The goal of these posts is to talk about all the work and decisions happening behind the scenes for an indie game developer. Just as a development blog would show potential fans the content of their game being developed, the meta blog can be useful for other indie developers going through the same process as I am. In this post, I talk about what is required to set up a website.
I just recently started setting up the website for Morchella Games. While I have setup a few websites before (though not professionally), I’m always surprised at the number of things you need to think about to do it correctly. Here is what I did/need to do to set up my website.
Where to host a website?
First thing I asked myself was whether or not I was willing to pay for hosting and a custom address. I looked at alternatives, such as setting up a blog on Tumblr or some other free resources. Ultimately, I think I may end up doing both! Morchella Games has its main (in progress) site, but I plan on repeating some of the content on Tumblr and possibly other channels.
The idea behind this decision is to increase the chances of being found, as each channel has its own mechanism for discovery. I can’t say I’ve analyzed all the possible channels and their potential, but I’m keeping this in mind as I develop my social media.
For the hosting, custom addresses typically costs around 10$ a year for each address, but I think it’s generally worth it. By having your own address, you can make it fit with the overall branding of your company/game name, and it might even get people to find your company and projects easily. Some people will say it also makes your website and company look more professional. I tend to agree with this claim, but I guess it’s debatable.
For hosting, there are lots of solutions out there. One of the things I looked out for was the fine print on the deals hosting companies show you. For example, make sure to check the hosting price per month once the initial entry deal is over. Most sites will offer something like the equivalent of 1$ to 4$ a month for a period of 12/24/36 months (sometimes payable in advance). What you need to look out for is the price once that period is over. I decided to use Bluehost for the web hosting and I’ve been satisfied with them up to now.
As for the domain (address) registration, I opted to go with Namecheap. While the name sounds like it’s one of those garbage sites, it’s actually well made and functional. My experience with them has been good so far.
You may be asking: why keep domain registration and hosting on different sites. The only real reason I did this was because I once heard some hosting companies try to keep your domain name if you try to leave. Losing your company address could be very bad for a small indie game company!
My How to: Website
A long time ago, the first time I needed to setup a website, I was a bit intimidated by all the technical aspects that needed to be done. These days, even I understand a lot better the inner working of a website, I still go with WordPress
If you look at the website reference list at Pixel Prospector, you’ll see a bunch of indie game developers use WordPress as a foundation for their main website. Indies like WordPress and have good reason to do so. It is relatively simple to setup, has loads of customizable themes (looks and layouts) to choose from, and has rather good content management tools.
The main difficulty for me is always the same: choosing the right theme! Each time I have to setup a WordPress website, I look and dabble for hours at the different theme I could use. Since I’m not an artist or a graphic designer, I need to be able to pick something that already has an interesting layout, but can also be easily modified. I’ll admit I’ve never found a free theme that satisfied me, so this time I went and bought the Enfold theme.
One good way to pick a theme is to go with something that is “responsive”. A responsive website means that it’s able to present itself properly regardless of the platform it’s being loaded for (phones, tablets, PCs, etc). For indies, this is actually really important for two reasons. First of all, a lot of users these days will visit your site using their phone. This means that your site must be mobile-ready for these users to be able to look at your site and see the content correctly. The second reason is that Google now uses “responsiveness” as a means to rank your website. This means that the better your site is for mobile, the better your “score” with Google and the more likely your website will come up in a search. I recommend using this link to a Google tool to check if your site is “mobile” enough for them.
All those widgets
I’ll admit I don’t know much about the tons of widgets you can add to your WordPress website. However, most people tend to use the widgets that let you do the following things
– Share buttons for social media (typically for posts/pages)
– Buttons that let users follow you on social media
– Subscribe widget so people can subscribe to your newsletter
If you have a nifty theme, some of these features may already be integrated. I would suggest using those themes’ features before using a plugin, simply because they tend to be better integrated with the theme’s code and layout/style.
Use a tool for SEO
As you may or may not know, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) seems to be pretty important these days. Explained very simply, SEO is something that increases the chances of your website coming up in a search engine’s results. For example, you may want to be the first website that comes up when someone searches for “indie game” on Google. SEO will help you increase your ranking for that search if you’ve set up your website and it’s content for that search. It seems magical, but it really isn’t that simple.
If you want to get into SEO more, I suggest reading up on it, like on this site. Personally, and this is specific to WordPress, I use a plugin called SEO by Yoast. It is a good basic tool to help you write posts that will favor SEO for your posts and website.
You may argue that if people are looking for your game, they won’t enter generic terms in the search engine. That is a logical way of thinking, but I think the more chances you put on your side (or site!), the more likely you will be discovered. Again, I’m no specialist in the subject, but I think doing SEO can be an important to increase the chances of being noticed.
Do I need more than one website?
This is an excellent question. Just like Twitter accounts, some people say that you need a website for both your company and your game. I’ve never actually read an article about this (I’m sure there are some out there), but here’s why I think this could be a good idea.
People often will take interest in a game before they the company that makes it. By setting up a website only for your game (with links to your company page of course), you reduce the chances of people getting lost on your company page when looking for your game. Is is a single and simple entry point to get information and bookmark a site for your released or upcoming game.
I believe there are two initial things that are important for indies developer websites (and other sites too!).
1) People need to find your site
2) People need to stay on your site (long enough to get to the information/content that they need/want)
3) People need to take action on your site. This either means buying your game or subscribing to a mailing list (or other stuff, depending on the situation)
We spoke briefly about point 1 with SEO. By making a site specific for your game, you increase the chances of people realizing points 2 and 3.
If a potential player/fan is able to look at game’s page, instead of navigating a company website, it increases the chances of him staying longer on the page.
As you can see, there are lots of things to keep in mind. As for the specifics of each point, I invite you to look up some of these subjects more in depth. If you find some more information on these different subjects, please let me know!
I decided to go through all this work for my website, but you don’t necessarily need to do all of these points. You can choose to keep things really simple and have more time to work on your game. My strategy, however, is to try and put all chances on my side, even if it means more work.