Mailbag: Developing an audience

I know IF is hard to sell, but I’d appreciate it if you could give any advice on how to find my audience. I want to learn more about game promotion. I’m not familiar with the IF community, so I don’t know how to reach them. And well, my goal is to expand beyond the IF community, too, so perhaps you have any thoughts on the subject. 

The IF community used to be a pretty cohesive group with a few well-defined venues for interaction. You could be good or bad at making a splash in those places, but at least there were specific places to go.

That is no longer the case. There are lots of subgroups of people who write and play interactive fiction who don’t speak to one another much and who are basically unaware of one another. People who like traditional parser IF are probably hanging out in the intfiction forum, people who like ChoiceScript are on the Choice of Games forum, classic gamebook aficionados are somewhere else, and people writing Twine are all over the place. Different language communities have their own locations.

So putting your game on IFDB, announcing it on the intfiction forum, etc., are still good things to do — and an IFDB entry is mandatory if you want to be in contention for a XYZZY award. You can meet other IF authors on the euphoria channel, which is often a good way to garner some informal feedback. And there’s a fair amount of activity on Twitter, too — always an especially ephemeral and challenging way to network.

Competitions are another way to get some eyes on your game, including most notably IF Comp, now running. Sometimes, placing well in IF Comp leads to job offers from commercial IF publishers, and over time, a good standing in this context can build you a (localized) reputation. On the other hand, IF Comp‘s 79 entries this year mean that you’re swimming in a bigger sea than ever.

All of this is very much a retail kind of process, one that may get you a few dozen mentions on people’s blogs and some feedback from individual fans.

If what you want is to build the kind of profile that would allow you to do major crowdfunding projects or sell your IF online in the future — if you want this as a stepping stone, not just to being hired as a contributor, but to having your own creative brand — then it’s likely not enough.

At that point, you probably need to behave like an indie game developer. Figure out what games resemble yours, and how those games are being presented, where. Participate in those conversations, wherever they’re taking place. Consider taking part in some game jams and going to some meetups, so that you build a network of people who are also working in your sub-niche and can help boost you. Perhaps develop an portfolio. Look at submitting your game to indie game festivals and expo booths that are open to IF, from WordPlay to IndieCade to AdventureX. Look into whether you can/want to do public playthroughs or readings from your work, at a local IF meetup or as part of something literary-themed.

There are a handful of Steam curators that specifically curate IF, too, so if you have a game on Steam, it might be worth knowing about the Choice of Games curation list. Less IF-focused but still of possible interest: Choice and Consequence.

Another useful move is to write about or otherwise engage with other people’s interactive narrative work, and make yourself part of the conversation.

There’s a ton of advice online about how to do indie game promotion, so I’m not going to try to offer a full list of resources here — impossible! But the GDC Vault contains lots of past talks from the Indie Games summit, some of which are now free to watch. Also, presskit() is cool and Rami Ismail is an inspiration. [ETA: I’ve been told the indie games content is all free. Bonanza!]

2 thoughts on “Mailbag: Developing an audience”

  1. Contests, particularly the IF Comp (I placed 7th in 2015; top ten is an epic achievement), have led directly to me working full-time in the field of IF. I came into IF from novel-writing but I get MUCH MUCH more from IF than my novels.

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