What should you do for your official game websites? What tools should you use, how should you design them, and where should you start? I can’t throw a rock on social media without hitting a group of indie game developers asking these types of questions, and pitching in to help each other out.
There’s a hundred ways you could make a website for your game, but I believe I’ve got the absolute best way to start.
And the only reason I believe that is because I’ve spent most of my career building official game websites, as well as coaching indie game developers on how to optimize their websites to sell more games.
This is my signature blueprint for how to make the most effective official game websites as fast, and as cheap as possible.
Official Game Websites Are Kind of a Pain in the Ass
Your game needs a website. That, we know. And getting one is relatively easy, right? You design and develop games, surely you can throw up a website. And since you’re just getting started, there’s no way you’re going to spend thousands of dollars to hire someone else to do it.
And if your games aren’t generating revenue, I don’t think you should either.
But what starts to happen after you throw up a website is you start diving into customizations, tweaks, and trying a bunch of things. An hour turns into a day, a day into a few days, a few days into a few weeks. Creating your own website starts to become a bit of a pain in the ass. Still, it’s not enough to make you pay someone else to do it, but enough to send you to game developer forums asking other people what they think.
So technically, you can make a website. What slows you down, what turns building one into kind of a disaster, is not knowing exactly what you should do, if what you’ve done is good, or if it’s even going to work.
And let’s face it, time is money. Every hour you spend on your website is another hour you’re not spending to finish your game.
Official Game Websites Should Make You Money, Not Just Make You Look Good
I had been helping a small indie game studio head optimize their marketing. They had launched a handful of games in the past year, each with its own website. When I asked what those websites cost and how well they had performed, they clammed up.
And then they finally spilled the beans.
They explained that they liked to make websites that didn’t “look like every other game website out there.” But that it also cost them a lot of money and weeks of time to do that. And to add insult to injury, they didn’t see their efforts result in any new sales.
So basically all their time and money was going to make what they believed were cool websites, because they genuinely believed cool would sell more games.
Unfortunately, their analytics proved otherwise.
The truth is cool alone doesn’t sell more games. And websites are actually marketing tools that perform best when pointed towards a certain set of goals, and work in tandem with other pieces of game marketing, such as social media or public relations, to accomplish those goals.
But don’t get me wrong, I fancy myself a beautifully designed game website. After all, I did help design the official websites, microsites, and experiences for many blockbuster films and AAA games.
That said, even I admit aesthetics alone won’t sell more games.
The “One and Done” Website Strategy
So your games need websites, but you can’t afford to waste time and money on what doesn’t work. You need an effective game website that you can stand up relatively fast, and with a relatively low cost of ownership. Furthermore, it’s to your benefit to create a system out of what you do, so that building game websites becomes easier and faster, which is a long-term cost-savings.
Here’s my signature system for building highly effective game websites on the fast and cheap:
1. Always Start with a Goal
Before building a game website, it’s important you ask yourself what’s the one thing, above all else, that you want potential players to do.
That’s your game website’s primary goal.
If you’ve ever built a game website without first asking yourself that question, you probably just copied what other game developers were doing. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, their goals might be based on undisclosed business initiatives that don’t really make sense for you.
A good rule of thumb for figuring out what your primary goal is when you’re just starting out, is whether or not you’ve released your game.
- If you haven’t released your game, then your goal should probably be to build up your audience before launch. You want people to sign up for your email list.
- And if you’ve already released your game, then your primary goal is simply getting traffic to your marketplace pages. You want people to click the “buy now” button.
As your game grows with DLC, sequels, or spinoffs, these rules can change depending on your business goals. But suffice to say, this is the right place to start.
2. Give Your Game Websites Their Own Domain Names
The overarching goal of a game website is to sell your game to players. And the overarching goal of a game development studio website is to sell your company to business partners, employees, and the media.
That’s why I never recommend using your company website as your game website, because it muddies the waters.
