20 ways to run a game marketing campaign without a marketing budget

Marketing is often seen as a huge investment that’s out of reach for small developers, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Even if you have no marketing budget, there are plenty of things you could do to get more eyes on your game!

Even if you plan on doing everything yourself, you still have to take into account the huge amount of time it takes to successfully run a marketing campaign. However, as a small game studio, time is often the only resource you have.

If you’re looking for some free ways to build momentum for your game, you’ve come to the right place!

do you have a marketing plan? Yesterday is made a tweet about my game
Kidding aside, it’s a great start!

20 ways to market your game for free

First off: Be easy to find!

1 / Create a press kit

If you want press & content creators to find important assets for your game and use the correct logo, header image or a selection of screenshots that you’ve hand-picked to give your game the best possible first impression, then you need to make sure you have an up-to-date press kit!

  • Key Art | 16:9
  • Box Art | 9:16 or 4:3
  • Thumbnail | 1:1
  • Game & company logo | without background
  • Trailer | .mp4 or YouTube embed (preferably both)
  • Best possible screenshots & GIFs

You can even Use our Notion Template!

Trifox Presskit being built with a crane

2 / Create a website

A website is still useful to have, especially if your game is launching on multiple platforms and you want to have links to every storefront. When people are searching for your game on their computer or phone, they’ll rarely do so in the store but are much more likely to use a Google search. Having your website front and center as one of those first results can be vital. Make sure to include:

  • Store links
  • Most recent trailer front & center
  • Link to Press Kit
  • Link to contact form or email
  • List your official social media channels
  • A form to sign up for your newsletter
  • A call to action for content creators (“Fill out this form to request a review key”)

3 / Sign up for an IndieDB page

IndieDB is a site where you can find pretty much all the indies around, but you need to keep it updated yourself. They also rank pretty high on Google searches, so whatever images you upload there are sure to pop up in Google Image Search results. NOTE: this also means you need to keep it updated if you don’t want people to use old videos or images in their articles.

4 / Make sure your YouTube and Twitch categories are up-to-date

It takes a long time (and popularity) for YouTube and Twitch to create a game category for you, but why wait when you can do it yourself? Having a game category of your own makes it easier for creators to tag you, for gamers to find other videos of your title and for yourself to track who’s going live with your game so you can poke your head in the chat and engage with the creator (if they’re open to it).

We have an entire article dedicated to how you can set these up, so check it here: How to get your game category on Twitch and YouTube.

5/ Optimise your store pages for maximum conversion

Take all of the steps listed above and some of the ones you’ll find in more detail in the steps below and apply these to your own store pages, we’ll use Steam as an example here but the same applies for Epic Games, PlayStation, Xbox, the Switch eShop and others…

  • Pick a title that is unique and can’t be confused with other games
  • Have a killer key art that shows what your game is about
  • Describe your game’s genre, style and unique hooks in the short description
  • Have a gameplay trailer that gets right into the action
  • Choose your best screenshots
  • Use an engaging description separated with visual headers or animated GIFs
  • Use bullet points to make it easier to read (avoid walls of text)
  • Build your wishlist. As soon as you have a page, make it your main Call To Action.
  • Try to get to 10 reviews ASAP (read why [HERE])
Visual by Matt Hackett

Share your best work

6 / Invest in great artwork

Perhaps one of the most important tools that will get people to click on your game in a list, is having the best possible capsule art. Look at how the Trifox key art evolved over the years to optimize the click-through. Feel free to AB-test it over several months and track the conversion rate.

7 / Make a kick-ass trailer

After people have clicked on your thumbnail and find themselves on your page, they are likely to click your trailer to get a feel for how what the game looks like in action. You only get one shot at a first impression, so invest a lot of time into getting the trailer just right.

  • Start with the best moments (catch them in the first 6 seconds)
  • Avoid black frames at the start or a slow fade in
  • Keep it short (1m30 max if you can)
  • Show, don’t tell (avoid on-screen text where you can)
  • Skip the company & engine logos (or leave them for the end)
  • End with a CTA: Wishlist or buy

8 / Create regular content for social media

Be your own best content creator.

