Paid Advertising through Facebook to Promote your Indie Game/Startup Company

As an indie game developer, gaining exposure and marketing your title to the appropriate audience is one of the most difficult things I’ve encountered so far. I’m still completely new at this game, but while laying down the tracks, drawing some pretty graphics, and pumping out lines of code are always guaranteed so long as you put in the effort, placing your game in front of the right people can be a bit of an ambiguous challenge. I was recently in contact with the developer of Crisp Bacon and Shurican (go check out his games! They’re awesome! and he offered pieces of helpful advice (which will certainly come in handy when I hop on the promotion train hardcode for one of my next releases). I decided to take a plunge in a slightly different route for now, an experiment of sorts, something that I tried long ago with relatively successful results: Paid advertising through Facebook.

At first I felt slightly unsettled about paid advertising. After all, I’m shelling out cold hard cash to get some extra likes on my Facebook page. When you put it that way, it certainly sounds like cheating, right? But it certainly isn’t, not in the slightest, and here’s why:

These aren’t artificial likes, you’re not bribing anyone to ‘like’ your page. Instead, you’re spending money to promote your page and place it in front of the right users with a very specific targeted audience. It’s then their choice if they express any interest in your product and subsequently like your page, or simply pass it up, no likes exchanged. No matter what way you cut it, these are all natural likes from completely random people who see potential in your product, enough to click a button and subject themselves to an eternal flood of your posts seeping into their news feed. In fact, I’d consider these likes much more natural and significant than getting likes from, say, a friend who only supports your page because they’re… well, a friend. It doesn’t matter if they see potential in your product (Sort of the same situation from when you were in kindergarten and you came home beaming with the most pathetic piece of macaroni art crap that ever existed, yet your mother still hung that disgusting eyesore up on the fridge). Walk into paid advertising with a completely guilt-free conscience. Now, does it really work? To some degree. If you’re merely interested in accumulating likes for your page, it certainly works. Facebook gives you an estimated user reach, as well as a predicted range of how many new likes your page will garner each day purely through your ad campaign. Facebook predicted I’d earn 9 – 35 likes each day, and on the first day of advertising, I got about 20 new likes. My max spending limit is manually capped at $10 a day, for a period of 10 days. Needless to say, it works. But more importantly, what exactly does a ‘like’ entail? Does user engagement merely begin and end with a like, turning into just a simple statistic you can brag about to others? That depends, of course, on your product, your page, your commitment to amplifying user engagement, but if I can share a quick anecdote for a moment:

last year I launched a Kickstarter campaign for a 2D ARPG with a custom animation engine. Unfortunately, the funding fell short of my expectations, earning only about half of my goal. I knew the campaign was in trouble when, just after a few days, the backer number remained stagnant. I decided to take to Facebook and put my advertising fund to good use. The FB ad campaign allowed me to gain about 850 new likes on my promotional page, but at a cost of roughly $330. Even worse though, despite using the Facebook page with over 1k likes as an outlet to direct users to my Kick starter page, I saw practically no increase in backers. I would estimate maybe 2 or 3 people who liked my Facebook page as a result of advertising continued to back my Kickstarter project. Let me break that down for you: $330 spent to gain 850 new likes, and out of those 850 people, only 3 went ahead and backed my Kickstarter. Sounds a bit grim, doesn’t it?


But that’s the next step of this journey – discovering exactly what to do once I’ve accumulated followers. Obviously something about my game/company was appealing enough for them to contribute a ‘like’, and now that I’ve gained their attention, it’s once again my turn – my responsibility – to present them with an exceptional product that warrants their like. Here’s a bit of a cold-hearted analogy: I’m a fisherman. I cast my line into the river and dangle my bait waiting for the fish to take a bit. They see it, they want it, they get it. Now that I have them on the line, do I sit there while they snatch up the bait and swim away, or do I reel them in? Of course, I definitely don’t see this relationship as a fisherman trying to deviously lure in a bunch of fishy victims, but the moral remains the same.

As this blog is primarily intended as a reference for others interested in getting into indie game development, I’d like to be as transparent as possible with every aspect of business. Here are the final stats for my first round of paid advertising on Facebook, promoting my game company:

In 7 days, I capped my budget at $100 total and ending up spending $75.63 on paid advertising through Facebook and earned 80 new page likes, with each like costing me roughly $0.94. I also have to note though – the 80 new page likes is purely the figure Facebook gives me through my Ads Manager page, but this doesn’t accurately reflect the actual number of new likes I’ve accumulated throughout the entire week of advertising. While Facebook Ad Manager lists 80 new page likes, in reality, I actually got 184 new likes, which calculates to about $0.40 per like. Why is the figure for new likes so far off from what Facebook Ad Manager lists? I don’t know, to be honest. Those additional likes could’ve been from friends of the new likes earned through paid advertising but didn’t directly click on my ad (if a post of their friend liking my page shows up in their newsfeed and they decide to ‘like’ it too, for example). But I’m inclined to believe that every single new like was a direct result of the advertising, because before I started this first round of paid advertising, I had roughly 60 likes – and it remained at 60 likes for weeks, no change whatsoever. I launched the page in November, so let that sink in:

-Without paid advertising, it took me 24 months to gain only 60 likes.

-With paid advertising, it took me 1 week to gain 184 likes.

