Game Business Workshop
|Top Previous Next|
This month we are starting a new workshop series, and it's one I've been looking forward to for a long time. As some of you may know, I run an online marketing company named Randombyte, which helps businesses get more clients. So if you run a business and need help promoting your products or services online, you know who to contact, right? OK, shameless plug ends here.
Designing a game is a complex task. I know it firsthand, because I've designed several games so far. It's one of my dearest hobbies, after all. But how do you sell your masterpiece? What happens if it doesn't get Greenlit on Steam? And what happens when you can't find a publisher for your game?
I've worked with publishers in the past, and trust me - some of them can be very mean. They'll want to give you 5-10% from the game's retail price, and they'll only send your hard earned money when they want to. Often times, they'll never want to do that. It's quite common for small and medium sized publishers to act this way.
So what can an indie game developer do to sell his or her great little game and earn a lot of money? Well, that's exactly what this workshop is about.
Many people use Google to search for games. Some of them also use Steam and other game distribution platforms, I know, but Google still takes the lion's share when it comes to game searches.
We are going to learn how to create a website for our game(s) and how to rank it in Google, making it appear at the top of the search results whenever people type a search phrase (a keyword) that interests us into Google's search box. As you can imagine, we are making use of several paid tools at Randombyte. I'll do my best to find 100% free alternatives for each tool that may be needed during the process, though.
Aren't you anxious to get started? I know I am!
First of all, you should determine what your game is about. Are you building a strategy game, a shooter game, a puzzle game? You may already know what you're developing, but maybe you are just starting a new project and you haven't decided what to create yet.
Let's pretend that I'm creating a puzzle game. Truth be told, I am working at one right now :) And let's say that I plan to create several puzzle games in the future. That is going to be my niche - puzzle games!
But is it going to be profitable for me to create a puzzle game? Fear not, for the answer is simple: yes! Or not. But it's easy to find out the correct answer. We are going to use Google's Keyword Planner tool for that. All you need is a Gmail account; use its user name and password to log into the tool. You can create a Gmail account if you don't have one, of course - it's free. Log in, and then choose Tools -> Keyword Planner to fire up the tool.
Choose the "Search for new keywords using a phrase, website or category" option; you should see an image that looks like the one below.
I know that it may look a bit intimidating, but we're genius game designers, so we can do this! In fact, all we need to do is to type in a seed keyword - puzzle games - into the "Your product or service" text box.
Let's do that, and then press the blue "Get ideas" button.
I'm telling you man, these results are promising indeed! I can see that more and more people got interested in puzzle games last year. I wouldn't use December 2015 as a reference (many people buy games for Christmas) but it's quite safe to assume that the average number of monthly searches will stay at the October - November levels. That's about 15 million searches per month!
Reality check: you won't get 15 million people to visit your website each month. That's the total number of people that search Google for puzzle games using various search phrases, and many of them will visit other people's websites. Still, as your site gets promoted, you may get a few thousands of visitors per month, and a few hundreds of them may buy your game each and every month.
Let's click the "Keyword ideas" tab.
The "Ad groups ideas" tab groups similar keywords into ad categories. We are interested in using the "Keyword ideas" tab, which allows us to take a good look at each keyword.
By the way, this is Google's AdWords (paid ads) tool, which is mainly used by people that pay Google to have their ads displayed at the top of its search results. In a nutshell, Google displays your ad and takes your money whenever somebody clicks your ad, arriving at your website. As you will see, this advertising method can be very expensive in comparison with what we are doing here - search engine optimization.
I have sorted the keywords according to their "suggested bid" value; this means that the most expensive keywords will appear at the top of the list.
Have you ever imagined that some of the game makers will pay over 11 dollars to have their site listed on Google's first page whenever somebody is searching for "top free puzzle games"? Neither have I. But if they are doing this, it's clear that they have managed to find powerful ways to convert the freebie seekers to paying customers.
We won't target that keyword, though. It's true that we want to discover keywords that have a big "Suggested bid" value; this means that the people that type them into Google's search box are interested in buying stuff - otherwise, the advertisers wouldn't pay that much money for a single click. But we are also searching for keywords that have a decent monthly search volume - over 300 searches per month.
You can (and you should!) download all these keywords using the "Download" button in the upper right corner of the screen. Save the data as a .csv / Excel file.
I have filtered my list, getting rid of the keywords that included the word "free", were not related to puzzle games, etc. Here are the first 10 good keywords on my list:
There are over 200,000 monthly searches for these 10 keywords alone, and the advertisers are paying at least two dollars for each click that leads people to their sites. And while it's clear that not all the website visitors will turn into customers, the ad competition is fierce for most keywords, so these are money making keywords. Trust me, we have hit a very profitable niche. I'll let you steal it, there are plenty of keywords in it for all of us ;)
OK, so now we know that we won't have to design our great little puzzle game, and then let it die because we can't find a good publisher for it. All we need to do is to build it, and then promote it online.
Let's start with the basics, though. We need to set up a website, a virtual home for our game. It's going to be the place where people land after searching Google for "puzzle games", etc.
