How to market your text-based game

ko-fi Written by Andruid
Published
Updated
Hands on a laptop and marketing icons with the text: How to market your text-based game.

What does it take to successfully market your text-based game for free? Find out in this post, which includes accessibility tips and more.


Table of Contents

    The purpose of this guide is to teach you how to market your text-based game effectively and without spending any money.

    If you run a multi-user dungeon (MUD) (or another type of multiplayer text-based RPG, such as an RP Discord server), this guide is for you.

    It’s full of practical advice for game admins who are just starting out, as well as those who have been creating or managing games for years.

    The advice is based on several years’ worth of experience heading up the marketing department for a software (SaaS) company and using those skills to help friends market their own projects and games.

    Topics covered in this post:

    • how and where to list your game online (and why it matters)
    • reasons to have a landing page, player portal, or website
    • how to encourage word-of-mouth advertising
    • importance of having a decent newbie area/tutorial
    • why your game needs to be screen reader-friendly
    • how to promote your game on appropriate gaming sites
    • pros and cons of using social media, forums, and mailing lists
    • reasons to have a Discord server
    • how to advertise your cool events and new content
    • importance of collecting player feedback

    I’ll cover each of these in more detail below.

    But first – what is marketing? Why do you even need to market your game? Isn’t marketing something businesses do? Wellll…

    What is marketing?

    In the business world, marketing is the process of promoting a brand and its product(s) in order to generate interest and, ultimately, revenue from sales.

    The adage, “You have to spend money to make money” applies well to the concept of marketing.

    By investing in advertisements and other activities that promote the business, companies are able to acquire more customers and generate more revenue, which in turn allows them to spend more money on marketing.

    If you run a text-based game as a hobby, however, you’re probably not interested in spending money to make money.

    What you’re likely interested in is drawing in players to populate your game, keep each other company, and make it worth everyone’s while.

    You’re not in it because you want a second full-time job; you’re in it because it’s fun for you.

    Fortunately, many of the same tactics used in business can be used to grow your playerbase. The ones I’ll be talking about in this guide can be done for free.

    All it takes is a little planning, time, and the willingness to see it through.

    Why you need to market your text-based game

    Real life is not like Field of Dreams. “If you build it, they will come” doesn’t apply to the world of text-based games – at least not without some effort.

    People have to know about your game before they can try it, let alone fall in love with it.

    That’s where a few marketing techniques come in handy. By marketing your game, you’ll be spreading the word that your game exists while also giving people compelling reasons to play.

    You don’t need to follow every step in this guide to be successful, but if you want to draw in players from outside the hobby, you’ll need to reach them where they are. Many of the tips below are designed to help you do just that.

    How to market your text-based game

    Here are 11 things you can do to help market your multi-user dungeon or other type of writing game.

    If your game has been around a while, you’re probably already doing a few of them already, but I’ve done my best to include some practical tips and reminders that will help regardless.

    1. Get your game listed online and keep the listing up-to-date

    Have you ever heard someone ask, “If a tree falls in a forest and no one’s around to hear it, does it make a sound?”

    This is an age-old philosophical question having to do with things in and outside of our perception.

    For all practical purposes, the answer may as well be “no.” Meaning, if no one knows your game exists, it may as well not exist for anyone but you.

    So one of the first steps to marketing your game is to get it listed on sites where players will find it and learn of its existence.

    Screenshot of MUD Scry, a listing site for games.
    Whatever the style of your text-based game, you need to get it listed where players will find it.

    Tip: If your game already has a listing, but it hasn’t been updated in years, now’s a great time to go in and refresh the synopsis and mention any features you delivered that players had been asking for.

    Listing sites for MUDs

    Fortunately, when it comes to MUDs, there are a limited number of listing sites to consider. Popular listing sites for MU* style games include:

    For a full list, see the MUD Resources page. Note that some of these sites host reviews and ratings. Others, like Grapevine, do not. Something to keep in mind.

    Depending on what codebase you use, it may also have its own listing site where you can opt-in / register your game, as well.

    For example, Evennia and AresMUSH both have pages where they list different games running on their respective platforms. (Worth noting if you’re still in the “looking at codebases” stage.)

    What to include in your listing

    Make sure your listing includes good details on what your game is all about.