When you’re just starting out, potential players don’t care who you are. And so they’re far more likely to follow your games. In fact, even when you’re a popular developer, most players probably still won’t care.
Infinity Ward and Treyarch are the two studios who develop games in Activision’s Call of Duty franchise, but when asked who makes the games, most players would probably say Activision, if they knew to say anything at all.
We would know to say Infinity Ward or Treyarch, but that’s because we live in the games industry bubble and speak the language.
Give your game websites their own domain names (I use Namecheap).
Launching game websites on their own domain helps keep your messaging and goals laser-focused, it helps to attract more players with entertainment, it gives games their own soil to grow into brands, and all that combined helps you sell more games in the long run.
The only time I would likely deviate from this strategy is when a game becomes a larger brand, and needs a hub website.
3. Use a Website Builder
This is how most indie game developers build game websites:
They buy their own hosting, install the WordPress software, spend a few hours hunting down and buying a theme, and then they spend the following days and weeks mulling over custom design and content creation.
By the time it’s all said and done, it’s taken weeks to build what they consider a basic game website, not to mention all the hours they’ll continue to spend with tweaks, plugins, and so on.
And I totally get it, because I’ve done that too (many times).
The reason we’ve all done this is because we believed that it was the fastest, cheapest way to build a website that would give us the greatest amount of control. Basically, we did that because it’s “god mode” for websites. But it’s also cost us countless time and money that would have been better spent just working on our games.
So it’s time to try something new.
I highly recommend using Squarespace to build your game websites. In any case, use a website builder. The reasons I recommend Squarespace is because for $12 a month you’re getting access to a system that would cost upwards of $50,000 to build from scratch.
I would know, because I’ve built those.
I’m not saying you need a $50,000 content management system for your website. You won’t use all the technology that tools such as WordPress and Squarespace afford you for the low monthly cost. What I’m saying is, save yourself the time and hassle of rolling your own hosting, managing your own WordPress installs, or hand-coding your own websites.
Now to the point of using a website builder, I can already hear the collective groan.
The objection to website builders is almost always the same, that the templates “look like every other website out there.” I’m a designer and I don’t think so, but even if you do, drag and drop functionality gives you the power to change your layout in seconds. Remember, aesthetics alone doesn’t sell more games. That’s the type of thinking I’m asking you to move away from.
A good rule of thumb is to spend a maximum of 1 day building an official game website when you’re just starting out.
In fact, you could build the official websites for top-ten games such as Hay Day, EVE Online, or Game of War: Fire Age, in just 1 hour using a tool such as Squarespace. If any of them wanted to waste $50,000 on their websites, I’d actually be okay with that (maybe more) considering how many sales they drive, but obviously they haven’t done that.
And neither should you.
One last thing, again since this is so controversial. If you’re not rolling your own WordPress install, and you don’t want to use website builder for whatever reason, and you can hand-code your game website in under a day, then by all means go for it. The point here is keep it to a day and to not get lost in the weeds with things that don’t matter.
4. Make It One Page with Basically One Button
Style alone doesn’t sell games, but design does. You can have a really crappy game website, and still make money. In other words, a great-looking website is a want, not a need.
I’ve planned, designed, developed, optimized, and measured the performance of official game websites in all shapes and sizes. The only thing your game needs is a one-page, responsive website with basically one button, very similar to what Supercell, and other popular indie game studios, do for most of their games.
And here’s my wireframe for exactly how I design those websites:
Overall, this is pretty self-explanatory. But there are a few things I want to point out. Everything I’ve done here (and didn’t do) is by design, so let’s walk through why this works so well.
First of all, notice that there’s no navigation, and very few outgoing links overall. This is an attempt to remove all distraction from your primary goal. The last thing we want is to get players ready to buy, have them click away somewhere else, lose that desire, and never come back. All we really need up top is the one-liner that makes them want to click the “buy now” button, and the button itself.
