The #1 Thing That Will Get Your Indie Game Noticed (From a Professional Game Critic)

indie game notice post cover

There are a few things I should note to not give incoming viewers who may benefit from this article the impression that I know everything:

  1. I am a professional video game critic by definition, though with little notoriety. I am paid to write video game reviews, but I am not from IGN, Game Informer, or any other big-name company. These tips will be from my own personal experience.
  2. I note indie games specifically as they are among the ones I find myself more enamored with. And I’m more likely to acquire them, but that’s not noteworthy.
  3. I work for a site called KeenGamer, which has employed me for nearly two years. In that span, I have written over fifty reviews and close to seventy total articles. I won’t pretend that that makes me immensely knowledgeable, though I am experienced, nonetheless.

I have a system I abide by whenever I feel the urge to review a game (which is almost constantly). Most often, I will browse the “Upcoming” tab on Steam for potential titles I could have the site request or see if I can’t contact the developer myself. This is a practice I’ve been doing for close to a year now, after realizing that I tend to be more goal-driven if I can control my own fate. If it can be done, I will do it.

When one comes to the Upcoming tab on Steam, they will be shown a list of games organized by release date which shows titles, a cover image, said release date, and occasionally a price. With so little information and so many games flashing across the screen, it can be hard to properly gauge potential quality. But I’ve come to realize something that separates the potentially good from the probable bad, and it’s a really simple (and perhaps cliché) suggestion:

Focus on your cover image.

From my experience, I have looked into way more games with really gripping, captivating cover images than I have otherwise. The most common type of cover image I see for upcoming games on Steam include a simple title placement with a shitty text font. Surely people can do better than that! If people are really motivated to have their game be discovered, they should at least work on building that first impression.

Here’s an example of a shitty cover that I would never look into:

indie game notice post 1

In all fairness to Online Simulator, it could be a great game that I’m missing out on. However, there is nothing about this cover image that piques my interest (nor does its name, but I always associated “Simulator” games with memes). How is this image supposed to make me interested about the game? What does it say about the game itself? The colors are at least compatible, but that’s all that’s worth commending it for. It’s a boring cover image, and it ruins any chance that I’d even bother scrolling over it.

Here’s an example of a good cover that I would probably look into:

indie game notice post 2

This image has much more personality to it that immediately attracts my curiosity. The neon-esque coloring of the text, the explicit representation of its implications, and the glow-in-the-dark aesthetic tells a story just through the image alone. I feel like there was a lot more effort put into the creation of this image, which tells me, as an onlooker, that there may be genuine passion behind the project. The only issues I have with it would be that there isn’t much going on in the background, while also somewhat hindered by how dark everything is. And while this is more personal, I find the drawing style of the human character a little juvenile.

Here’s an example of a great cover that I would very likely look into:

indie game notice post 3

Before I say anything about this one, I want to clarify that I’m aware this is likely a little more than an “indie” title. For the sake of aestheticism, however, I wanted to highlight it.

It looks “professional.” It looks like someone was hired to create an image that would work to appeal to as many potential consumers as possible. While I would normally hiss at the very thought, there’s a reason why it works, and there’s a reason why it’s so sought after. In a highly-competitive market, you need the type of quality this image presents. There’s a reason I picked it out.

The text is wrapped tightly in a crisp and interesting design full of small details and compatible colors. The background is appropriately apocalyptic and detailed. And then you have this dude in voodoo/tiki garb that looks really good. Everything about this cover image is great, and would likely have me seeing if I would at least give it a shot by reading the finer print (which is where I’d probably move on).

For other examples of great covers, I’d recommend looking at games (I’ve reviewed) such as DraugenMärchen ForestA Robot Named Fight!Tales of the Neon Sea, and Wonder Wickets. These are all, of course, my personal opinion.

Cover images come in all shapes and sizes, and for me, the more extravagant the detail, the better. There have been games I’ve checked out that have had less than stellar cover images that ended up being great games. In hindsight, it’s amazing I even gave those games a chance. So if you’re an aspiring game developer and want your game noticed on Steam or otherwise, here’s my advice: make the cover art captivating. It is the first impression your game will make and it’s crucial that it makes a positive impression. Even if you have to hire an outside artist or commission a piece for your game that doesn’t necessarily reflect your game’s art style, I’d still say that it’s worth it.

What do you think about the cover images I provided? Do you agree with my points? Why or why not?

For more opinion pieces like this, be sure to check out the accompanying archive.

Thank you for your time. Have a great day.

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