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Post-Mortem - Our Successful Indie Game Marketing Campaign (That Failed)

December 1, 2017

An Agile team's journey through its first marketing campaign - what went wrong and how we became a stronger team because of it.


Synopsis (TLDR)

- Team subscribes to the tenants of Agile, a culture that encourages teams to make smart, quick decisions to deliver early and often, and to be comfortable with failure by failing fast and learning from our mistakes.

- Marketing campaign designed around increasing social media following.

- Social media analytics baselining.

- Grand plans to deliver 25000 flyers to target market (PAX Melbourne).

- Multi-level social media competition and digital solutions for post automation.

- On the ground at the PAX Melbourne event.

- Team retrospective (what we learned, and how we can leverage our this knowledge to reach our market going forward).


Scott and David excited to be entering PAX Melbourne 2017.


Grand plans can unravel quickly. This is something PickLock Games learned over the course of a single day, when they flew to Melbourne for the 2017 PAX Melbourne event. Months of preparation in anticipation for 3 days of social media buzz, brand awareness growth and greater connectivity to the people came to little, but to this team, and to many all over the world who subscribe to Agile, a growing cultural revolution in software teams (and many other industries), failure is the best opportunity to learn.


Any aspiring Indie game development team can learn from these mistakes, but sometimes, like a parent saying 'don't do that' to their child, it is best to learn these things for yourself.


Knowing PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) was drawing near, we started planning for our marketing and promotional campaign. We split the work into sprints. Our plan was to build hype through promotional flyers with the attendees at PAX so that they would be drawn to our social media and enticed to share and follow based on a big promotion. Our ultimate goal was to get a strong following and increase our presence on social media. 


Major PAX Sprint Plan components:


1- 2 months out

- Develop our Marketing Strategy & content

- Develop Video a teaser video


1 week out

- Release our teaser video

- Tweet and promote on our social media feeds

- Baseline our social media metrics


3 days out

- Test and preload our social media campaign using 'Loader'

- Publish a 'countdown' tile to try and start generating interest



- Release 25000 promotional flyers

- Hit our first promotional posts

- Tweet often and retweet @Official_PAX handle

- comment and share all relevant social media material


Marketing Strategy & Content


Our vision was simple, generate a following increase on our main social media by 5000 users. We researched all traditional ways of running social media competitions and looked into recommendations and 'best practice'. Taking this information, over the course of our design workshop we devised the following principles:


'The catch' was to generate interest in what 'Deep Inertia' and PickLock is about through something catchy (the poster)


'The call' to follow us on our social media, through the use of a competition


'The love' Cross promote between social media platforms to capture follows on all channels


The catch


We needed something that was catchy, an item that would connect with our audience and reflected what Deep Inertia was about. Sitting in Scott's apartment a brain wave was shared - a comic style poster of the main character working out of the in an integral game scene.


The poster was to be given out in the PAX showbag which entrants could receive as they entered PAX. The back of the poster contained the information about the game and also 'the call'.


The call


When PAX goers received our poster we needed something that would be a call to action, getting them to follow us on Social Media. We devised a competition that would allow contestants the chance on becoming a character in the game. 


This was something personal that we believed would reach our audience (as they love video games). It also gave us a chance to promote some of the characters in the game.  


The love


Once we had got the call of action from our PAX attendees we wanted to ensure that they got the full PickLock experience and offered further chances to win by liking our other social media channels and also visiting our website.


As part of this we realised that we needed to entice our future gamers with a teaser, something that would peak their interest and get them emotionally connected to our game. Viola - our 'Deep Inertia' trailer was born:


This video shows the first scene in our game and leaves the view questioning who John Renton is, and why he was in a cave waxing lyrically about his mental state. 



On the ground 

PAX! what can we say? but simply amazing. Our first time to a PAX event was this year and we were not disappointed. The hype, the buzz, the electricity in the air as we waited to enter. We quickly discovered that the Melbourne convention centre was massive and we had to collect ourselves and find a place to rest and absorb all of which we saw around us. From cosplay to LARP and everything and anything in-between it was at PAX! 


PAX Uprising was by far our favourite area (not surprising). The quality and passion of the games was fantastic! and it was great seeing a really positive culture of collaboration, feedback and encouragement. 

We estimated that around 60,000 attendees must have graced the PAX doors during the course of the three days. It's great to see something like this in Australia really starting to take off! 




....the results, not what we had envisioned. We missed the mark, our posters, while very cool (IMO) didn't seem to engage with our audience. Out of all our research and googling we had missed a big part, PAX goers. We didn't create a persona for the very audience we were trying to target. Talking with people at PAX the posters had come across as a bit 'cliche’' and corporate, despite being an indie game we seemed to be seen as trying to play like Ubisoft or EA (maybe a bit better than Battlefront 2) - our resounding advice, make pins! This was a very clear indication that we missed the subtle but strong subculture of Indie gamers. 


Our media competition ran well (considering our small user base). Our posts all generated strong likes and interactions. However we found a lot of people only did the minimum and very few followed the competition instructions. Our take away from observing the interactions was to not over engineer it. M&Ms ran a brilliant gaming market plan, it was a giant picture of an M&M and a hidden pretzel. 


Our video hit the mark, it is something we are very proud of developing. Everyone that we can get to watch it loves it. The key however was to get people to watch it. During the PAX event we bit the bullet and paid for Facebook advertising. We spent around $140AUD to run an ad showing our video with a call to action to follow. We ended up with over 300 likes and +18 new Facebook followers. 


Paid advertising with strong content works, plain and simple. 


The Results 


Below represents the change in the major elements of our social media stats. We found our biggest change in Facebook (largely to our paid ad) and also in our website visits as this was the first time we had really promoted our webpage. You should check it out - 


 We are now monitoring these stats monthly as we try different campaigns to draw followers. 


The Cost


An investment in knowledge pays the best interest. --Benjamin Franklin 


This quote from Benjamin Franklin sums up how we are treating the costs we incurred to run our PAX campaign. 


Printing: $2200

PAX Showbag: $1700

Flights: $800

Tickets: $100


Total: $4800AUD 


Total unique social media interaction: 933


cost per interaction: $5.14


Next Time For Sure!


In summary PickLock was brought back to earth, we had dreamed big but had missed important steps for our campaign. We have learned from this experience and have taken the key messages away:


- Keep it simple

- Know your audience and plan accordingly

- Drinking beer at PAX helps you talk (semi-serious and not condoning drinking, but sometimes the introverted can become the extroverted with a little liquid courage.)

- Get user feedback

- Learn from the mistake, but don't repeat it


Whilst we have been very critical of our results in this Blog, something that we have taken into consideration is that at least 25,000 people did see the Deep Inertia poster. So taking into account the 'impressions' is around 19c per person. Going into the next PAX we hope to really capitalise on the fact that we effectively ran the equivalent to a television commercial for the game.  To help us measure this at the next event we will develop some form of game or competition to try and reconnect through with the previous years attendees. 


What's next? Ozcomic Con! stay tuned for how PickLock has learnt our lessons and developed a new strategy to help promote Deep Inertia at the 2018 Ozcomic Con!


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