    If you don’t, it’ll be like running 9/10ths of a marathon and then quitting right before the finish line. It would be a shame to underwhelm readers after you’ve put weeks, perhaps months of your life into building your own unique world.

    Try to grab visitors’ attention and be clear about what kind of game you’re offering.

    You don’t need to write 12 paragraphs of exposition, but you should clearly communicate the essentials, as well as things that are unique and interesting about your game.

    Questions to consider:

    • What style of MUD is it?
    • What sets it apart from similar games?
    • Who is it designed for?
    • Why should new players give it a try?

    This could be anything from cool features to a super welcoming and supportive community.

    Put yourself in readers’ shoes and try to anticipate their questions (and limited attention spans).

    A child dozing off in front of some books.
    A good rule of thumb is that if writing up your MUD listing bores you, it’s probably going to bore everyone else, too. Consider passing that particular task off to someone who will be excited to do it.

    How to ask for votes

    If you decide you want to try to rank on listing sites that have a voting system, I recommend choosing one (1) site to focus on and putting your voting link in multiple places.

    Places to put your voting link:

    1. in your game, right on login (MOTD)
    2. under the who list
    3. on a timer in your in-game OOC channel or voting channel
    4. on the home page of your game’s website
    5. on your social media page and in regular social media posts/reminders
    6. prominently in your Discord’s welcome channel
    7. on a timer in your main Discord channel (see Harshlands example below)
    8. in your game’s forums, wiki, etc.
    Screenshot of Save Knor, a bot in the Harshlands Discord server.
    The Harshlands Discord has a nice little bot that regularly reminds players to vote.

    Basically, anywhere players are likely to notice it.

    Remember: out of sight, out of mind. If you want voting to be on players’ minds, you’ll need to place the voting link where they will see it.

    Why you need to show that your game is active

    Don’t forget to include a URL to your website, Discord server, or wherever it is you keep a changelog or announce your game’s events.

    Players want to see that a game is active. If it looks like your game is abandoned, no one will bother to log in and check.

    This step is especially important if you have a small playerbase.

    It can be really hard to generate interest in a text-based game with only a handful of players, and I’ve seen too many perfectly decent games die out because the admins didn’t do any marketing.

    By regularly marketing your game, you can help communicate, “Hey, we’re actively doing cool stuff over here. Come join us!”

    2. Have a landing page or website

    Speaking of including a URL to your website – do you have one, yet?

    In fact, you probably don’t need a full-blown site, but you probably should have at least a simple landing page or portal where players can do things such as:

    • learn more about the game (listing sites often have limited space)
    • download your custom game client, soundpacks, or other add-ons
    • sign up for your newsletter or mailing list
    • grab useful links, such as the invite to your Discord channel or the URLs for your social profiles

    (More on these last two items below.)

    A website is also useful for helping people find your game via search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo.

    Finally, having a website you can direct people to means you don’t need to continually update other listing pages. You can direct visitors to your website and just focus on maintaining that as your central repository of information.

    Pro tip: Keep it simple, clean, and easy to navigate. Instead of building out 20 pages of thin content and placeholders, put all the most important info on your landing page where people can easily find it. You can always expand to additional pages later if you need to.

    3. Utilize word-of-mouth advertising

    So you’ve got a game, and you’ve made sure it’s listed. Awesome. That’ll help put it on the map, but by itself, it’s not going to draw a lot of visitors.

    The next step is to tell all your friends. Then, tell all your friends to tell their friends.

    When you have a handful of devoted players, upgrade them into advocates.

    By that, I mean ask them to help you spread the word in their gaming circles. If they enjoy your game, they’ll be willing to help you promote it because they’ll want more people to play with, too.

    Advocates will benefit your game in a few different ways, such as by:

    1. promoting your game by word-of-mouth
    2. showing potential players that someone other than just you likes your game 😂
    3. distributing the workload so you can focus more on the tasks that only you can do
    4. voting regularly for your game (though, don’t forget to remind them!)

    If you’re comfortable with it, you might even use some of the suggestions in this guide to reward players who help you out in some tangible way.

    4. Shore up your newbie tutorial and help files

    This next tip may not seem like it has a lot to do with marketing your game, but actually it does. If your game doesn’t have a really good newbie tutorial, you should spend some time shoring it up.

