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Mike Rose, founder of Descenders and Hypnospace Outlaw publisher No More Robots, has a bit of an obsession with data.
Even when he worked at Gamasutra he would poke at the black boxes in which the game industry held its coveted metrics, and reverse-engineer stats in creative ways to unearth valuable data.
On GDC Podcast episode 13, Rose shows that he still hasn't lost that obsession, making No More Robots and effective data-driven indie game publisher.
Asked about the most effective ways to market and indie game, he said, "I will say that the best ways are the ways you can actually see...whether [the method] is having an effect or not, rather than just doing things and hoping, 'Oh, I hope this is going to do something.'"
That means the most effective marketing methods have some sort of measurable result, ideally, with high conversion. For example, Rose said social media is one angle that he doesn't rely on so much from a marketing angle. He said, "Obviously we still do social media stuff, it would be crazy not to, but we do not focus hard on it because tweets and Facebook [posts] for our games, they don't really do anything. We might get two clicks on a link. It's not fantastic."
He said what does work for No More Robots is community engagement through Discord, private betas for the community, and giving away an early level of an upcoming game. "We normally try to give 20-30 minutes of the game away via a Steam key, then we say to people who sign up for that, 'Hey, why don't you give us a cheeky little Steam Wishlist while you're doing that?' And that works amazingly!"
"It's stuff like that, trying to build the numbers that matter that is the most important thing to us," he said.
"Yes, buying ads is useless" as an indie, Rose said, answering one listener's question. "The only place that I've found buying ads to be useful is Reddit. And I say this as it's good for breaking even on your ads on Reddit..."
"The bottom line is that on Reddit, you can choose how much you pay per click," he said. "So I just worked out a formula for...what's the percentage of people who click through who then wishlist the game, and how many of those people who wishlist the game buy the game? Then I reverse-engineer that to figure out [my click-through rate]" to find out if people are paying for their ads with their purchases.
"Outside of Reddit, [ads are] a massive, massive waste of time," he said. "Maybe in triple-A it makes sense."
An oft-asked question for the range of indie publishers out there today is how an indie developer may catch the eye of a publisher. The answer is different for any publisher, and for No More Robots, it's a straightforward gut-feeling wow factor that Rose has developed over his years in the game industry.
"The thing that I try to tell people the most is that the reason I sign the games that I do is because the moment I see them, then my brain goes, 'Oh, what the heck is this?!'" he said. "And if I don't have that reaction, then the average person isn't going to have that reaction either...Of the games I've signed, that's happened with every single one of them...I don't really care what genre it is. If it's weird, I like it."
He added, "The truth is, half the battle is the game itself...I choose a game because I see something in them where I'm like, 'I'm going to be able to sell the crap out of this!'"
GDC Podcast music by Mike Meehan
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