Whether it’s Twitter, TikTok or any other platform, it’s a good idea to create a content calendar where you write down the kind of content you’ll create and when you’ll publish it. For example: “Every friday evening, I’ll send out a tweet to wish the community a great weekend and I’ll ask them what they’re playing this weekend”.

But other than promoting your own game, don’t be afraid to use your social media channels to engage with press, gamers, or other developers. More activity = more eyes on your own channel. Especially when you’re starting off small. Just make sure to post your own videos enough so people scrolling through your page still find what they are looking for (and pin your most important post!)

9 / Create a demo

Launching a demo is a great way to boost your Steam wishlists. It’s a means to be discovered in the “FREE” category, people can test the game before making a purchase and it may even result in people making content for it before it’s released. Forcing yourself to put out a demo also gives you a vertical slice of the game to make content from, if the rest isn’t polished enough yet.

Bonus: Even when your game has already launched, it’s still a great way to drive traffic to your game. Look at the results of COWCAT Games after they launched their PlayStation demo:

Ask for feedback!

10 / Ask for input & feedback

Sometimes it pays off to ask people for their opinion. It’s human nature to want to weigh in on a decision and contribute to the outcome, so the next time you’re deciding on what to name an enemy character or what the best design of a weapon or outfit is, ask on social media or in your community.

Example: We asked our followers which key should be made into an important 3D object in Journey for Elysium, and people were excited to see their choice make it into the game.

Remember that demo we told you to build? Provide a feedback form at the end of the demo or ask people to join your Discord and ask about their thoughts there. Some of the suggestions they bring to the table may be things you’ve never thought of yourself, or issues that didn’t strike you as a problem. It can help prevent bad reviews down the line!

11 / Go to events

Sales and networking, it’s a match made in heaven. Go to local events to talk about your game. Don’t solely focus on reaching your end consumer, but go to developer meetups and befriend other developers. You’ll learn a lot from them, and they’ll probably even share your game with their own network to give you a nice boost to get started.

Watch how people play your game. Most people will not give negative feedback to your face, but you can often learn a lot from watching them play. Don’t be afraid to ask them some questions yourself about what they liked and what they weren’t such a fan of.

12 / Submit your game for award shows and showcases

There are dozens of (free) award shows where you can submit your game, often before it’s even finished. You’ll get feedback from professional juries and maybe even get a “nominee” or “winner” badge to add to your Steam page to earn some extra prestige.

(We’ve been incredibly proud to co-organise the Belgian Game Awards ourselves and also to be jurors in Indie Cup Canada for example)

But there are also events on Twitter, like #PitchYaGame where you can use a single tweet to check if your game concept has merit, even before investing months into the development.

Or online showcases like IwoCon, where the last edition had a pirate theme (we approve!) and allowed people to explore a 3D world made in Unreal and with each game having a digital booth.

Steam NextFest is also an incredibly important one, but you’re only allowed to participate once, so make sure to use that one at a time when you can generate the most possible wishlists from it.

Build a community

13 / Build a community of your own

Launching your own subreddit is probably a bit overkill, but setting up a Discord server is a great way to build a community. Your social media following is already a sort of community in itself, but you’ll need a place where you can openly chat with people and ask them for feedback or rally them behind your current Call to Action.

  • Need feedback on the game? Ask your community
  • Need 10 Steam reviews? Ask your community
  • Need hype in a Twitch chat? Ask your community
  • Have an event or activation you want to promote?

… you see where I’m going.

Your community can also serve as a source of energy: seeing people respond to your latest updates can be a huge boost to your own morale. They remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing. And nothing shows the outside world more that your game is a success than an active community.

14 / Organise a (closed) beta

Need to bring in new people? They’re going to need an incentive! An effective method to achieve this could be a beta where people get access to the full game ahead of time (or whatever you have playable that exceeds the limited confounds of your demo)

You can even use this as a first PR email to reach out to content creators and make it a closed beta that only they have access to. Don’t be afraid to reach out to bigger channels with this, as the exclusive content can be enough of a hook to get them to make content for your game.

15/ Organise a giveaway on social media

You can also organise contests to grow and reward your community. Organise a speedrunning or high-score event and reward the top performer with a physical modded controller, or if you’re looking to grow your social media channels around the release date: organise a simple “Follow & share” type giveaway on the channels you are looking to promote.

