or, “What do you mean I have to market?”
Ludum Dare is not like most game jams in that it’s not over when it’s over. Finishing and submitting your game is actually just the beginning; after that, you need to market. You may have (and probably did!) make something really cool in just a weekend, and that’s great. But if you don’t find a way to get it out in front of people, nobody’s gonna know about it but you.
Looking back at the Ludum Dare 42 statistics, fully one-third of the entrants failed to crack 20 ratings, and therefore did not get their game scored. Some of them probably weren’t interested in a rating at all, and were just doing the jam for fun. That’s fine! But part of the appeal of Ludum Dare is the scoring. If you want to be part of that and are just at a loss for what you’re doing wrong, the answer is probably either a beginner mistake about your game’s presence on the website, or a failure to properly market it.
Part 1: Common mistakes
First, here are some of the most frequent errors new users make, and the simple improvements you can make to get your game noticed.
No cover image
This is the single mistake most likely to make people overlook your game. Here’s a snapshot of the None filter on a random day. A big chunk of the titles with no ratings at all simply do not tell me anything about the game. How’s that supposed to pique my interest? Why would I play gray box #3 over literally anything else?
Luckily this is an easy one to fix. Take a picture of your game. Scale and crop it to 640×512. Upload it. You’re done!
Still struggling? That’s okay. One quick-and-dirty trick you can do to make a nice cover image is to turn off your in-game UI, take a screenshot of something interesting in your game, then overlay your game title in an image editor. Alternately, if you’ve already put some effort into a pretty title screen, you can use that in a pinch (again, just hide the buttons and stuff).
Boring game page
Okay, I’ve clicked on your game. Then I see… one sentence about how you made it in a weekend (you and me both, buddy). Or alternately, 1000 words of lore and instructions. Back button. Next game.
What went wrong? This page is your big chance to sell me on your game. Snazz it up! Add some screenshots. You’re not limited in resolution like the cover image, just upload size. GIFs are allowed here, but unfortunately not mp4 video, so with the 4mb upload limit the quality isn’t going to be superb if you go that route.
Also, pretty up the description while you’re at it. Use headings, bold and italic text, links, etc. (sparingly, of course). He’re how to format your text using the proper syntax.
As for what you should include in your description, here are some ideas to consider:
- Write a bit about your game (of course)
- Give brief instructions on how to play (especially if you didn’t finish a tutorial or how-to-play screen – totally normal in a game jam environment)
- Team members and their roles, if not a solo project
- Guidance on the type of feedback you’re looking for
- Tools and assets you used in the game’s development
High barrier to entry
Alright, so you hooked me with a picture and a kick-ass description. Now I scroll down to actually play your game and find… a link to a sketchy-looking file on Dropbox and an instruction to go download some 3rd party framework to actually make everything work. Ehhh… probably not.
There’s really no need to host your file yourself. There are tons of free hosting sites that provide an attractive, consistent interface for players looking to play Ludum Dare games. And they give your project an air of legitimacy and not-being-a-virus. The hosting guide covers this in detail.
And whatever you do, don’t put the onus on players to do all the work. Try to make it as simple as possible to play your game. For example, if you’re using Unity, there’s no reason¹ for you not to have a WebGL build. This lowers the barrier to entry to practically zero – click play in your browser and you’re good to go!
Even better than building for WebGL, build in WebGL. Switch your target platform the moment you start your game jam project, and build early and often. Like, every time you take a break to eat. This will help make sure you don’t run into any last-minute snags or platform-specific issues that might cause the next mistake, broken build. You can always go back and build native clients later if you decide it’s necessary.
Oh, and if you host on itch.io remember to change your pricing to “No payments.” Prompting users to pay for your jam game is tacky and off-putting.
I clicked on your game. Dug the description. Scrolled down to the downloads, and managed to grab the files without catching any viruses from totally-legit-file-share.ru. I click run and… nothing happens. Missing DLL. Content not found. Sorry bud, time to move on.
So yeah, try to verify that your game actually runs. Build it as you go. Even once you’ve got it hosted somewhere, download your own game and test to make sure it all works. See it through the eyes of a new user. Try it on another person’s machine if you can, or at least a different browser. Resize the window. Change the aspect ratio. Break your game before your players do, and iron out the kinks early.
A common issue for games made with Unity is forgetting to upload the supporting files and only sharing the exe. You need to upload the entire output directory:
All o’ this.
“I’d like to fix all that,” you say, “but the website won’t let me update my game after it’s published!”
A common mistake. You can change your game description at any time, but there are two “gotchas” that are easy to overlook:
1) You need to redo the submission checklist every time you update
I know, major usability bug. It isn’t clear this is a requirement, but it is.