First of all, we are going to need a domain name. "But George, I already have a website!" Good for you! Not all of us have one. And if you're also selling potato chips on that website it's useless for what we need.
Of course, if you have a site that's dedicated to your game project, you won't need to create a new one. It helps to have a domain name that tells people and search engines what your website is about, though. I'd rather purchase and use puzzlegames.com for my project, instead of using itsuperstore.com to promote my game, get it?
It's time to discuss exact match domains, known as EMDs in the SEO world. They used to play an important part in the past. Owning a domain like puzzlegames.com would have helped your site rank much higher in Google for the "puzzle games" keyword in comparison with other domains. As you can guess, most EMDs have been bought, and continue to be bought and sold for enormous amounts of money, even though their role as a ranking factor has diminished significantly during the last 2-3 years.
I like to use Instant Domain Search whenever I try to come up with a catchy domain name for my next project. Just visit that website, and then type in the desired name; you will see right away if it is available for purchase or not.
See? You can actually buy puzzlegames.net for the low price of... $30,000! If you really like a domain name and it's not available, you may be able to auction it. If this is the case, search for the desired domain on the web; often times, the same domain is put up for auction by several sites and the price varies a lot.
Should you buy a new domain or an existing one? That's a difficult question, my friend. Old domains can help you rank faster in Google IF they haven't been penalized by Google. Let's say that an indie game developer started to market his puzzle game a few years ago, but since this guide wasn't available, his game died. Sad, I know. The domain name that was used to promote his puzzle game - puzzlers.com - has expired as well. If you'd be able to snatch that domain, Google would love your website a little bit more, because it's built on an aged domain.
So how do we find these marvelous domains without spending a fortune on them? Well, there's this little known site where you can create a 100% free account: https://www.expireddomains.net/
Log into your free account, and then you will be able to find lots of great domains. But first, let's lay out a few key rules when it comes to picking a domain:
1) Its extension should be .com (the best solution) or .net; this will help it rank higher in Google in comparison with other extensions. I know, a .org domain may work as well, but this extension is usually reserved for non-profit organizations, so it may not work that great for commercial projects.
2) The domain shouldn't include numbers and hyphens. Sure, you may get decent Google rankings with domains like puzzle-games.com (I'm pretty sure it's taken as well) but be sure to avoid hyphens if you want to have maximum SEO benefits.
3) The domain should have a valid PageRank value (0...10). PageRank (PR) is Google's way of measuring website/domain authority. It's not been updated in a few years (and it may never be updated again) but a fake PR domain was probably used for fishy projects in the past, and we don't want to purchase it.
4) The name should be short, catchy and easy to remember. It's crucial to get the domain name right; it may even tempt you to rename your game!
OK, let's type in the desired keyword ("puzzle" in my example) in the search box from the upper right corner, and then see what shows up. We don't want to type in "puzzle games" because that would limit our options and force us to buy a long, spammy domain like puzzlegamesunlimitedinternetstore.com
Our "puzzle" search brings in over 3,000 domains! It's just what I wanted, because we're going to apply some filters. Let's click the "Show Filter" link.
These are the recommended "Common" settings:
And these are the recommended "Additional" settings:
As mentioned above, I prefer .com domains, so I'll only select that checkbox for my search. You can use .net domains as well, but only do that if you can't find a great .com domain, or if its auction price is way too big.
Let's hit the "Apply Filter" button at the bottom of the screen; the list has been shrunk to 217 domains now - plenty enough for our research!
Expired Domains provides many more options, but I have cropped the screenshot, keeping only the columns that interest us.
- "LE" tells us the number of characters for our domain. As you may remember, we have set the upper limit to 20 characters.
- "PR" is the Google PageRank value. As mentioned above, we want to stay away from fake PR domains, and it's easy to test if our domain is fake or not. Just go to http://www.cekpr.com/, type in the domain name in the box, and then press the "search" icon:
The website will display a "PageRank is valid" message for good domains that have a PR > 0 value. Domains with PR0 are valid most of the time.
- "BL" and "DP" are two different services that tell us the number of backlinks, the amount of links that point to that particular domain from various websites around the world. Backlinks continue to be the most important ranking factor in Google, but not all backlinks are good - some of them may even get your website penalized! This is why we want to purchase a domain that only has a few backlinks pointing to it. As a general rule, getting a domain with zero backlinks is much better than purchasing one that has 1,000,000 low quality links. There are exceptions to this rule, but the domains that have lots of high quality backlinks pointing to them sell for large amounts of money (4-6 figures in US dollars).
- "WBY" and/or "ABY" tell us the minimum age of the domain. That's the main reason why we may be interested in purchasing these domains - they're old! A domain that's at least one year old is good enough.
- "List" tells us the name of the company that sells the domain. Don't forget that sometimes you will discover the same domain being sold by another company at a much lower (or higher) price.
