Marketing of an open source game

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Once you've made a great open source game you probably want to tell others about it! While you might not be looking to profit from the game, or pay for advertising, you can still use some marketing theory developed in the commercial world.

The document starts with how to define your product - your game(!), a unique selling point, and a strong message about it. These should be clear before actually getting to marketing, otherwise the marketing will not be as effective. Ideally, even your website is built around the unique selling point for your game. So the first section of this document is on getting the message right, and then the second has some ideas for what to do with it.

Defining your product and message

Here is a proposed marketing strategy for any product, but in particular we can use it for open source games so we will look at those for examples.

  • Understand the market
  • What is the product and why is it different or better than competitors
  • One unique selling point which is stronger than the other differentiators combined: a Big Idea!
  • One clear concise message to consumers
  • All marketing reinforcing that message

The aim is to make it very easy for consumers to understand what your product is and why they should use it.

One unique selling point, one Big Idea

With a great product with many benefits it is tempting to brag as much as possible about the myriad benefits but for clear consistent marketing just ONE unique selling point should be chosen, one message which is stronger, clearer, more powerful, than the rest.

The Big Idea communicates how the product uniquely fulfils a need or desire. In the context of online games, perhaps it is customer desire which is fulfilled more often than customer need, but lets not make assumptions. For example, the learning requirement fulfilled by an educational puzzle game is a stronger selling point than being fun to play. Many games are fun! But not so many are educational.

Example: Marauroa game engine.

  • The market is game or tool developers
  • Marauroa Features and Differences explain the product and differences
  • The strongest differentiator (say) is KISS - keep it simple stupid
  • The message is that Marauroa's game engine is built on the KISS principle (which is good because ...)

That was the hard part. Here comes the fun bit.

Now we can build great marketing material. The key concept is simplicity, derived from our KISS message.

So the website should be simple, clean. Design themes should be clean lines, lots of white space, no clutter, basic direct language.

Technical blogs or white papers should explain why a simple approach works.

Each new feature being released should refer back to the basic principle of KISS to reinforce the message.

The branding - logo, images and fonts - should be simple.

This is just a toy example and KISS may not be the best differentiator for Marauroa. Certainly, the existing website, marketing and releases news likely don't reinforce the message at every stage. But can you see how powerful it would be, if they did?

To extend the example, if Marauroa had been the first free engine or first Java based engine, say, then the strongest differentiator is more obvious. The message would be related to being free, or using Java (say) and the marketing would all build on that.

Example: Dove soap

  • The market is women, check: was there an age range?
  • Dove is a soap so it makes you clean but it's also a luxurious soap with moisturising benefits. It's not particularly expensive compared to basic soaps.
  • The unique selling point is to be a moisturising soap (no others existed or marketed themselves on this at the time)
  • The message was Only Dove soap contains 1/4 moisturising cream

The packaging and advertising campaigns all reinforced this message. It is a clear and simple message but very powerful. It is so clear that it was easy to see why this product was different and the advertising campaign was hugely successful.

More examples

Think about other popular games or open source software - can you apply the same template to those products? Does their existing marketing strongly sell on a unique point?

Pick your favourite or how about one from this list

Second Life
Mozilla Firefox
Puzzle Pirates

Worked Example: Stendhal Game - what is the message?


Stendhal's market includes groups such as casual players, developers, students. Can you think of any more?

Is there one 'market' to encapsulate the groups above? Or does Stendhal have distinct markets?

Features and differences

What are some selling points for Stendhal?

  • friendly community
  • educational
  • fun game
  • completely open source (client, server, images)
  • anyone can contribute
  • retro graphics, old school rpg feel
  • steadily growing
  • can play casually to no disadvantage, or optionally devote hard core hours
feel free to add to this list your own suggestions, leave your name if you like

Some of these ideas may also relate to each other or one feature may lead to another. But we tried to make them non equivalent in the list above.

For example anyone can contribute, because the game is open source. But being open source doesn't necessarily mean anyone can contribute. A lot of support goes into making a game that anyone can contribute to. So this is a feature in its own right.

What was being reinforced by Stendhal's promotion and website? (Old tagline was - Stendhal is a fully fledged multiplayer online adventures game (MORPG) developed using the Arianne game development system)
That Stendhal is an MORPG and made by Arianne. From the graphics, we'd hope that it looks like a fun game?
What was being neglected?
'anyone can contribute', 'this is a great way to learn', explcitly wording that 'this is fun/friendly'
Which are better differentiators?
Friendly, fun, is good. the techy wording about Arianne likely isn't needed. Fully fledged may be better expressed by showing what the features actually are.

Can you help answer these questions? Go ahead and add new replies below what is there already, leave your name if you'd like to.

Unique selling point

Is one differentiator stronger than the rest? Or can we embody a few in one message?

We need one Big Idea that expresses the best differentiator to our slightly split audience of casual players, and those curious to learn more and contribute? If we want to address those audiences separately, we could also try that. But then we need to think about which audience we are reaching with each piece of publicity (e.g. website, news, social media) - and then select the correct message.

Suggested Big Idea:

  • can play and contribute as much/little as you like - hendrik
  • freedom - kymara
  • fun, friendly - kymara
  • retro, old school - kymara

Add your own suggestions above!