    Think of it like this: imagine your game is a restaurant.

    You just spent hours, maybe months, sweating away in the kitchen, preparing the food and tweaking the menu. Then, when it comes time to eat, your guests can’t find a clean table and the service is poor.

    Yep. That’d be what it’s like to build a MUD but then neglect things like your newbie tutorial and help system.

    Hand holding up an emojii circle with a frustrated expression.
    Your game is like a restaurant. It doesn’t matter how good the food is if the experience sucks. That’s why it’s important to make a good first impression. Make sure that your players feel welcome and have guidance right from the start.

    A good tutorial is going to be important for two main reasons:

    1. If your game lacks guidance on how to get started, many players who try it will simply leave and never return. They’ll probably tell their friends about their subpar experience, and they may even leave a poor review or rating.
    2. A solid tutorial can greatly reduce the amount of time that you and your fellow admins have to spend answering new player questions. So unless you want to spend all your time explaining the same things over and over, it’s a really good idea to get your newbie tutorial and helpfiles in shape.

    For additional tips, see my guide on what makes a great help system.

    5. Make your game accessible

    Players with blindness (often referred to as non-sighted or visually-impaired players) are an important part of the text-based gaming community. If you want to tap into this pool of potential fans, you should make an effort to ensure your game is screen reader-friendly.

    You don’t need to have a soundpack right out of the gate, but the more you can do to make your game accessible and inclusive, the better.

    For example, StickMUD places Accessibility instructions at the top of its home page. Right away, this signals that screen reader users are welcome and provides visitors with tools and resources to get started.

    One of the best ways to make sure your game is accessible is to talk to and get feedback directly from players and play-testers.

    Or better yet, appoint someone who uses a screen reader to your admin/staff team. Include them in your development and planning meetings and bake accessibility into your new features and systems right from the get-go. 👍

    6. Promote your game on r/MUD or equivalent sites

    Okay! If you’ve been doing things according to the order of this guide, you should now have a listed text-based game, a landing page, a handful of advocates, and a solid newbie tutorial. That’s a great start!

    At some point, you’ll want to promote your game on r/MUD, which is the subreddit dedicated to the MUD hobby.

    Promoting on r/MUD is a great way to tell a lot of people about your game. Just don’t forget to use the Promotion flair when drafting your post.

    The Promotion flair is basically just a tag that identifies your post as promotional as opposed to a question or discussion topic. This allows people who don’t want to see promotional posts to filter them out of their feed.

    The Promotion flair can be selected from the full list of r/MUD flairs.
    To use the Promotion flair while drafting a post, click the + Flair button, then select Promotion and hit Apply.

    Also, be sure to read and abide by the r/MUD rules. You can only promote your game once every 7 days, and using the Promotion flair is non-optional.

    What should go in your promotional post

    The advice from tip #1 (get your game listed) also applies here. Be sure to highlight some cool stuff and link back to your game’s website, listing, and/or connection details.

    A good place to start is a 1-2 paragraph “hook” designed to grab readers’ attention and pique their interest, followed by a list of 5-10 key features.

    For more ideas, you can look at other promo posts – especially for games similar to yours. When reading them, ask yourself whether you’d play that game. Why or why not? You can use that feedback to help you construct your own ad.

    And if you see a post you really like, take notes on what you like about it and try to do similar things in your own post but in your own words.

    Pro tip: If your game has fans, ask them to review your promos before you post them. This will make them feel more included and engaged while netting you some valuable feedback ahead of time.

    7. Promote your game over social media, forums, and/or Discord servers

    Another thing you can do to market your game is to share it with your friends and followers over social media.

    If you have a Facebook account, for example, you can create a page for your game.

    Once you have a page, you can add your game info, website URL, and even use the feed for things like status updates.

    If your social media feed looks active, visitors might be more inclined to give your game a try.

    On the other hand, an inactive page with very few posts might send the wrong signal to potential players, so I don’t recommend heading down this path unless you’re sure you (or someone else on your admin team) can devote some time to it.

    If you do decide to make use of social media, I recommend reading the advice in this post first. It’ll help you figure out where to best spend your time and energy.

