This is a question I see all the time from aspiring designers who are interested in launching their game via crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter. How do I build up an audience and a mailing list for my unpublished game? As Richard Bliss of Funding the Dream often says, when it comes to launching a successful crowdfunding campaign, you often don’t have a funding problem but a crowd problem. That’s not to say that money is not important but the way you need to approach hitting your funding goal is not to focus on the money but on the crowd, and building that crowd can be a long process that many people don’t know how to approach.
If you are looking for a silver bullet, you won’t find one here. Building an audience is time consuming and hard work. There are multiple avenues to pursue and doing more than one can help build your audience faster. Ideally you begin this process six or more months before you launch.
Social Media and Mailing List
The first thing you need to do is make sure that people can find you. I would recommend making a Facebook page and getting a Twitter handle. I suggest having a website as well for gathering emails for a mailing list. Facebook is a great place to encourage engagement and publicize events that you will be at. Twitter can also engage your fans but more importantly, I’ve found it to be an invaluable tool for networking. It will let you meet other designers, publishers, game reviewers, and other influential people within the tabletop community. Your goal will be to build brand awareness and also funnel people to your email list, which will be your most valuable asset for bringing a crowd to day one of your Kickstarter campaign. If you plan on attending many events, I would recommend getting business cards with all your social media information.
One of the best ways to get people to sign up for a mailing list is to collect emails after a playtesting session. You are playtesting your game, right? If you are having trouble finding people to playtest your game, do some research and see if there are any local playtesting/designer groups and meetups. You can also bring your game to open game nights or local game stores. After playtesting, invite players to sign up for your mailing list if they are interested.
This can be a slow process for collecting emails since you only get a handful of emails each session, but these can also be your most valuable emails since players often enjoy supporting and owning a game they were a part of. It’s also the best way to discover super fans, who will help you spread the word when the time comes.
Another way to build an audience for your Kickstarter is to create helpful and interesting content. This might be a blog post, a podcast, a YouTube channel, or any number of things. The important thing to remember is that this is not content just about your game. People have to identify your content as useful and relevant to them, and if you continue to create that useful content, people will be drawn to you and your game.
Attend conventions (on the cheap)
Bringing your game to a gaming convention is a great way to expose your game to many people. I recommend that you look up what kind of gaming conventions there are near you. Ideally there are a few throughout the year that are close enough that you won’t need to fly or book a hotel.
What do you do at these conventions? There are several ways to build exposure. You can always book a table/booth, but without an actual product to sell, this can be fairly expensive. Sometimes there are organizations like Unpub that will provide indie game designers table space for free. In Seattle, we have PlaytestNW which is a fantastic resource for designers.
Also see if any of these conventions are taking applications for things like indie showcases. There are a surprising number of opportunities out there. For example, I was able to exhibit Fantastic Factories at PAX South on the main show floor as part of the Indie Showcase. I got a table at the Evergreen Tabletop Expo (ETX) by entering the LUCI Award competition. And I also showcased via Indie MEGABOOTH at PAX West. As long as you put some effort and polish in your application, you could qualify. All these opportunities were free or nearly free. Once you get a table, if your goal is to build your mailing list, consider developing a short demo of your game that captures the essence of your game while maximizing the number of people who can experience it. Check out my post about how to create a compelling demo.
If you can’t secure dedicated table space, I recommend just setting up shop on any available table. Conventions often have freeplay areas that you can use to play any game. Get an eye-catching table sign and a LFG (Looking For Gamers) sign, and just invite random people who are wandering around to try your game.
Make your game available and accessible
You can’t be everywhere all the time, but sometimes people will want to check out your game. If you make your game freely available through Tabletop Simulator/Tabletopia or as a print and play, some people will be willing to try it out. I’ve written a post about how TTS can be used — one of the purposes being extra exposure.
If your game is primarily cards and/or fairly small, you can also release a print and play version of your game. People who are interested in trying your game can print out their own copy of the game.
Participate in the community
There are pockets of community all around us. There is a vibrant community of tabletop gamers on Facebook covering all kinds of focuses ranging from designing, publishing, art, or just getting excited about gaming. There’s also a community of people on reddit for both designers and players. And of course there’s BoardGameGeek. For face-to-face interactions, there may be a lot of local game meetups that often meet on a weekly basis.
Just as with content creation, it’s important to contribute and add value to the community and not just self-promote. Once you establish your reputation within each community, people will be much more receptive and friendly towards your projects.
Ultimately, unless people spend time playing your game or demo, they won’t remember you or your game the first time they see it. It’s only after the second or third or even fourth time that they see your game that they’ll begin to recognize it. That’s why when it comes to building an audience, I recommend pursuing as many strategies as you can handle and starting them as early as possible. Over time you can build your mailing list, your reputation, and your brand.
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