Behind the Code
Pixels & Profits: Chapter 11
Break Down the Walls
Game development is a bustling marketplace, more akin to a busy train station than a quiet library. Every day, new games arrive, and we need to find ways to make ours stand out. How do we grab attention, forge connections, and establish a lasting presence? That’s where personal branding steps in.
Yes, you read that right. Personal branding.
In a world where 92% of consumers place more trust in individuals over brands, personal branding is an often overlooked avenue of tremendous opportunity for indie game developers.
It’s not just about your game or your company, it’s about the mastermind behind it all — you.
You already know that building an enticing brand around your game is essential, but that’s not the end of the story. The real magic happens when you, as an individual, connect with your audience.
Not the brand of your game.
Not your company.
If you tend to shy away from the spotlight, it’s time to rethink your position.
Let’s talk about you, authority, and the willingness to take the stage.
The Importance of Personal Branding
It’s natural to wonder about the point of having a personal brand, especially if you’re already stretched so thin with everything else.
I hear you, and it matters that you remember what we’re doing in this series…
You’ve asked for guidance — and I’m answering with a philosophy that, when embraced, will help you identify and naturally prioritize your efforts.
We began this series with a heavy emphasis on starting with your smallest viable audience, understanding them deeply, and developing a solution to their problem.
Everything comes back to them. Always.
We do what is required to reach our people.
To that point, your audience might just need you to prove your credibility before they’ll get on board with your vision.
Makes sense, right?
If I told you I was about to make the greatest fighting game the world has ever seen, you would be wise to wonder about my experience before handing me money, wouldn’t you?
Because it only makes sense to wonder if I have the experience necessary to pull it off.
The Hidden Currency
The problem with jargon is that it can hide the true meaning of something. The marketing term is “personal branding” but in normal-people language, we’re exploring the power of reputation.
It’s this reputation, curated through your personal brand (how you present yourself to the world), that fosters trust in your audience.
And it is up to you to determine what that reputation looks like for you.
For the purposes of this series, I’ve opted to step out of my comfort zone and let you hear from me, the founder of this place, directly.
Because I think we’d both rather cut through the bullshit marketing “advice” out there, clear up the confusion, and get on with making great work.
And I’m willing to put my name on the line to make that happen for you.
No matter which path you choose, remember, you can be as separate or connected to your game’s brand as you like.
This specific tactic is a personal choice.
Meaning you cannot make a wrong choice here.
All non-toxic options are reasonably correct.
The goal here isn’t to overwhelm you with more tasks.
It’s more important that you recognize the power of building your reputation.
That recognition alone will prime you to notice opportunities for improving your brand organically.
If that’s all that happens, I’m good with it.
Our first standout example is Toby Fox, the creator of Undertale. Toby leveraged his personal brand to captivate audiences with his authentic persona. He showed us the power of owning the spotlight and turning it into an opportunity to strengthen his personal brand.
Check out the interview below, filmed just before Undertale took off.
Notice his presence — full of energy, cracking jokes, bantering with the host, and generally staying true to his best self even if individual moments from the interview aren’t the slickest.
In fact, the production level of the interview makes me love the example all the more.
When people are true to themselves, and willing to be vulnerable, amazing things can happen.
When the opportunity presented itself, Toby focused on maintaining visibility, and turned it into an opportunity to strengthen his personal brand.
Since then, he has released multiple games, including contributions to the renowned Pokemon game series.
Not convinced yet?
Let’s call back to a favorite example of mine, because nobody would have backed Star Citizen without Chris Roberts at the helm.
He’d already earned the respect and admiration of his audience with Wing Commander and Freelancer.
His personal brand commanded respect because he’d already contributed so much to the video game industry.
Those critical factors combined, resulting in the best example of a crowdfunding campaign you can find.
What began with a fundraising goal of $2 million, has now managed to amass over $550 million to date (2023), according to a report by GameWorldObserver.
Meaning that Star Citizen is the undisputed crowdfunding record holder. Full stop.
Chris utilized the reputation he’d earned from his successes developing the Wing Commander series, and built the perfect MVP (and pitch) for those fans who shared in his dream.
He promised to build what we’ve always wanted.
We (the fans) trust him to build it.
With trust like that comes the potential to generate attention and financial support, seemingly out of nowhere.
I’d argue that the same is true in every industry.
Nurturing Your Personal Brand
Your reputation can be your most powerful asset. As you grow your personal brand, you may find the experience not only rewarding but also instrumental in carving out a unique space for yourself in the industry.
With the previous lessons on understanding your audience, traction channels, storytelling, and now personal branding, you’re equipped with knowledge on how to stand out in the crowded game development scene.
In the next volume, we’ll tackle a critical aspect of your journey — funding. So, brace yourself, and let’s delve into the world of budgeting.
Ready to crunch some numbers? Let’s dive in!