on all things Steam and can make for great study material. Be sure to check it out.

Update: Steam created a presentation named “Steam Visibility: How Games Get Surfaced To Players” for Devcom 2023 featuring useful info on how the platform’s discovery mechanisms work and which inputs matter. Be sure to check it out.

Digital showcases

E3 season became a lot more meaningful to the indie scene as content spread out and a plethora of brand new digital showcases turned being featured into a possibility. Putting together an exciting trailer and having your game shown on showcases such as Guerrilla Collective, MIX, and Wholesome Direct is bound to result in more people joining your community and wishlisting your game.

Keep an eye out for opportunities throughout the year and avoid using the same trailer for too long.

The underlying benefits of localization

This is not as commonly discussed as it could be, but there are many benefits to localization other than making your game accessible to speakers of other languages.

Many developers may come to think they don’t need to translate their games unless there’s a lot of text. But it’s actually the other way around, seeing that translating a couple of menus and store pages won’t be as costly and some translators may even do it pro-bono as long as they are added to the credits roll. Still, you might be asking yourself why you should do it.

An article by Chris Zukowski published on content-rich How To Market Your Game brings to light a huge difference of wishlisting numbers on Steam between games with one more language besides English and the ones without it. The same article brings other thought-provoking insights matching info we’ve been through, despite an slight misconception of “translations likely being done only by big and wealthy developers”.

Games that have been translated into English and at least one other language are in blue. Games that are English only are in red.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Steam algorithm rewards games taking extra efforts. If you want info on what languages are the most commonly sought after, refer to the Steam Hardware & Software Survey’s language dropdown menu and Sergei Klimov’s reddit posts. But remember you don’t necessarily have to go for what’s most popular, especially if you’re looking for the aforementioned underlying benefits.

“The less a language looks like English, the higher the expected return. Many customers in Asian territories for example do not speak English, while many customers in European countries do.” — Steamworks Documentation on Localization and Languages

Keep up to date

Marketing is known to be an ever-changing field. Keeping up to date is crucial if your want your strategies to be as efficient as possible and, what’s more, each case requires a different approach.

All the same, keeping an eye out on consumer behavior is worth it. Content like Google for Games’ Global Insights Report and Facebook Gaming’s Game Marketing Insights Game Developer, as well as others occasionally made available by GDC and IGDA, make it possible to detect trends and adjust your actions in good time.

Hopefully this article proves to be interesting and useful to indie game developers unsure how to promote their games. Thank you for reading and feel free to reach out to me on Twitter.



Rafael Smeers

Organic Marketing, Neuromarketing & Game Journalism/Localization | MTB 309683