What makes people play video games? A simple question but one we’ve been thinking about a lot as our following continues to grow and we get closer to our closed beta for Forage Friends!
Your first thought might be, “Well, people play video games because they love them” or “They play to relax/connect/get inspired”. While that IS certainly true for most games, we like to think what we’re making is a little bit more…nuanced.
When we first had the idea for Forage Friends, we didn’t ask ourselves if people would play it. We asked why.
If you don’t know who we are (how did you find this blog post 👀), we’re a small indie studio creating our very first mobile game meant to help you build positive habits and learn about self care – with a bit of romance, gardening, and visual novel-eqsue storytelling in between. We’ve been telling people it’s like if Stardew Valley and Pokémon GO had a baby. Forage Friends is meant to be a cozy, comforting experience that physically (and psychologically) motivates the player to practice self care through daily walks, tending to plants, and building relationships with the locals.
We think our idea is solid and unique. But the real question was: would other people as well? We knew we wanted Forage Friends to resonate with women aged 18-35 who either already played cozy games or were interested in the health space (or both!). So here’s what we did to validate our concept and build our fanbase.
Finding our audience
We started with market research to determine the viability of Forage Friends. We created surveys to get a baseline of what people in our potential demographic were interested in, collected anecdotes to hone in on the problem we would solve, and started planning our marketing strategy.
We found that, for most people we talked with, struggling with self care wasn’t a new thing. It was impacting both their mental and physical health and had been for most of their life. They admitted to trying multiple one-size-fits-all methods to “get better” and always ended up feeling like they failed or couldn’t stick with it for more than a few weeks. It was clear the competitive, stats-based apps were doing more harm than good. And a no consequences, go-at-your-own-pace game with cute AF accountabilibuddies (who you could also romance) made more sense than we thought. Target audience = unlocked.
Building our community
Once we had a good idea of who we could get interest from (and make a positive impact on), it was time to put Forage Friends out into the public. We set out on Twitter to promote our game to the masses. But how do you do that when it isn’t even prototyped yet? Well, we started pretty much from scratch. We had a handful of art assets, some wireframes, and a strong belief backed by research that our concept would land with the right people.
So we started putting what we had out there. In the beginning, it was a lot of trial and error. We joined in on conversations with other indie devs and studios, religiously posted on #screenshotsaturday, and tested SO many different ways to tell our story. We even made a Discord where like-minded individuals could come and chat about all things cozy. But one of the most important things we did was stay true to our message and values.
With something as personal as self care and the added complexity of it being different for everyone, we wanted to be as genuine and real as possible. Honestly, there’s nothing more discouraging when you’re trying to make progress than having the unattainable shoved down your throat. Yikes. Inclusive, wholesome vibes helped promote our game in a way that felt welcoming to all, and that no matter where they were on their journey, they could count on us to be by their side.
We also catered a lot to specific communities that already exist within the cozy gaming space, especially those that involved gardening, mindfulness, and romance. By putting a big emphasis on our characters, all of which have diverse stories and backgrounds, including BIPOC and LGBTQIA+, people could see themselves and their lived experiences reflected in our game (a huge personal motivator in itself).
After a while, we noticed our follower count started to grow. By no means was it an overnight success, but consistency and authenticity on social media has really paid off!
Growing our fanbase
With a good crop of fans (foragers as we affectionately call them) on Twitter, we evolved our marketing strategy to include more intimate platforms like TikTok and Twitch. This allowed us to make and share more content featuring our team, and reach new potential players that we might not have captured on traditional social media. We really wanted to put faces to our name and get people invested not only in Forage Friends the game but the people creating it.
We started networking with local artisans like Friday Afternoon Tea and Pass The Bar Soaps, as well as well-known illustrators like oats and yueko to create a slew of cute and cozy merch based on Forage friends characters and art. We attended GeekGirlCon and several other conventions in the Seattle area that allowed us to chat with people IRL while sharing our passion for everything we’re creating.
Each time we connect with a new fan (either in-person or online), we’re met with tangible enthusiasm and intrigue. We can almost feel how much it resonates with them and that’s been the most rewarding part of this whole thing. Knowing that what we’re making matters.
Today we have close to 1000 followers, early signs of character fandoms, and a (mostly) working Android build. So what’s next?
We want to further validate Forage Friends by *deep breath* finally getting it into your hands for the first time. Ahhhhh. We’re planning to do a closed beta very soon – sign up on our homepage if you’re interested in being a part of it (just check “Forage Friends Beta Sign Up” box)! Your experience and feedback will help us make it the amazing game we all know it can be.
If you haven’t already, be sure to follow us on Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, and Discord for more updates and as always, happy foraging!