Mobile indie video game marketing: tips and learnings from HERO Unit

This blog post is a bit different from our past ones. We hope that it can serve as both a case study of HERO Unit’s PR campaign, as well as a piece to share our learnings as a video game PR agency from our experience in the mobile gaming scene.

We’re happy to say we just recently wrapped up our PR outreach campaign with the wonderful team over at HERO Unit. To give you some context, we should probably introduce you to the game.

What is HERO Unit?

HERO Unit logo video game PR agency

In H.E.R.O. Unit, you play as a 911 dispatcher picking up calls from distressed individuals. Calls in-game, though fictional, are heavily inspired by real-life calls and events. You’ll have to adapt and respond to different situations. Will you end up dispatching police officers in time? Or narrowly miss the opportunity, leading to a tragic front-page news story the next day?

When Jassim Albuarki first reached out to us with his team’s mobile indie game, we fell in love with it. We have played games such as Lifeline, and even spent countless hours on the minimalistic A Dark Room. HERO Unit reminded us of these wonderful text-based adventures that we could take with us on-the-go. We instantly tried out the game. At first, we thought the game seemed a bit short, but we soon realized that playing through the available calls once didn’t mean you were done with the game. You could go back and try for different endings. 80+ different endings to be more concise. Jassim also clarified that their team was going to add more calls in the future.

One particular call that we got dealt with the caller being a young child who was calling the cops on his violent and drunk father. We failed that call and the child ended up in critical condition in the hospital. That was the first call we chose to replay upon unlocking the ability to try the calls again. It’s hard to explain how impactful you feel your decisions are, even though all you’re doing is selecting your responses. All in all, we saw the great potential in the game and we wanted to help out.

The problem

What exactly was the problem that the HERO Unit team faced? Their game was released on December 7th, 2016. Reality hit the team when they realized people who tried out the game loved it, but with a lack of exposure, their game was not doing well. Jassim looked into and reached out to our indie video game PR agency on December 18th.

As much as we wanted to jump in and start press outreach right away, we felt there were several factors missing before we could direct people to both the game, the app pages, and their site—or rather, their lack of one.

Talking with the team, we passed along our concerns on their lack of trailer, their lack of website (there’s nothing you can find on the game, or the team behind this heartfelt and interesting title), and their Google Play and App Store’s pages. The pages lacked good screenshots that helped to showcase the game, having a series screenshots that looked the very similar.

We could understand not wanting to give away too much of each story, but these screenshots didn’t properly show what you could expect to get from the game.

We also expressed our concern with some minor grammatical errors that we found when playing through the game. Jassim revealed that the previous way they used to write and lay out the responses made it hard to edit the text properly, but they tried to go through the text again to fix any errors they could find. They will be changing their writing methods in upcoming calls that will be added to the game so that it can be edited more easily.

Of course, it takes time for Apple to accept changes to the game, and some of the suggestions we made couldn’t be done in a day. Jassim and his team quickly got to work, making changes based on our suggestions (keep in mind that this was also during the holiday season). We ended up starting our press outreach efforts on Janauary 9th, 2017. This meant we would be announcing HERO Unit more than a month after the game’s original launch.

What we did

Prior to picking up the game for a campaign, we were honest with the HERO Unit team and let them know we’d love to do a campaign with them, but that they would be the first app game our video game PR agency would be helping. We did have experience in press outreach for gaming in general, but all our past indie developer clients made PC games.

hero unit square video game PR agency

As with our regular press outreach campaigns, we crafted a press release for our client. We then did personalized outreach to our press contacts, as well as press outlets that were not signed up on our media list, but would be suitable for the game. Of course, being the first time we were doing PR for a mobile game, much of our outreach fell into the latter category (or new outlets that were not on our media list), rather than the former.

One thing we were shocked to learn was that a lot of app review sites and outlets required that you pay money for a review. Our PC game press contacts have almost never asked for paid reviews or news pieces, but it seemed that this was quite common in the app industry. “Expedited” reviews or news pieces costed anywhere from $20-$100 from what we saw.

