Going viral without marketing... it can happen.

Fri 02 August 2013
By Bram

There is a common saying in the #indiegames scene that goes like this: Build it and the players will come.This translates to 'A good game will sell itself (without marketing.)' The current crowd wisdom in my circles is that this is utterly false.

If someone ever hints that "just making a good game" is a path to success? Slap 'em. http://t.co/WbVNdS2He0

—BenKuchera (@BenKuchera) August 2, 2013

@BenKuchera Pretty much. Build it and they will come is pure bullshit.

—Guillaume B-Vidal (@NineDotsGBV) August 2, 2013

Blog: Five PR tips indies really shouldn't read http://t.co/sxJHlePoeE

—Rami Ismail (@tha_rami) July 16, 2013

It is only a single data point, but allow me to present an argument for 'Build it and they will come.' This is a case study of my game The Little Crane That Could. The game was released end of january 2011 on Apple's app store. Upon launch, the game had zero marketing and zero press. So what happened to this game?

  • On day 1: I made 1 (one!) sale that day.¹
  • On day 2: 10 sales.
  • On day 3: 100 sales.
  • It might have been day 5 or 6, but in the first week it got to 1000 sales per day.

The free downloads trend was even more dramatic, hitting 1M total in a few weeks. If this is not a text book pattern for viral distribution, I do not know what is. Since there was no marketing² behind it, it must have been word of mouth at play³. Here is how it works: Every player that downloads your game convinces N friends to download and try it as well. If N > 1.0 then you have a viral game. Even with N = 1.1 you will have a smash hit on your hands.

So this was in 2011. Does today's App Store still work this way? I think it does, but the bar has been raised. Nowadays to stand out, it needs to be really really good. In the early days, the demand/supply was out of balance. The demand is still there, but the supply has come in like a tsunami. To scare indie game developers: tell them how many game titles are published per month.

¹ So disheartening, I decided to quit game development, and start contracting.
² The only marketing was a single post on touch arcade forums that announced the game.
³ After initial break through, another force takes over: When in Apple's top ranks, visibility jumps up aggressively. Still: the viral phase got me in the ranks, the ranks propelled me further.