  • Stendhal is a fully fledged multiplayer online adventures game (MORPG) developed using the Arianne game development system. (older message)
  • A fun, free, and open source MORPG packed with quests and features
  • freedom to play as much or as little as you want, freedom to add your own creative ideas, freedom to run your own game
  • Start playing, get hooked ... get the open source code, add your own ideas ... see them in the next release!

Add your own suggestions

For an informal discussion on all this, which got us thinking, see Chat log from 2012-01-28

And for the final outcome of this exercise, see how we worded the announcement for Stendhal 1.00 - we updated and other pages to reflect the new taglines and game description.

Communicating your message to a wide audience

First prepare your message (see above) and a short paragraph about the game which is a fuller version of your key message. Use these wherever possible. We'll call these a one-line message and boilerplate text.

Website (and basic SEO)

You must have a website and google should know about it. Everyone uses google. It's not just to discover your game in the first place, but because once they found it many people rely on google to get back to the website, instead of using bookmarks - e.g. for the user thinking 'what was that open source multiplayer pacman game I saw a review of? The open source one?' - and once they remember the name, even typing that into google seems very popular now instead of bookmarking.

Here are some simple guidelines for your website, but by now means an exhaustive list!

tip why to do it
Let your Big Idea and message dominate your website design to deliver the message clearly!
Tie in to graphics and themes from your game to keep a consistent look and feel
Make it really easy to start playing to encourage new players
Stick to basic rules on navigation of websites users don't want to have to learn how to use your site!
Show loads of examples of your game in action, use videos and screenshots a preview will entice players
Use open source templates if you aren't familiar with website coding easier, better result
Make contacts or support really clear from all pages encourages users confidence

Basic search engine optimisation (SEO):

  • Use a meta title and meta description (hey, remember that message we keep going on about!)
  • Register with google webmaster tools and submit a sitemap
  • Make your page load fast (google downgrades slow pages)
  • Give images meaningful alt tags, robots can only read words
  • Put keywords in headings and internal links to pages with different content
  • Rewrite any php ? links to look like static html pages, google doesn't like ?
  • Ask other trusted sites to link to you
  • Use your website link if you post comments or write articles for external trusted sites (but sparingly - remember your credibility, don't be a spammer!)
  • For more info see .. Google's own guide

News announcements, online press releases

New announcements of new releases have the obvious benefit of promoting project activity and the new features.

News on your own website is good because search engines love regularly updated content. But promote the release to wider audiences with some of the options below, that you'll also use for other promotion. Other than all the social media and directory options below, you can also google for free online press release sites.

You should include your one line message and boiler plate text about the game in news updates which are going to external sites. It's a chance to reinforce the key message - remember, you want to do that at every opportunity! If someone came across the news about the new release, and it was the first time they heard about your game, you want them to understand the reason to play. Make sure any links are full links, too, so they'll work on external sites.

Email lists

Don't overlook email lists as a way to communicate to users. Just make sure your email content is fresh, engaging, and always delivers your key message. Avoid embedded images, they get caught in spam filters! But if you want to send an html mail, you could use headings to break up the text a bit.

You could include your one-liner about the game in your email signature.


There are many directories for open source software, and games, or ideally open source games!

Stendhal for example is listed at:

freshmeat (freecode)
and loads more...

Get your community on board to help with these updates as it can be way too much for a single project admin.

Wikipedia may seem an attractive place to list your project, but this is only possible if your game passes Wikipedia's Notability requirements, and your article must be from a neutral point of view.

For these it is again useful to have the one line text and boilerplate text prepared, so you have something to put on the summary pages.

Social Media

Twitter, Facebook Fan Pages and Google Plus Pages are good way to reach out to your community. Try integrating them so you don't have to post updates in lots of places, e.g. make your twitter updates automatically post to your Facebook Fan Page.

Videos were already mentioned in the context of website content, but a youtube channel can also be a great promotion stream. Games are great visual material! Podcasts are also worth consideration, perhaps for less visually interesting information like an interview.

Stendhal examples:

Stendhal Game on FB
Stendhal Game on Google+
Stendhal Game on youtube
arianne podcast

Use your one line message and boilerplate for all these! Feel free to make small variations to the boilerplate text depending on context but keep the message consistent.

Your host

If you host with sourceforge then you can promote your new project releases with the community team. Explore other forms of promotion too such as being nominated project of the month, like Arianne in March 2010. Perhaps other hosts have similar facilities. Check your hosting guidelines for your project page.

Word of mouth

Users are a great way to promote your game. Perhaps you can make it easy for them by providing social media buttons or a recommendation page on your website. Remind them to promote you! And make sure that the key message you want new users to hear, is also clearly communicated to your existing users!

Feature articles

Feature articles like this one provide informative content which give you credibility and promotion at the same time. It's a non-salesy way to promote your game and sharing knowledge is also good for the open source community. See how many links to Stendhal are in this article? Maybe it awakened an interest in the game you'd never have had. But the article itself was useful, genuine content (I hope!)


A lot of the game promotion stuff is personal advice by kymara. But the theory has a background:

Ogilvy: How to create advertising that sells

Whats the Big idea?

Unique Selling Point

Positioning (marketing)

One Fish Two Fish