Our clients are indies. We know better than anyone that their budgets are usually tight, and we try our hardest to never have them spend a penny more than what was originally laid out in our plans with them. Plus, from our understanding and research, paid reviews don’t usually give good results. We ended up outreaching to these places that required a payment (or highly suggested one) to try our luck, and true to their word, a lot of these outlets would either ignore our email or send back a response urging us to pay them.

Luckily, there’s a lot of other sites out there that don’t take money to pick up an article. We pitched them the game, sent along a code for them to try HERO Unit out, and meticulously followed up on potential leads.

In the end, we acquired 18 articles for HERO Unit.

Results

hero unit reviews video game PR agency

What does 18 articles translate to? We can’t reveal confidential info on our clients, so we can’t give you the specifics in terms of numbers. However, upon starting our PR campaign and the articles started rolling in, we saw an increase in more than 430% increase in buyers from the first 7 days compared to previous lifetime sales in terms of average sales per day.

We also gave out copies of the game to press outlets that did reviews and we encouraged them to give their honest feedback and to take out a bit of time to try out the game themselves. We attached a short blurb on what our experience was like when we first picked up the game, and how just going through a call or two gives you a very good idea of the significance of your choices.

Ultimately, we got back some pretty glowing reviews for HERO Unit.

“HERO Unit 911 Dispatch Simulator may seem like a simple text based simulator but the fact such simple a simple menu with basic selections can have such an engrossing script that invests so much of your time and emotion into it astounds me. I’ll even go as far as saying it’s the best game I have played so far in 2017.” – Jake Smith of Creep-Score

Creep-Score: 9.5/10

“With a lovely gameplay, charming graphical interface and brilliant concept, HERO Unit is easily worth a recommendation. It is a fun, effective example of how a mobile game can be done and proof that the platform has a lot to offer, if only developers would stop being mercenaries and focus on actually producing quality content.” – Marcello Perricone of GameGrin

GameGrin: 9.5/10

“We would absolutely recommend HERO Unit based solely on the concept alone, but HERO Unit manages to accomplish difficult feats in text adventure format. If you have any interest in adventure games, you owe it to yourself to play HERO Unit.” – Jeremy of Touch, Tap, Play

Touch, Tap, Play: 5/5

“HERO Unit has some great text-based gameplay embedded in its gameplay design. It does everything you would expect a good text-based adventure to do and adds a variety of entertaining writing to the mix to keep the experience fresh.”

Digital Chumps: 8/10

There was also a total of 126 social shares across multiple social media platforms. (Social shares count how many times a link was directly shared, but does not count retweets, Facebook shares, etc.)

Takeaways

Ultimately, HERO Unit is a great and unique game. It was great to see an app that stepped outside what was considered “popular” on the market right now. Huge props to the guys at HERO Unit, and thanks for letting us join you on your adventure!

Here’s some learnings that we took away, and that we hope we can pass along to you too:

  • Reach out for marketing support ASAP. Jassim outreached about a week after they realized their lack of exposure. We wish we could’ve been there at the launch of their game since Apple/Google gives you a big push by helping you get some exposure when your game is newly released. It would have made for a more effective launch and HERO Unit could have made better use of their app store “newly released” exposure.
  • It’s never too late. Again, we didn’t start HERO Unit’s campaign till one month after its initial launch. While this certainly isn’t ideal, it’s never too late to put in marketing efforts so that your game doesn’t go to waste. (Okay, perhaps there is a caveat here. If you released a game half a year ago, it might be too late.) Especially if you know your game has the potential and those who have played it enjoyed it.
  • You don’t have to resort to paid reviews, despite it being so common in the app industry. We get it. It’s a saturated industry. But there are options for people who are looking for honest (not that all paid reviews aren’t honest), free reviews.
  • Make your game different. Pitching HERO Unit’s concept was easy, and it was also in a genre that a lot of press outlets have not been able to touch for a while.

 

Looking for marketing support for your upcoming game? We’re the indie video game PR agency for you. Don’t hesitate to shoot us an email!

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