logo design contest

I Ran a Logo Design Contest for My Indie Game and It Was a Disaster

Your indie game needs a logo, but you’re not a designer. What do you do?

Realistically, your options are:

  • Design a logo yourself
  • Use a logo maker
  • Hire a designer
  • Run a logo design contest

I Ran a Logo Design Contest

I researched all options before deciding to run a logo design contest. It seemed like the safest option because you get to review designs from many designers and pick the one you want. It seemed too risky to select a single designer and be stuck paying for whatever they produce even if you don’t like it.

The process is straightforward. You create your contest, pick some logo styles that you like, and write a description of what you’re looking for. Designers will see the open contest and create logos they think you’ll like. At the end of the contest you pick your favorite and the winning designer gets paid.

There are several prominent websites that provide these contest services. The industry leader is 99designs which charges $299 for the cheapest logo option.

If you’re an indie developer, you just shit your pants at the thought of spending $300 on a logo.

That’s why I used a competitor to  make my logo. I’m aware of DesignCrowd ($59 + contest prize), CrowdSpring ($199+), and 48HoursLogo ($29 + $99). After researching them all, I chose 48HoursLogo and it was a bad decision.

In the end, I got a new logo for my game that I’m satisfied with. It’s not amazing, but it’s functional and better than I can make. Here’s the design I chose:

Thru-Hiker's Journey Logo

It’s related to my game’s theme and has some fun, little details. The designer submitted multiple items so I was able to combine features I liked and iterate a little bit. It was very similar to what the process would have been if I just hired a designer straight away. But I didn’t have to look through hours of designer portfolios and negotiate on price.

For comparison, here’s a peek at the other logos I could have chosen:

other logos

Some of them really aren’t bad, but none of them are great. Also, keep in mind these are the better logos…there were some laughably bad designs submitted as well.

Where it went wrong

48HoursLogo was a disaster. 8 hours after I submitted my contest, the website went down for 2.5 days…the entire length of my contest. I checked their Facebook page to see if they had posted anything about the outage (they hadn’t). What I did find was dozens of other people in the last several months complaining that the site was down.

I had to submit a payment challenge on PayPal to get the owner of the website to respond to me. It was really a headache. He ended up giving my campaign a free 7 day extension, but it left a bad taste in my mouth. I can’t recommend using that site and it really turned me off to contests in general.

Pros & Cons of Logo Design Contests

If you’re thinking about running a contest, this is the part you really need to read.

Pros

  • Hands off process. Since we’re not designers, that seems like a good thing.
  • Many designers. Sure sounds better than one, right?
  • Professionally designed logo. It may not be the highest quality, but it’s better than we can make ourselves.
  • Often refundable. If you don’t like any of the designs, you can sometimes get your prize money back (but not the posting fee).

Cons

  • Low quality designs. No offense to anyone, but these artists aren’t working full time. And the best designers won’t even bother for the low prize money an indie offers. So you get 30 designs from artists who can’t figure out how to get paid more.
  • Still a lot of money. I signed up under the idea that it was cost effective, but I still ended up $150 in the hole. I’m confident I could find a better logo designer myself for the same amount of money.
  • The low cost competition is low cost for a reason. 48HoursLogo is obviously cheaper to draw in the people that scoff at $299. Which is fine for market positioning, but you still need infrastructure to support it.

If I could do it again

I’d make a quick and dirty logo on one of the many online logo makers and pay the $20ish to be done with it. I would have been better off putting the extra $130 toward advertising experiments.

No one makes a purchasing decision based on a logo. You just need something “professional enough” to not get laughed at. To accomplish that, all you need is a cool font and a little vector object next to it.

There are a thousand articles online disagreeing with me. “The logo is your most important asset!” That might be true for industry giants, but it’s not true for the small game studio. If anything is your most important art asset, it’s your app store icon, your Steam Greenlight avatar, or your release trailer.

 

secret sauce of indie game marketing

The Secret Sauce of Indie Game Marketing

Spoiler: there isn’t any. Indie game marketing is just regular old marketing.

Indie developers make a lot of mistakes…and that’s okay! We’re forced to wear a bunch of different hats and compete with professionals in fields we don’t understand well. Marketing your game can seem like a programming language written in Chinese characters.

But marketing doesn’t have to be hard. For most promotional marketing, you pick an action and complete that action. Then you measure your results and iterate on the most successful parts. Developers struggle because their minds are analytical and marketing is not an exact science.

Generic Marketing Strategies Work For Indie Games

Any marketer worth their salt will agree–marketing is marketing. The indie gaming industry thinks that it’s special, but it’s not. The trouble is that it’s a competitive field with flooded distribution platforms. We have to compete for visibility with giant corporations who have unlimited budgets. You may not beat these industry giants, but you can still get traction. You just need to understand basic marketing practices and follow through.

The Four P’s of Marketing

The “four P’s” explains the different considerations for an end to end marketing strategy. It doesn’t dive into specifics, but partitions your thinking into actionable categories. Let’s take a look:

  • Product
    • Understand exactly what you’re selling
    • Consider your unique selling points
  • Price
    • The value to the buyer
    • Competitor/market pricing
    • Audience reaction
  • Promotion
    • When, where, and how of reaching your customer
  • Placement
    • Putting your product where your customers are

I know developers look at that list and think “yeah, duh.” But you need to challenge your assumptions for each category. The way to do that starts with looking at your audience. Having no awareness of your target audience dooms you to fail. Unfortunately it’s the most common thing I see in negative indie postmortems.