It’s nearly free and can result in a much-needed boost to your community size. Just be aware that people following you only for the chance at a free game can leave again, so think of ways to keep them engaged.

16 / Engage with existing gaming communities

It can be tough starting from zero, so a good first step is to join existing gaming communities yourself. Be mindful of not entering them with a self-promotion mindset, however, and try to just get a feel for the vibe there and chat along with the other members on various topics. These can be Reddits with other developers or even Facebook groups (yes, it’s still a thing) discussing the latest RPGS. The more niche the group is, the better your results can be.

Here are some examples:

  • Twitter hashtags like #TTRPGcommunity or #AdventureGameFriday: someone hosts a thread and you can reply with your own progress.
  • Facebook groups. If you’re launching a Kickstarter, join Kickstarter groups, if you’re looking for feedback on your Unity-made game, join Unity groups.
  • LinkedIn. There are several groups that give tips on marketing or how to work with a certain engine. Don’t be afraid to engage with the posts of other people.
  • Reddit is full of places like r/indiedev, but don’t fall into the trap of only talking with peer developers, be sure to also join groups that have your target audience of gamers. Keep self-promotion to a minimum
  • Join Indiegame Discords, there are hundreds of them out there!

Expand your reach

17 / Write a press release

A great press release has to check a lot of boxes. This is one of the areas where experience really matters, so we still suggest asking an agency for help, if you have the means. You may be pleasantly surprised about the pricing, it doesn’t have to cost that much! (ask us about ours)

If you’re writing the press release yourself, go read a few high-quality press releases on Games Press to get a feel for the format. You’ll learn that they all share a similar structure. You start with a catchy title and a short intro. At the bottom, you can share more information about the game and its developer.

Try to put yourself in the shoes of the journalist/content creator that’ll receive the press release. Know that they receive a lot of press releases every day, so think about a unique hook to differentiate yourself from the crowd. What is worth writing about? Lead with that information, but provide some secondary hooks along the way.

Need a good example? [Here] is one of ours!

18 / Distribute the press release

Hopefully you’ve been building a mailing list of your own at events or by asking people to sign up for it in Call To Actions on your website or in social media posts. If you don’t have a list of games industry press to send it out to, you may need to rely on a PR agency (or your publisher, if you have one) for this task as well.

Next to our own growing list of specialised contacts, we can also recommend services like PressEngine, which let you send out a Press Release to their own network of gaming press. But don’t put all your eggs in the same basket, try to distribute your press release through a variety of networks.

19 / Distribute review keys

If you’re a new name in the industry and don’t have a track record yet, the truth is that your press release probably won’t have a large impact on itself. Offering journalists and content creators a code to your game is a great way to offer them an incentive to write about it.

Be honest with yourself, though, and don’t expect coverage from large outlets like IGN or Kotaku out of the gates unless your game is really unique or managed to gather some popularity on social media ahead of its launch.

But don’t underestimate the cumulative power of niche sites either! Getting covered by a relevant niche site, for example a VR-specific one covering your VR title, with a reach of 100K+ monthly views, can often lead to better results than a general site with 1M+ monthly views.

Getting covered by multiple smaller outlets and creators can trigger a snowball effect of word-of-mouth that can result the big players suddenly being interested as well.

You can distribute keys to your own list, but also consider:

  • Keymailer
  • Lurkit
  • PressEngine
  • our friends at IndieGameCollective
  • (there are many more options, but these are our favourites)

Be prepared for this part: it’s time-consuming to properly vet each request (and you’ll be showered by fakes and people pretending to be other creators). So make sure you allocate enough time for this in the weeks ahead of your game’s launch, and follow-up afterwards.

20 / Keep up the momentum

When the press starts creating coverage, keep up the momentum by sharing the coverage. Are YouTubers and Twitch streamers playing your game? Great! Create short clips that capture their enthusiasm for your game and share it on social media. If you’re lucky, they may even reshare it with their large network!

These were just 20 ways to run a game marketing campaign without a marketing budget, but if you’re ever in need of assistance, know that your trusty pirate buddies are always happy to lend a hand (or a hook!)

We hope that you’ve learned something new from this Treasure Trove post and if you did, please consider sharing it through any of the options below and help spread the knowledge!