(That would be the same as saying non-paid advertising like rate = 2.5 likes per week. paid advertising like rate = 184 likes per week, 73.6 times as much!)

The bottom line? Paid advertising on Facebook truly works. With my previous set of ads for a completely different product (the Kickstarter game), I had very similar results. But remember, these are just ‘likes’ and nothing more! To really solidify a like and make it meaningful, you have to encourage user interaction and find ways to boost user engagement. How? I don’t know yet! But that’s the entire point of this blog 😉

Rejection and Failure =Motivation

I’ve been briefly researching methods of increasing my app visibility, whether through discovery on Google Play or by word of mouth. I stumbled upon YoYoGame’s Game Maker Showcase, an online database where YoYo Games selects and presents submissions for quality apps created using Game Maker. I had known about this probably since its inception, but it wasn’t until a few days back that I realized, “Hey, why don’t I submit MY app? After all, it’s free and I’ve got absolutely nothing to lose!” or so I thought.

3 days after submitting my app (I submitted it Tuesday evening and received word back Friday morning), although I wasn’t expecting anything to really come of it, I still felt a wave of incredible disappointment when the rejection letter slid into my inbox. My game might teeter towards the simpler side, being a Pong variant, but I was overly optimistic hoping that the bright colorful graphics and character design and smooth gameplay and music and professional-approach would win them over. Nay, they’re looking for the cream of the crop, the best of the best.

I’m not gonna lie – this whole experience so far has been quite unsatisfactory. I walked in knowing very well that my app wouldn’t gain many downloads, being it’s a startup company and I’m still trying to build my foundation, but I think it’s practically impossible NOT to feel the slightest tinge of disappointment when your hard work of 6 months only builds to 15 downloads. It means there’s a critical fault lying somewhere in the process – whether it’s my app visibility and marketing, or if something is wrong with the actual game itself (design, gameplay, mechanics, etc.).  But this doesn’t deter my determination in the least but. Quite the opposite actually, I feel even MORE determined to figure out where I went wrong and release something that absolutely trumps my first release.

This company isn’t all about making money. It’s about doing something I’ve loved since I was 8 years – making video games, introducing players to fantasy worlds, letting my imagination run wild and finding an absolutely satisfying creative outlet. It’s the same sort of satisfaction (or even possibly adrenaline rush!) an author experiences when they put pen to paper and weave a fantastic fantasy world full of dynamic characters and themes and allusions and worlds drawn purely from their head. It’s great. But a terrible truth sinks in:

If I want to do this fulltime, if I want to live my life developing video games as a career, I HAVE to have steady income from my releases. It’s as black and white as that.

I need to shift my direction slightly for my next Android game. It’s all a learning experience, and I’m committed enough to work through any and all inevitable failures on my path to establishing my company and doing what I love most: making games.

imrpove app ranking, $0.06 from my first app

It’s been a week since I’ve last posted – not because I’ve been too occupied to post anything, but simply because there really isn’t much to post! I took the weekend off for my little sister’s wedding (congratulations!), and it’s a new week, meaning it’s time to dive full force back into my schedule.

I wanted to touch on a few quick things though. My app has been downloaded only 13 times in a little over a week that it’s been available on Google Play. I initially advertised on the company Facebook, as well as my own personal Facebook and a promotional game development Facebook page, which is where the bulk of the downloads came from. Lastnight, I also posted on the official GMS forums where I’ve been a member for 10 years (it’s had no effect on downloads though). I reassured myself that I wouldn’t be disappointed if I had very little downloads, as this title was basically a trial run to get a feel for the market and the entire process of developing and distributing a finished Android app. But then something hit me – if this app is used merely for testing, for learning, then shouldn’t I use it to also learn how to market a game? But moreover, I have a desire to advertise, to get more downloads, because even though my game is a bit formulaic, I worked on it for months, developed all of the artwork, composed all of the music, programmed every single line of code, only to let it go to waste? No, I want to share my creation with the world!

I haven’t had much a chance to sit down and research ways to improve my store listing rank and discover methods for reaching a wider audience, but one thing I stumbled across that did stand out to me was the usage of keywords: Using relevant keywords in your app description so it’ll have a better chance of showing up in search results on Google Play. At both the beginning and end of my app description, I wrote a short field that says -Similar to titles such as- and I listed off generic titles for my genre. Pong, Table Tennis, Ping Pong, etc. Has this improved downloads? No. Not at all. At least not visibly. But I’m sure it helps, if my game were more popular of course. 

The initial release announcement earned me $0.06 in one day, but I’ve yet to see another penny since. That’s a huge accomplishment for me though, knowing that I’ve actually earned income from my creation! I can officially say that I’ve generated revenue, almost. Almost, because I haven’t been paid yet, you know, how Admob works. They have to verify the impressions and clicks first, but if all goes well, I can say that I’ve made some money from my product, which is certainly a momentous step in the right direction!

So what’s to come? I’m currently working on my 2nd app, slated for a July 9th release, and I have 3 more apps after that all lined up and scheduled to hit Google Play before the year’s out. They’re all relatively simple apps, but each will present some interesting problems to solve. I’d like to tackle things such as cloud saving, in-app purchases, paid games, push notifications, advertising with extensions through GMS (ugh….), etc. This coming app should be pretty fun, but it’s the one that follows that I’m really excited to begin development on!