Once a platform has been chosen and content has been created, an independent designer needs a way to market their product. If no one sees it, no one plays it. That’s where Joe Lieberman of VGSmart comes in. We sat down with the self-proclaimed Superhero and Public Relations Monkey for a chat about what it took to get him where he is today, and a few bits of advice for those searching for success in the industry. Lieberman recently helped Yellow Monkey Studios with their promotion of Huebrix.
What made you decide to enter this segment of the industry?
So during my sophomore year of college, I failed out of Calculus II, and that’s kind of where it all began for me. I failed and I ended up talking to the senior producer of Star Wars Galaxies. He said, “The game industry needs good business people who understand games.” I guess you could say I ran with that. For a while, I did pro bono work for a company called Dragonclaw Studios. They’re not around anymore. I took that time to build up my contacts so by the time I graduated college, I knew enough people in the industry that I never had to seek a job from someone else. I could do my own thing. I focused entirely on helping small studios because I believed in what they were doing, and since no one else was focusing on them, I didn’t really have any competition. And to be honest with you, there still really isn’t any competition. It’s a growth industry, I guess.
Now, indie studios typically can’t afford a large scale public relations machine. That costs tens of thousands of dollars a month. They just don’t have the budget for it. My methodology is that I do the majority of the marketing a large company would do pretty quickly, and I make up in volume what I lack in individual client income. I have worked with over a hundred different studios on games, though.
What pushes a title ahead of the pack in this crowded market of ours? What makes one game a hit and another a miss?
The cop out answer is “It’s going to vary depending on the game.” And to some degree that holds true. But I think what makes a game an actual success is really how much you can energize your users to get out there and be proponents of your product. And doing that in the indie game space really comes down to an innovative drill down. We can take a look at a successful product — Minecraft for example — that took the idea of exploring a sandbox, and they drilled it down to essentially a crafting system of exploring and putting things together Lego style. Not just in the building aspect, but in the blocks themselves. They drilled it down to such a fine level that it gave someone an easy thing to tell someone else about. You can take that approach with a lot of successful indie games. How about Spiderweb Software? For the last sixteen years, they’ve done robust storytelling. Each game they make is somewhere between 130,000 and 180,000 words. You can imagine the immense amount of detail that goes into every game they make. It’s what their users like, and it arms them with talking points.
Any final words for people trying to make it in the industry as a successful designer?
Fail. The best thing you can do when starting out is to make something and fail. I mean, obviously, if you knock it out of the park on your first attempt, well then good for you. The majority of people don’t. It’s okay. The key to success is to fail and then understand what the hell went wrong and fix it next time. It takes years of failures sometimes. But don’t give up. The end is worth every step of the journey.
Joe Lieberman was an advisor for Casual Connect Seattle 2012. He help put together a great selection of speakers. To hear from those speakers you can go the the Casual Connect channel on YouTube or see them on the Casual Connect webpage.