    Another option is to drop into other gaming forums and Discord servers to see if they’re open to you advertising your own game and/or events. Many communities will have an area specifically dedicated to promos that you can use for this very purpose.

    Automate what you can

    Whatever you decide to do, I suggest automating as much as you can so as to free up resources for your main project: building an awesome game people will love.

    If keeping up with multiple accounts/services sounds like a chore, you might consider getting creative with webhooks and APIs. These can help you automate the sharing of info across different platforms.

    Or if coding isn’t your thing, you could try a service like SocialChamp, which lets you post updates to two accounts for free.

    8. Start a mailing list and newsletter

    A mailing list is another option for staying connected with your game’s fans.

    With a mailing list, you can send out occasional newsletters about what’s going on in your game. This can help keep your game on the radar and give players a reason to come back if they decide to take a break for whatever reason.

    For example, here’s a newsletter I received from Legends of the Jedi:

    Legends of the Jedi newsletter notifying players that the timeline is ending and how to take part in the final event.
    Newsletters can be a great way to keep players updated on important events.

    Several mailing list services offer a free plan that will work just fine. For example, MailerLite is free up to 1000 contacts.

    The downside, of course, is that keeping up with a mailing list and regular newsletters can feel like extra work on top of everything else. But if you’re already writing the same announcement for r/MUD and your Facebook feed, it’s a pretty simple matter to copy, paste, and hit send.

    Tip: Post the link to your sign-up form in your MOTD and on your game’s landing page.

    9. Foster a healthy community

    If you haven’t done so already, you might consider creating a Discord server or forum for your game. There are many benefits to this, including:

    • gives players a place to hang out during downtime
    • provides another avenue to ask questions and get help
    • allows you to make community-wide announcements that players can see even if they’re not logged into the game

    You can also use it to collect new ideas, welcome new players, help newbies, schedule events, or just hang out and shoot the shit.

    But don’t stop there. Join other communities, too. Make friends in other games, servers, and forums. Be a part of relevant discussions and, when it makes sense to do so, share information about your own game, upcoming events, and the things you’re working on.

    Find a sister game to collaborate with

    If you want to take it a step further: support other games you enjoy and find ways to collaborate.

    The MUD community may have what feels like a small player pool at times, but that doesn’t mean every game is a direct competitor.

    Players are attracted to different kinds of games. Some players prefer RP, some don’t. Some want a fantasy experience, some are looking for sci-fi.

    Don’t get into the mindset that your game needs to appeal to everyone all the time to be successful.

    It doesn’t and, frankly, it won’t. So there’s no need to operate your game like a silo.

    However, if you make friends with other game admins, you can help each other out. Share each other’s social posts, announce each other’s big events in your respective forums and servers, and extend your reach.

    Players will find the game that’s a better fit for them, and you’ll both get more exposure. It’s a win-win-win situation.

    10. Advertise your game updates, fun events, new areas, etc.

    At this point, you now have a game, a landing page, a solid listing, some devoted players, one or two social media accounts, a Discord server, and friends in the community. You also know how to promote your game on r/MUD and other forums.

    In the field of marketing, each one of these things is called a channel.

    Each channel provides you with a means to communicate with players (both prospective and returning). Because it doesn’t matter how amazing your new combat system is or how cool your latest spell looks if no one knows about it.

    At the end of the day, marketing is really just about using the channels at your disposal to encourage people to play your game. And for that, you need to have things to say.

    The good news is, your game probably has more marketing material than you realize!

    List of potential marketing fodder for text-based games

    The following are all perfectly valid excuses to communicate across your available channels:

    • quality-of-life update
    • new or improved system
    • new or expanded area/zone
    • IRL get-together
    • MUD community holiday, such as Player Appreciation Week
    • Discord game night
    • town hall meeting
    • policy change
    • important bug fix
    • accessibility improvements
    • major plot or storyline starting or nearing its end
    • reset/pwipe
    • piece of fan art or creative writing
    • staff-written guide
    • community-contributed guide
    • game or contest (see this post for some tavern RP ideas)
    • player-driven event
    • the game’s birthday or anniversary

    All of these things are potential marketing fodder for your game. They’re a reason to reach out through your channels (social media, email, Discord servers, r/MUD, etc.) and let the community know what’s up.

