This article by Thomas Reisenegger originally appeared on his blog on Mar 03, 2021
Everyone remotely online will probably have realised by now: TikTok is here to stay (*international relations aside). But can we use it to promote indie games if we aren’t a dancing teenager?
Thomas Reisenegger, founder of Future Friends Games
That is a question we get asked a lot (as someone running an indie games promotion agency called Future Friends Games), and the short answer is: YES!
After having a lot of success on the platform over the past few months across different projects, we believe TikTok will soon be a staple for indie promo next to Twitter, Reddit and Imgur when it comes to social media platforms.
The main reason for this post is that there still aren’t many indies on the platform, and we think part of the reason why is that most people just aren’t sure how to get started, so we wanted to share some starter tips for everyone considering making the jump to TikTok. I hope it helps!
What our tips are based on
Next to watching a worrying amount of content TikTok myself, we have worked with several indie games on the platform, with the most noteworthy account being Clone Drone in the Danger Zone, that organically grew to a following of over 23,000 in just over 3months, and support on Cloud Gardens that got 9,000 followers in under a week.
Outside of gaming, I have helped my partner grow an account about her PhD research at the University of London (33,000 followers with 10 posts). I’ve also had 3 viral posts on my personal account (the better ones with over 1 million views each), so I would say we have a well-rounded understanding of the platform.
Lastly, we have also been chatting to devs with big followings and monitoring other games that are already on TikTok closely, and you can find a list of good accounts to follow at the end of the post.
This post is based on our experiences with the platform to our best understanding, but if you have other tips, please let me know in the comments! TikTok is wild, and we always want to learn more!
Also worth noting: this post was written in March 2021, and TikTok changes FAST, so be cautious if you are reading this post a few months further down the line.
Top 10 tips we learned from our time on TikTok
1 Learn to think like the algorithm
Ahhhh, the forbidden A-word! TikTok works differently to other social platforms in deciding what content to push, so it’s essential to understand the basics of the TikTok algorithm. As always, a disclaimer — the algorithm is a total black box, and the following is a mix of things we’ve learned from observations and reading other materials.
The short version: every time you put a new post up, TikTok shows it around to a small pool of random people that might be interested in it. IF the post does well (people watch it till the end, loop multiple times, like it, share it, comment or tag friends), then it will get pushed to more people.
That means that every post stands on its own and has a chance to go big (getting hundreds of thousands of views with virtually no followers is something that we managed with Clone Drone in the Danger Zone a few times). It also means that posts that don’t track well die pretty quickly and might not even reach most of your existing followers.
Still, this makes TikTok one of the few social media platforms where you can organically gain new followers “easily” right now.
2 Make 1 point only
Don’t put too much content in one TikTok. Make one point and make it very clear! On the app, attention spans and video lengths are short, so you have to nail every second of your post!
So instead of showing “the five coolest weapons in your game” and explain a bit about what each of them does, pick just one, and focus solely on that in a 15-second video.
3 NEVER let the attention break
The TikTok FYP (“For you page” — the main content feed where you swipe from one video to the next) is amazing as a user but scary as a creator. As soon as a video gets boring for a second, users can (and will) just swipe to the next one (which is bad for your stats of course). That’s why it’s essential never to let the attention span break and give viewers a chance to jump to the next TikTok.
- Make posts as short as possible so people don’t jump off
- Launch immediately into the topic or something interesting without much build-up (you will notice a lot of tik toks start with text on the screen that already makes a point about the post OR something visual or wild happens, which also gets you immediately hooked)
- Stop the video as soon you stop talking/you’ve made your point
- Make something that people will loop a few times (that is often hard to do)
Fast paced Clone Drone in the Danger Zone Steam sale announcement
4 Post a lot — Every post is a new ticket in the TikTok lottery
Many platforms like Instagram and YouTube reward posting on a regular schedule with multiple posts per week, but the beauty of TikTok is that it doesn’t seem to care much about that.
However, we would still recommend posting as often as possible and go for quantity over quality, simply because that gives you a higher probability of going big: every post is a new ticket in the TikTok lottery!
5 Don’t make things look good, just sick
I think one of the top tips to get “good” at TikTok is just to use the platform to get familiar with what kind of visuals, features and sounds fit the current vibe.
Among Us nailing the TikTok aesthetic
There certainly is a specific style to the TikTok aesthetic that is hard to explain and might not always follow traditional content beauty standards. For example, on-screen text that covers significant parts of the screen is no problem, and shaky shots filmed with your phone (or just filming your PC screen off with your phone to show gameplay) is perfectly fine!
6 You can use trending songs but YOU DON’T HAVE TO!!!
TikTok was built based on sharing songs, and it’s super easy to select tracks as background music that might fit your post. If they are currently trending songs that might even give you an algorithm my boost!
That being said, it’s also totally fine to not use trendy songs as long as your content is good! Don’t force it if it doesn’t fit your post.
Hashtags are another thing that is worth looking at: TikTok is great at creating smaller “corners of TikTok” that each has its own trends and stars (from musical TikTok, cooking TikTok and alt TikTok — there’s a lot going on).
Shotgun Farmers hashtag and caption example
That’s why hashtags can be handy to give TikTok some help deciding who might like your posts. We usually recommend using a handful of them (though that is not 100% needed, you can see plenty of bigger posts where the master AI finds the right people without any tags at all).
8 Content ideas
For games, there are some obvious ideas like… showing your game, announcements, fan competitions etc. However, there also seems to be lots of enthusiasm for behind the scenes and game dev content that shows how games are created. Filming your Unity editor off-screen showing how you switch certain features on and off, stats from the game, art making-offs etc.
Here I would mostly try to keep your target audience in mind, which on TikTok can be a bit younger than on Twitter, where you would more often chat to fellow devs or hobby devs. So maybe don’t go for “here is a 347 step guide to my new shader” but rather “this is what a shader is and how it looks in my game”.
TikTok makes it super easy to download posts, which means you can also easily re-use them. It’s quite common by now to see TikToks used as assets in Tweets or easily shared on Discord etc.
TikToks can also do very well on Twitter
With some tweaking, you could also use them for the TikTok competitors Instagram Reels and Snapchat Spotlight(though that is another post in itself!)
10 Use your link wisely
Once your account reaches a certain size, TikTok allows you to add a single link to your profile.
We’d usually suggest a straight link to the game’s Steam page or store page (and we have for sure seen traffic increases from bigger posts) or Discord. If there are more links to show off, a Linktree might also do the trick.
BONUS: Further reading and accounts to follow
There aren’t too many resources for indie games promotion on TikTok, but if you want to read more we highly recommend Victoria Tran’s blog post (now InnerSloth, formerly Kitfox. Always illegally good at community-building, and a TikTok veteran).
Here are a few of my favourite gaming accounts that I’ve found:
- Shotgun Farmers — King of indie game TikTok, 1.4 million followers, also featured in a cool article about how TikTok helped the game climb the Xbox charts here
- Clone Drone in the Danger Zone (we helped on that one)
- Cloud Gardens (also helped a bit here)
- Pixel Maniacs (has accounts in different languages)
- Moreelen — Not necessarily a game account but Rosa Carbo-Mascarell posts great TikToks about game design and the games industry in general.
- Game developers discuss how pandemic and remote work affected their efficiency
- DDM’s Rebecca Owen: “It is wonderful to have fresh ideas and new hires, but only when they are tempered with some production experience”
- 1C Publishing’s Anton Ravin: “Indie games are a very high initial risk”
- Ultimate Facebook UA guide for testing and scaling mobile games