How to market your text-based game

A headshot of Andruid, shaded blue.
By Andruid

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

Table of Contents

    Today’s post on how to market your text-based game was inspired by a recent discussion around the multi-user dungeon (MUD) community and its (in)ability to attract and retain new players.

    As such, the tips below are mostly aimed at helping MUD implementors advertise their games without spending extra money.

    However, some of the advice offered here may also be applicable to other types of multiplayer text-based RPGs, such as those played in chatrooms. It’s based on several years’ worth of experience heading up the marketing department for a software (SaaS) company.

    To market your text-based game effectively, you’ll want to:

    • Get your game listed online
    • Tell all your friends about it
    • Make sure you have a decent newbie tutorial
    • Promote your game on social media, forums, and Discord servers
    • Advertise your cool events and new content
    • Understand players’ pain points and why they leave
    • Make improvements based on feedback and advertise those changes too
    • Rinse and repeat

    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 generate more revenue, which in turn allows them to spend more 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 need are players to populate your game.

    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.

    Why you need to market your text-based game

    Unfortunately, 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.

    People have to know about your game in order to 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 a reason to come play.

    Of course, if you prefer a small game with just a few friends, you can disregard this post and do your own thing. That’s perfectly fine, too! I once built a haunted house game solely for myself and my college buddies, and it was great fun.

    On the other hand, if you want to bring in several new players each week, you should probably be doing at least a few of the things in this guide on a semi-regular basis. Let’s review these activities one by one and look at why they matter.

    9 Tips for marketing your text-based game

    Here are 9 things you can do to help market your multi-user dungeon or other type of writing game:

    1. Be proactive and willing to put yourself out there

    First and foremost, don’t be like Andruid. 😂 No, I mean it. I’m a huge introvert, and I suck at getting out of my shell and making new friends in my free time. That’s why I only have a handful of Twitter followers since creating my new account in February. I keep dragging my feet on introducing myself!

    If you want to do well at marketing your text-based game, you’ll need to be friendly and proactive. Everything I’m going to suggest from here on out will require you to put yourself and your game out there.

    If that’s more than you’re up for – that’s okay! I totally get it. Marketing is a time-consuming skill not everyone wants to practice. There are only so many hours in the day and only so much creative energy to spare.

    Luckily, there’s a solution:

    Delegate the marketing tasks

    If marketing is not your cup of tea, don’t worry. There’s a way to get around that. It’s called delegating the work. Most people don’t build their games in a vacuum, after all.

    Start by asking your friends and fellow creators if they’d be willing to help you out, and if one says yes, tell them to read the rest of this guide. 😉

    Don’t be afraid to pass the marketing responsibilities off to someone you trust who really wants the role and has the capacity to do it. The most successful projects often make use of different personalities and skillsets. If coding is what you love, focus on coding. Let someone who loves marketing focus on marketing your game.

    2. Get your game listed

    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. 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.

    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. (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 pages of exposition, but you should at least clearly communicate the basics (like what style of MUD), as well as things that are unique and interesting about your game.

    What sets it apart from similar games? Why should new players give it a try? Put yourself in their shoes and try to anticipate their questions (and 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 get excited about doing it.

    How and why you need to show that your game is active

    Don’t forget to include a URL to your website 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 is especially true 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. By regularly marketing your game, you can help communicate, “Hey, we’re actively doing cool stuff over here. Come join us!”

    3. Tell all your friends

    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: 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 likely be willing to help you promote it.

    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.

    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 several reasons.

    First, 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.

    Second, 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.)

    Make your game accessible to non-sighted players

    Non-sighted and partially-sighted 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 huge soundpack and everything perfect right out of the gate, but the more you can do to make your game accessible and inclusive of blind players, the better.

    For example, StickMUD places Accessibility instructions at the top of their home page. Right away, this signals that non-sighted players 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 non-sighted players themselves.

    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 from the get-go. 👍

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

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

    The next thing you’ll want to do is 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.

    Screenshot of how to set the Promotion flair on a post in r/MUD.
    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 #2 (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.

    If you’ve never written a promotional post before and aren’t sure where to start, try looking at other 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.

    6. Take advantage of social media and mailing lists

    The next 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 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.

    Another thing you can do is create a mailing list and signup form for your game.

    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. It’s simple, has a clean interface, and if you ever do decide to upgrade, it’s affordably priced.

    7. Create a community

    If you haven’t done so already, you might consider creating a Discord server, forum, or wiki for your game.

    Invite your players to it. Use it to collect new ideas, welcome new players, help newbies, announce events, or just hang out and shoot the shit. Be a community.

    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.

    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.

    Remember: 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.

    However, if you make friends with other game admins, you can extend your reach by helping each other market your games to players who are a better fit.

    8. Advertise your cool events, new content, etc.

    By now, you’ve hopefully got a game, a listing, some devoted players, social media accounts, a Discord server, friends in the community, and you know how to promote your game on r/MUD and other forums.

    If so, congratulations, because PHEW! that sounds like a lot of f*cking work, and I mean that. Props to you. The majority of MUDs never make it that far.

    But let’s back up for a minute and return to the thought experiment of the tree falling in the forest.

    The same lesson there actually applies to everything else you do after opening your game. Meaning, it doesn’t matter how amazing your new combat system is or how cool your new spell looks if no one knows about it.

    How to keep marketing your game

    The good news is, your game probably has more marketing material than you realize. Think about every…

    • quality-of-life update
    • new or improved system
    • Discord game night
    • IRL get-together
    • town hall meeting
    • policy change
    • important bug fix
    • major plot or storyline
    • 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)
    • 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, servers, Reddit, etc.) and let the community know what’s up.

    The only real rule 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 home-field rules.

    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.

    Bonus tip: 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.

    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.

    9. 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 combine this task with lessons from tip #4 (use feedback to make your game welcoming and accessible) and tip #8 (tell everyone about your progress) to improve and market your game over time.

    Quote by Klor pulled from the body of the blog post.
    From 5 Accessibility Improvements in LOTJ MUD, published June 4, 2022.

    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 once a month if not more.

    The real hurdle is just setting aside some time to do it. Because from here on out, it’s a cycle of rinse and repeat. Automate as much as you can! Things like social media posts can be queued up in advance or put on a reposting schedule.

    You could even tie your game’s events system or forums into your Twitter feed.

    Marketing your game will be easier with help

    There’s no denying that marketing requires time and energy. I don’t say this to discourage you, just to help you understand what it’s going to take to generate interest in your game successfully.

    That’s why it’s better if you can delegate some of the work. Marketing by itself is a full-time job, but it becomes much more manageable if you can share the workload with partners and willing fans who believe in your project.

    Again, do what you love.

    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. Groom 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!