2) You need to click “save” and then “done”
So feel free to change the page after the submission deadline. Even fix bugs in the game itself. Maybe you just want to be done with your game once the jam’s over, which is understandable. But in Ludum Dare it’s acceptable to release updates that fix bugs as long as you’re not actually extending the game/adding new features and the changes are clearly spelled out. Not everyone is above-board about this, which I feel kind of spoils the sport of making a game in a weekend, but fixing bugs at least is expected and encouraged (and you’re putting your game at a disadvantage if you don’t).
Part 2: Getting noticed
Those are just the basics, the stuff that you need to convert someone from seeing your title on the website to actually playing it. Now it’s time to make sure they can find it in the first place. It’s time to learn about visibility.
Play and rate other games
In the beginning, having zero ratings can actually be an asset. The “Zero” filter gives great visibility to games that haven’t been rated yet. But once you have at least one rating, you’re out of that category and it’s time to find other ways to surface your game. The other categories to target are Smart (the default filter), Classic, Danger, Feedback, and Grade. Grade just shows which games have the most ratings already, so it’s not really relevant to this discussion. The rest are pretty much different ways of divvying up games based on how well their creators play and rate each other’s games.
The ratings for your game come from other people spending their precious free time playing it and giving feedback, so it’s only fair that how visible your game is corresponds to how well you return the favor. Click on other games, preferably other games that need the ratings most like the None and Danger categories. Play them. Rate them. Pretty straightforward!
Just do this a bunch and your game will show up higher in the Classic filter. But unfortunately, this is kind of trivial to cheat. You’re not really forced to play every game to rate it, after all. That’s why the Smart and Feedback filters exist, to try to give a leg up to raters that take the time to leave insightful feedback in the comments.
I’m not positive how the quality of feedback is measured, but it seems to be based on how many likes your comments get. This still isn’t perfect – lots of people seem to spam² short comment like “great game!” on everything they can to rack up karma. Meanwhile I’ll sometimes spend half an hour digging into someone’s game and write a paragraph of feedback only for the dev to stiff me on karma entirely. That doesn’t seem fair. But it’s still more fair than counting ratings alone and mostly balances out in the long run.
So yeah, rate a lot of games to climb in Smart and Classic, leave a lot of comments to climb in Smart and Feedback.
Write a blog post. It’ll show up on the front page, which can generate more views (and potential players) than many hours of ratings and reviewing could. It’s so effective in fact that some people don’t even bother with ratings and just spam blog posts all day to get players. I still have to recommend against blogspamming though. It’s kind of a tragedy of the commons situation – if everybody tried to get scored without giving ratings, well, nobody would get any ratings. But the occasional blog post is still an invaluable tool in your arsenal.
So what should you write about? Anything, really. You could advertise your game with a pretty gif, or offer some insight into your development process with a postmortem or retrospective. You might even write a big how-to about something completely unrelated to your game, then nonchalantly slip a link to your game somewhere in the middle!
>> how did this get here <<
If there’s anyone streaming Ludum Dare games on Twitch, that’s another great way to get your game in front of people, and get really honest feedback. Not only will viewers see it and possibly get interested, but it can also show up in the Twitch feature box on the right column of the LD page for even more visibility.
This definitely takes more effort though. You can’t just drop your game into a queue and disappear. Almost all streamers are looking to interact with the game maker on their stream and require you be present to have a shot at your game being played. But they’re usually entertaining and worth a watch anyway. Plus you’ll get to see a bunch of cool games you might not have seen yet!
Seems pretty obvious, but easy to overlook. Post about your game on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter (don’t forget the hashtags: #ldjam #ludumdare43 etc), whatever!
Promotion on your hosting site of choice
Another big reason to go with a hosting site over self-hosting. In addition to finding players on Ludum Dare and sending them to your game, players can actually discover your game organically on a hosting platform and find your Ludum Dare page from there!
I’m going to focus on itch.io, because it seems to be the most popular choice right now, it’s the one I know, and has good “game jam integration.”
- Set the cover image! Resolution of 630×500 on itch.io. Try giving your LD cover image a bit of extra room on the sides and just trim it down for this if you’re in a rush
- Add screenshots. Simple, just reuse the ones from your LD description
- Set the Genre and choose relevant Tags (helps with discoverability)
- itch.io might prompt you “is this a Ludum Dare game?” Click yes! It’s important for people who discover your game on itch.io to be able to easily click through to your LD page to rate & comment.
- If you don’t get the prompt, you can add this link manually
edit game -> metadata -> external links -> add new link to Ludum Dare and paste your game url
If you do all this, you might just get enough ratings & platitudes in the comments to earn the right to a ranking. Then you can see how they really feel in cold, hard numbers!
² This article was originally posted on the Ludum Dare website, where a commenter helpfully added that not all short comments are necessarily spam. Some may be from international contributors that don’t have a strong grasp of the English language. This is a valid point. Though, I would still encourage everyone to write as thorough of feedback as they can. Plenty of free translation resources are available online, and most developers would much prefer constructive criticism with a few spelling and grammar mistakes over a couple of nice but shallow words.