Part 4: Promotion
Welcome to the latest in our Devblog series about the making of our first Discord RPG: Torn Tales. (Check it out for yourself here: https://discord.gg/JVKjCuZ)
Previous issues of the blog talked about how the game was made: both the design and the tech. Now all of that is done, we’ll go through some techniques for getting players to actually join the server.
Around the web you’ll find Discord listing servers – these allow you to search for new servers to join, and will give some basic information such as the subject covered and the number of members. Like any discovery platform, getting your content noticed is a challenge amongst the thousands of other servers competing for eyeballs. Be warned though, there is a lot of NSFW content on other Discord servers that you may not want to see!
In general these servers offer 2 methods for getting yourself to the top: bumping and (paid) premium listings.
Bumping allows you to periodically bump your server to the top of list by pressing a button on their website, though typically still below servers that have paid to appear at the top. You can rebump regularly, though the cooldown varies considerably between servers: currently this can be as little as 3 hours (discordsl.com) or as much as 24 hours (discordhub.com).
Some servers will also let you bump using a bot that you invite onto your server and send commands to (which opens the door to automating it), though you may or may not want a foreign bot on your server doing suspicious things …
Many listing servers also offer paid options, e.g. gold membership – you pay a small monthly fee for an entry that is stickier and more likely to appear on the front page. The trade off is whether you have the money to do this versus the time to keep on re-bumping servers manually.
Just like anything else on the web, there’s lots of options for digital advertising. We’ve tried a range of social media ads for the Discord RPG, but the main 3 we’ll talk about here are Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. In general these platforms all have the advantage that you can spend as much or as little as you want, and measure the results to optimise your campaign
We found Twitter adverts to be pretty ineffective in our case: looking at the stats that Twitter provide, we’re pretty sure there’s a significant number of click bots and click farms going on, particularly in Indonesia and India. These will click your link (presumably to boost ad revenue for 3rd parties), but not actually go through the Discord join process for our server. We did of course focus it down to less countries that exhibit less of this behaviour, but it was mostly money down the drain.
Reddit ads worked surprisingly well: in our first round of advertising we were acquiring users for as little as $0.64 per user, which compares favourably to mobile game acquisition costs. The Reddit ads platform allows you to target particular interest groups (e.g. RPG fans) based on the sort of subreddits that they hang out in – we think think is has a good correlation with people’s tastes for a particular kind of Discord server. Getting our first large batch of around 30 users join very rapidly was exciting!
The one drawback we found with using Reddit ads is that it didn’t like URL shorteners to be used as your target link (it actually describes them as “smelly” when you try!), so blocking off that route to attribute where our signups have come from.
Facebook advertising performed roughly as expected with advertising for other games, it’s a question of honing your filter of countries, interests and so on – our experience is that was less effective than Reddit ads, we assume as special interests are inferred from social connections, posts liked and so on.
Like any promotion funnel, you lose users at every stage. Our clicks go to a Discord invite link, however if the user isn’t already signed up/signed in to Discord on their browser, it will prompt them to signup/login. We’re pretty sure a number of users will disappear at this point: after we’ve paid for the click but before they get to our server. It is difficult to measure this drop-off rate, but is an interesting future exercise to see what the impact of this is.
One technique we have used for attribution is to segment our invite links: Discord allows you to create both permanent and limited use invites, and create a separate invite for each channel. Even better, you can see how many times each invite has been used from the Discord server settings. So by using a different invite link for each advertising platform, we can measure pretty well how successful each one has been.
Where this doesn’t work so well is the Discord listing servers that use your server widget: instead of posting an invite link, you give it your server ID, which uses the Discord server widget to generate an invite automatically in a channel of your choice. Unfortunately you can only have one widget for your server, the invites are temporary and the stats don’t remain (see the cave-combat example image above).
Would you believe it! There are Discord servers that advertise other Discord servers, for example “Advertise Your Server”. Be prepared for a lot of spam, more unsavoury NSFW links and don’t fall foul of the posting rules. To be totally honest we haven’t found these sorts of Discord servers to be that successful in gathering our users; it’s a little hard to imagine why people are going to spend much time on a server just to be advertised to – but maybe we need to try harder with this promotional route.
Making friends with other server admins is a better tactic: if they are happy for you to post about your server (or even put up an @everyone announcement for you), you’ll be likely to find better genuine interest and loyalty.
Our other effective means to promote the server was – well, you’re reading it! Blogging about how we made the server has generated interest, particular when our first article appeared on the front page of Gamasutra. Making (free) posts in appropriate places on Reddit has proven useful to – though read the posting policies careful as many don’t like self-promotion. We’ve found these subreddits useful: r/IndieGaming, r/devblogs, r/IndieDev and r/rpg_gamers.
There isn’t much in the way of curation/press around Discord servers in general, and certainly not for a niche as narrow as playable Discord games – so finding other gaming and gamedev sites to talk about the server is a good thing to do.
Thanks for reading! Remember you can join our Discord server totally for free here: https://discord.gg/JVKjCuZ