Once the potential player clicks to buy the game, it should open a new tab to your game marketplace, if not add it to their cart automatically.
If the potential player cannot be convinced, they will begin to scroll, if they haven’t already by instinct.
The next step is to have potential players experience your game through its trailer, the next best way aside from playing the game itself. Do your best to keep trailers fast-paced, hitting all the beats, effectively communicating it’s best features, and ending on a CTA to reinforce purchase.
This section could also have pagination if you’re cutting teaser, gameplay, and official trailers
The next section is basically the description. If they can’t gather what your game is about from the trailer (they should have), then they’ll literally read that here. Keep this section relatively short, as free from development language as possible, and highlight a handful of your game’s best features.
Complete this section with a beautiful character shot, or some other primary break-out visual from your game.
Screenshots are pretty straight-forward, which also means they can be boring if you’re not careful. Select the best screenshots to sell the game, not necessarily for the development of the game (there’s a difference). Also, be free to experiment with how these might look if you used treated type or captions to highlight features.
I recommend a minimum of 3 screenshots, but 5-10 (max) with pagination or modal overlays is optimal.
If at this point they’re still not convinced to buy, they’re probably very interested. And that’s a great thing. So we’re going to ask them to sign up for our newsletter. This enables use to (1) build our email list, and (2) win the opportunity to nurture them towards purchase. And we’re going to entice them to opt-in by offering them a highly valuable, free incentive (e.g. comic book, strategy guide, playable level).
Also, if your goal is pre-launch then simply move this call to action to the top. And you can keep this one at the bottom if you’d like too.
I’ve seen the best results with one-click for the “subscribe” button and then a short form (name and email address) in a popup or modal overlay. Otherwise, putting form fields right on the page works too.
Finally, the footer should stay as minimal as possible, only consisting of a few social links, a press kit link, and your studio’s logo (unlinked). Again, we don’t want users clicking away and never coming back.
Unfortunately, analytics prove time and again that once a potential player clicks away from your game website, they’re probably not coming back.
This Is Good Enough for Now
In conclusion, this is the 20% of work that yields the 80% of results. The big design idea is to focus entirely on the primary goal, keep distractions to almost zero, and hit the secondary goal if we can’t nail the primary one.
Don’t get me wrong here, there’s a time and place for a multi-page website experience with all the bells and whistles, but not right now. And I know exactly how fun it is to work on those projects. But right now we need a website that’s 100% focused on driving sales, so that you can keep making your own games.
You need a good enough website, and this is good enough for now.
5. Install analytics and tracking
Every visitor that comes to your website tells a story with their actions. And those action can be measured with analytics. Where did they come from, how long did they stay, and did they click to buy your game?
Analyzing all that data for trends will help you optimize and improve your game websites moving forward.
For example, if most of your traffic is coming from Twitter, then investing more time and money in Twitter could be a great idea. Or if most of your conversions happen on mobile, then investing more time and money on optimizing the mobile version of your website could be lucrative.
To start taking advantage of all that data, I recommend installing Google Analytics, even if your hosting plan or website builder comes with their own set of analytics. In fact, I would turn those native analytics off if possible, and only use what you get through Google.
Making Game Websites Should Be Low Cost and High Value
You now have a foundational, replicable system for building effective game websites as fast, and as cheap as possible. This is going to help automate standing up game websites, and start giving you back the hours you’ve spent away from working on your games.
But most importantly, they’re going to perform far better.
You’re going to see more traffic going to your marketplace pages, and more email opt-ins now that you’re laser-focused on hitting goals. And that means, maybe for the first time ever, your game websites will actually be a valuable marketing asset, rather than a visually-stunning nebula that potential players seem to go missing in.
How has this strategy helped you think differently about your own game websites? Or what have you been doing beyond this strategy that seems to be really making a difference? Post a link to your own game websites in the comments, I’d love to see what you’ve done.