Defining Your Audience

This is the most critical marketing step for indie game studios. I know this sounds trivial and worthless to developers, but it isn’t. If you don’t believe me, then consider this: how can you get your game in front of someone who would play if you don’t know who they are?

A well defined audience makes the 4P’s simple. Let’s use my game as an example.

  • Thru-Hiker’s Journey is a backpacking simulation game on the Appalachian Trail.
    • Who would play this game?
      • Hypothesis:
        • Hikers/Backpackers
        • Appalachian Trail enthusiasts
        • People who played Oregon Trail as a kid (current age 25-40ish)
      • Experiment: demo web game
        • Action: Shared on an Appalachian Trail forum
          • Result: People engaged. They played it, loved it, and shared it
        • Action: Shared on Facebook (since my friends fit the Oregon Trail category)
          • Result: People engaged. They played it, liked it, but didn’t share it. They’re also friends, so apply a grain of salt.
      • (Simple) Analysis:
        • Backpackers (unknown)
        • Appalachian Trail enthusiasts – Primary Audience
        • Oregon Trail nostalgia – Secondary Audience
    • Who is my audience?
      • Appalachian Trail enthusiasts are:
        • Age 20-55
        • More male than femalea
        • Enjoy outdoor activities like hiking, camping, backpacking
        • Less technical than average
        • Non-traditional gamers.
      • Oregon Trail nostalgic players are:
        • Age 25-40
        •  Even male to female ratio
        • More technical than average
        • Potentially non-traditional gamers.

The game is so well defined into the AT / Backpacking niche that the exercise is almost trivial. That’s a good thing…and why I chose to turn my simple web demo into a full featured mobile game.

Now let’s use that information and plug it into the 4P’s.

Product – Game simulating backpacking on the AT modeled after Oregon Trail. Controls and gameplay need to be simple and intuitive to non-traditional, older, casual gamers.

Placement – I first planned to release the game on Steam for PC. When I looked at my demographic, I released that would be a disaster. My players don’t game on PCs and don’t have Steam accounts. I would struggle to get through Steam Greenlight. And I wasn’t convinced that the non-AT audience categories would pay $5-10 for the game. So, I switched to a mobile release on the two biggest platforms to improve my reach.

Price – As I mentioned, there’s a price ceiling with a large part of my potential audience. I don’t think they would buy a premium mobile game, so I switched to a free to play model. If the game doesn’t get traction, I might be leaving money on the table from the AT enthusiast group.

Promotion – AT enthusiasts are easy to find in various forums, blogs, and Facebook groups. The Oregon Trail folks are harder to find. It’s a generic audience definition and people don’t gather into communities around it. So, it’s not a group I’ll be attempting to promote the game to. Backpackers gather in communities, so I’m going to treat them as my secondary audience.

If that wasn’t a terrible write up, it should show you the process for defining your audience. You then use your audience to define your product and promotion.

What if your audience still isn’t well defined?

A lot of indies show up on gamedev forums with a completed game and ask for help promoting it. They say it’s a “first-person exploration game with quests, crafting and combat, which blends the feel of classics like Daggerfall with the mystery of point-and-click adventures to create a unique & relaxing world of discovery” and want to help defining their audience.

Well friend…and I mean this in the friendliest way possible…

You made the wrong game.

You need to consider your audience before you make your game. A novel game idea is great, but without a vehicle to deliver the game to an audience, the game might as well not exist. If you want to make money developing games, you have to consider who will buy your game and how you’ll get it to them. Then you design a game that will meet the needs of that audience.

Building your dream game is great; there’s nothing wrong with it. Unless you intend to make money.

Headlamp Studios logo

Announcing the launch of Headlamp Studios, LLC

I’m excited to announce the official launch of my own indie game studio! Headlamp Studios, LLC is currently the truest form of independent game development that exists. It’s just me, Brad Allmendinger, wearing all hats for the company.

That’s right! It is a lot of work. I’m handling the ideas, game design, development, artwork, marketing, finance, and everything else that goes into making and releasing games. And I’m doing all this while I still hold down full time employment as a web developer and consultant.

If I had a Mission Statement, it would look like this:

Headlamp Studios, LLC will make simulation games for niche audiences that add happiness to the world.

Damn, Brad, that’s not bad for right off the top of your head. Have you considered going into marketing?

Yes.

I intend for Headlamp Studios, LLC to also act as a vehicle for testing marketing ideas for indie games. The gaming industry is brutal for indies, it’s harder than ever for small titles to get noticed. I have a decent grasp of marketing (for a developer) that I’ll use to help other developers.

This blog will share my marketing ideas, strategies, and results. I’m hoping I can share with developers that don’t have as much marketing awareness. My technical background should allow me to provide an analytical approach to marketing success.

Games

The studio’s first game will be Thru-Hiker’s Journey. It’s an Appalachian Trail simulation game for Android and iOS.

I had the idea years ago, in a moment of manic anxiety, and produced an ugly web version of the game. It’s still up and playable at atthruhike.com.

I did no marketing at all for the web game and it has over 60,000 lifetime plays. I posted one link on the Appalachian Trail subreddit and it took off in the backpacking community. Some of the biggest brands in the industry shared it. People posted it on every AT related forum I could find. It was an unbelievable experience.

It’s been a couple years since that launch and I’m ready to do it again. I think it’s time to revisit the success and build out a complete game and attempt to monetize it.