Here are 3 Lessons Indie Game Devs can Learn From Blizzard's Marketing
You're going to learn 3 hidden secrets about Blizzard and how they marketed their game. And after you read this, you're going to get a simple technique to help you market your indie game -- with spending as little money as you can.
So, this is NOT an article about branding, or spending money on commercials or advertising.
As an indie game dev, I know that you don't have the luxury to spend as much as you want on marketing.
So, the 3 marketing tips you're about to learn are FREE to implement.
And that's the goal in this article: to discover the secrets of Blizzard and how they marketed their game, so you can use the same techniques with your indie game -- with spending as little money as you can.
Here's lesson number one...
1. Go The Opposite Way as Everybody Else
Back in early 1990, the Real Time Strategy genre was almost brand new. And Dune II from Westwood studios was dominating the RTS genre. Westwood would later make Command and Conquer.
Anyway, while the RTS genre was booming back in the 1990's, you started to see other "me-too" games trying take advantage of this new trend. Most RTS games were just Dune II clones.
But when Blizzard came out with Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, it wasn't just another Dune II clone.
And here's the important insight I want you to discover...
A simple change in direction in THEME, made Warcraft: Orcs & Humans stand out.
You see, most RTS themes were all military based. But when Warcraft: Orcs & Humans came out, they used a fantasy theme.
And you see this happening all the time...
When Fallout 1 came out, the game got attention because it changed the direction in theme. While almost all RPG games were fantasy, Fallout 1's theme was post apocalyptic.
Same with Pyre. While most sports games are, well, sports themed, Pyre made a high fantasy sports game.
I'm waiting for the next fantasy based PUBG. In the next year or so, you'll see a "last man standing" fantasy game.
Anyway, here's insight number two...
2. Simple Iconic Coloring
The exaggeration of coloring is Blizzard's secret. It helps the gamer distinguish a Blizzard game from any other game.
Their comic art direction is more about exaggerating an ideal, and less about making it "fun" looking.
What I mean is, if you look at Diablo 1 and 2. The art direction was more leaned to a realistic art direction. But with Diablo 3, they exaggerated the colors, and went more cartoony.
Again, this isn't about making the characters look "fun". It's about exaggerating ideals. People are more attracted at looking at the "ideal of man or woman" than a more realistic view.
If you ever read an Andrew Loomis book, he explains really well.
He says that you can draw a human with the proper proportions. That's fine. But an exaggerated point of view of an ideal man or woman is more attractive.
So, what's my point here? How does this help you market your indie game? Do you make cartoony, comic book like indie games?
Your art is your marketing. It's one of the best ways to distinguish your game from any other games. So for example, your indie game is in a sub-genre that is highly competitive.
The best way to get free attention is your art.
Look at what Borderland did. They were in the RPG, post apocalyptic shooter genre. And just a change in art direction got them attention.
And your art doesn't have to be pretty. Just look at Undertale. Not a pretty game. But it is unique enough, that it stands out. It's iconic.
Why is it iconic? Just because your art is unique, doesn't mean it's iconic...
But let me explain number 3, and all of this will make sense...
3. "The Death of One Man is a Tragedy, The Death of Millions is a Statistic"
I bring up this quote because it explains how Blizzard got to where they are now.
When you play Warcraft 1, 2, and 3, you'll notice a trend. The trend went from controlling a bunch of pions to controlling "heroes".
You see, one character is MORE relatable than thousands. Controlling a bunch of characters is less relatable than controlling one or two "heroes".
You see this also in Xcom. The best part of the game is giving your characters a name. And watching them progress.
It's the same thing that happened in Warcraft III. You all of a sudden had your own personal heroes you could pick and choose from.
You see where I'm going with this?
Blizzards hidden marketing has 3 secretes:
One secret is, they go the opposite direction then anybody else did. Their art style is iconic, because it's exaggerated. And their focus on making their heros relatable helped their art become more iconic.
This brings me back to Undertale. What made the game stand out was its unique art direction. But unique art isn't enough to get free attention. A lot of indie games have great art.
What helped the art direction was that the characters in that game all were relatable. That relatability is what made that art stand out.
To help you understand what I'm talking about, look at The Last Night. The art is beautiful, and it's unique. But are the characters relatable? It just looks like a pretty puzzle game. There is a weird feeling about this game that it's style over substance. And that it won't be so good.
On the other hand, this is what Blizzard does so well -- they know how to make their characters relatable. They use style AND substance.
I know it's not easy just to go and make your characters "relatable".
So, let me show you how to use what you just learned. How can you use this to help you market your own indie game -- in a way that doesn't cost you any money?
Let me show you that, next...
Your Indie Game Is Your Marketing
I always say that the best marketing is "baked in". What I mean is, you can pay for advertising, you can sponsor YouTubers, you can use Twitter to get the message out... but...
The best marketing is hidden. It's IN your game.
It's your theme. It's your art direction. It's your characters and their relatability.
This is how Blizzard went from making Warcraft: Orc and Human to Overwatch, Diablo 3, World of Warcraft, Hearthstone.
It doesn't matter what genre, they just seem to get it right. And if you look "under the hood", you'll notice a common marketing strategy:
- They go a different direction in terms of theme
- They exaggerate their art because ideals are more attractive than reality
- Their characters are relatable and have substance
All this is FREE to do. You don't need money to market your indie game like this.
Sure, it's not easy.
So, let me give you a formula you can use...
Your Winning Formula: Different Theme + Unique Art Style + Relatable Heroes and NPCs = An Indie Game That Sells Itself
To give you the best example on how use this formula, look at PUBG. The "Last Man Standing" genre is exploding in popularity.
A lot of new "me too" games will have the same theme. But it's the game that will explore a different theme that will be the one to get the most attention.
For example, a dark fantasy theme. Or do what Blizzard does, and use a comic art style theme. And as for the relatable heros, well, that one is easy. YOU are the relatable hero in this case.
But let's explore. What if a PUBG type game had heroes? What if you saw a Dark Fantasy, Colorful, Last Man Standing Shooter, with Heroes?
A new sub-genre is born!
Maybe not. I don't know. But you get the idea. You see how you can use this formula to create something that is attention grabbing?
Again, marketing isn't just about commercials and memes and tweets. The best marketing IS your game.
By consciously thinking about these things (like different themes, iconic art style, heros that are relatable), then you've developed a game that will sell itself.