    The more involved players are in these things, the more likely they will help you spread the word without you even asking.

    Keep it classy

    The only real rule of thumb is to be polite and respectful, especially when you’re posting your news in other people’s servers and feeds.

    Wherever you go, follow the house guidelines.

    For example, don’t show up just to spam someone else’s Discord with info about your game unless they specifically have a channel set aside for promos. Otherwise, you’ll end up pissing people off and getting the boot.

    When in doubt, it’s always better to ask a mod.

    If your game is listed on Grapevine, you can advertise your upcoming and ongoing events there, too.

    Here’s a great example by AVATAR:

    Screenshot of Grapevine's home page showing a month-long event by AVATAR.
    Want to appear on the home page of Grapevine? Add your upcoming and ongoing events!

    Notice how the event includes a link to AVATAR’s game listing:

    Screenshot of the AVATAR Anniversary Month event description on Grapevine.
    Clicking “See more about AVATAR” takes the reader to the game’s listing, which includes a PLAY button and a link to their website.

    11. Understand new players’ pain points

    This is another one of those, “What’s it got to do with marketing?” tips. You might not think that understanding players’ pain points is important for marketing purposes, but it is.

    Talk to new players. Find out what’s holding them back or where they’re getting stuck. Ask them what could have helped during their first week of play.

    You’re going to use this feedback to improve your game, and then you’re going to market those improvements over your available channels to keep players coming back.

    "Some of it has been us asking, other times it's been non-sighted players telling us what would help them out. I like to think it's a two-way street with open communication from both sides. This has helped us ensure that any new changes do not make their lives more difficult." - Klor, Newbie Ambassador, LOTJ
    From 5 Accessibility Improvements in LOTJ MUD, published June 4, 2022.

    Remember: if you’re actively developing your game and people are actively playing it, you will have something new to shout from the rooftops at least a few times a month.

    The real hurdle is just setting aside some time to do it. Automate as much as you can! Things like social media posts can be queued up in advance or put on a reposting schedule.

    What to do if you hate marketing

    If you want to do well at attracting new players to your text-based game, you’ll need to be proactive with your marketing efforts.

    The text-based gaming community (and the MUD community in particular) isn’t that large. Passively waiting for people to find your game won’t be nearly as effective once you’ve tapped out the initial word-of-mouth traffic.

    That’s why doing some sort of marketing is important, especially for drawing in new players from outside the genre.

    If marketing isn’t your cup of tea, there’s a solution: you can delegate the tasks.

    Don’t be afraid to pass the marketing responsibilities off to a staff member or GM you trust who really wants the role and has the capacity to do it.

    Identify the right person for the role

    The most successful projects make the best use of different personalities and skillsets. If coding is what you love, focus on coding. If you love building new areas and writing room descriptions, spend most of your time doing that.

    Don’t get burnt out pushing yourself to do something you loathe.

    Instead, coach someone to handle the marketing side of things for you. You’ll be able to accomplish so much more that way than trying to do everything yourself.

    And finally, be prepared for criticism.

    No game is perfect or perfectly suited to every player or play style. You will inevitably meet players who dislike things about you, your game, and the way you run it.

    Don’t let that ruin your passion for your project, but do be open to constructive feedback, especially if it has to do with making your game safer or more accessible.

    That’s it for me this time. I hope you found this guide useful, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions!

    If you haven’t read my guide to player retention, I highly recommend it next.


    Frequently Asked Questions

    Do I need to market my text-based game?

    You only need to market your text-based game if you want to bring in new players or get former players to return. You do not need to market your game if it’s a private game.

    Are there ways to market my game through the Writing Games website or blog?

    Possibly! Reach out to Andruid if you’re interested in doing an interview, collaborating on a blog post, or having an event listed. These are all free options she’s willing to consider in support of the hobby.

    You can find her contact info listed on the About page.

    Can I hire Writing Games to do some marketing for my game?

    Not at this time, though Andruid is considering doing some limited consulting work at a VERY steep discount for Supporters on Ko-fi, especially considering that hobby games do not generate revenue. Reach out to her if interested.


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    Smiling blonde woman wearing glasses.
    About the author

    Andruid is a writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill and Ted wisdom, i.e. "Be excellent to each other."