- "Status" will tell us if the domain can be registered right away (Register) or if it can be purchased at an auction. As an example, the auction price for puzzlematte.com is $280. The auction will last for a few more days, and the high bidder will win the domain. Many of the auctioned domains also have a "Buy Now" price. All this info can be seen by clicking the "Status" link of the domains that you may be interested in purchasing.
You can sort the columns in ascending or descending order.
Don't pick domains like puzzlegamess.com (this domain has an extra letter at its end). People used to buy these domains in the past because they had some of the EMD's ranking power. They're dead now and they also look ugly, so stay away from them!
Many people register their domains using GoDaddy, but there are other providers that offer better prices, like Name.com.
OK, so what are some good domain names that are either free to register or are auctioned for a small price? Here are a few examples:
puzzlesforall.com - 8 years old domain, free to register
puzzletrove.com - 6 years old domain, free to register
puzzlecreatures.com - 6 years old domain, free to register
puzzlehero.com - 6 years old domain, currently on auction for $13, this was a great game!
puzzlepcgames.com - 5 years old domain, free to register
puzzleplanner.com - 4 years old domain, free to register
puzzlefusion.com - 6 years old domain, free to register
puzzleace.com - 5 years old domain, free to register
puzzlecollege.com - 3 years old domain, free to register
puzzledoc.com - 5 years old domain, free to register
puzzlearena.com - 8 years old domain, free to register
puzzlejourney.com - 3 years old domain, free to register
puzzleislands.com - 5 years old domain, free to register
puzzlebandits.com - 3 years old domain, free to register
puzzletimes.com - 14 years old domain, free to register
Since most of these domains have zero backlinks pointing to them, they shouldn't be penalized. Nevertheless, we want to make sure that we don't waste our hard earned money on them, so we'll just Google their names.
This is an example for a domain that you DON'T want to buy. Google should list the domain's URL as its first result; otherwise, the domain may have been penalized or simply removed from its index. Here's how you can verify that:
The "site:" operator will tell us how many website pages can be found in Google's search index. As you can see, puzzlesforall.com has been removed from Google's database. It may be reindexed if we buy it, and then build a website for it, but the domains that show up in Google's search results today, just like the one below, are much better.
It is always a good idea to check all the results on the first Google page; this will tell you what other people thought about the old site. Was it valuable for others, or was it simply spamming the web?
One more thing: Google may suggest a different site. Always make sure that you are testing the desired domain.
OK, here's the final check: we are going to see how the old site was looking in its glory days. How do we do that? Meet https://archive.org/ - a project that wants to preserve the old websites for the future generations. So let's make use of it, shall we?
The old puzzlepcgames.com website has been saved five times until now. All we need to do is to pick the desired year, and then click the calendar date when the website was saved.
Well, it looks like the former website owner took the time to create a quick logo for his site, but then abandoned it. I would have wanted to see a gaming site here, but at least now we know that the domain wasn't used for anything illegal, dangerous, etc. It is always better to purchase an aged domain that is related to the gaming industry, of course.
So why did we go have to go through all this trouble? These aged domains are being regarded as trustworthy by Google, my friend. When you buy a brand new domain, you'll have to wait for about six months until you start seeing good SEO results. New domains need to age.
If you'd rather purchase a brand new domain, you can use Instant Domain Search and play with various words until you find a killer domain name that's available for purchase. That's exactly what I did a minute ago, and I ended up buying the brand new geniuskid.net domain, which (a bit surprising) was available. It's not a .com, of course, but it's short and punchy - I like it! I am going to use it for the rest of this workshop, and maybe even after that, to promote my puzzle game. I'm not sure yet if I should create my game for kids or make the main character (the player) a kid.
Anyway, back to our game business workshop. I've got a new domain in my hands now, and one that's easy to remember, right? (I'm sure you know it ;)
It's time to set up a website for it, so we will need to either purchase, or use an existing hosting account. I've got hosting accounts with several companies, but I can't recommend a particular host. I used to do that, but often times the good companies are bought by larger providers, and then things change - for the worse! So do your research, and then pick the best hosting company (or use your existing hosting account).
OK, so now we've got a domain and a hosting account. It's time to build our website! But first, we need to set the name servers. What are these name servers? They're nothing more than computers that translate domain names (geniuskid.net in my example) into I.P. addresses. Basically, by setting the name servers (NS) we are connecting our domain (a name) to the IP address of our hosting account.
Log into your domain registrar's account, and then find the account section that allows you to change the name servers. You should find the NS info in the email that has been sent by your hosting provider when you've purchased the hosting account. Here's how you can change the NS info at GoDaddy, for example.
That's it for now! I know that you are anxious to see your site online as quickly as possible (so am I) but we need to wait until the name servers propagate. The entire web needs to be notified about the existence of your new domain, and this can take up to 48 hours. Often times, it will only take 12-24 hours, but we'll have to take a break for now - we've done quite a bit of work :)
I'll see you in the next episode, when we are going to build our website from scratch, optimizing it for SEO purposes. But don't wait for me! Start building your own site and move on with your gaming project. And if you have any questions, post them under the "Acknex Users Magazine" forum section. I'll do my best to check it and answer your questions 2-3 times per week.