There’s a ton of info out there on how to market paid games, but most of these are steam-focused. Marketing on Steam is a slightly different beast than marketing a random itch game you posted for free.
Additionally, it’s tough to get non-gamedev, “unsympathetic” feedback. This is my process for getting eyes on my free games.
Make a game that’s playable in a web browser
Post the browser version of your game to itch.io with an eye-catching thumbnail
Post a gif of your game on 1 relevant subreddit with a link to the itch page in the comments
Post a direct link to the browser version on /r/WebGames
Post the game to ArmorGames / CrazyGames / Newgrounds / other web portals
The first 4 steps above usually get my games anywhere from 500 to 5000 plays. The 5th step has gotten me over 50000 plays on a couple of my games.
1: Make a game that’s playable in a browser
Here’s a comparison of my web games vs my download-only games:
As you can see, my browser games out-engage my download-only games by an order of magnitude. The barrier of entry to downloading a random person’s game onto their PC is too high for most people.
Making your game playable in a browser is enough to massively increase your reach. If your tech allows an HTML5 export, I recommend making all your games playable in the browser.
2,3,4: Post to itch and reddit
Here are the results of the above strategy for one of my games, Olden Peak:
The above shows the number of plays it received in the browser in the first month or so. The game went on to get around 4000 plays over its lifetime. The game still gets playtime and comments consistently, even a year after its release.
Post the browser version of your game to itch
Posting a browser game on itch can be enough to get at least a handful of people trying your game. Having an eye-catching thumbnail can do most of the work for you here. To see what I mean, just go to the “new and popular” tab on itch and look at the thumbanils there for inspiration.
From there, marketing the browser game involves posting to external communities:
Post a gif of your game on 1 relevant subreddit
By ‘relevant subreddit’, I mean a subreddit that allows self-promotion and has some relevance to your game. Usually I post on the engine subreddit for my game. For example, if I make a PICO-8 game, I post a gif to /r/pico8 with a comment linking back to my game’s itch page. Same goes for love2d and /r/love2d.
Post to /r/WebGames
/r/WebGames is one of the few subreddits that allows self-promotion that’s also good for traffic. This is because not that many people post games to /r/WebGames, and you actually need a playable browser link to post there. The subreddit is basically a quid-pro-quo: “I give you a free, no-download game, you give me traffic/plays”. I’ve posted every one of my games to this sub with varying degrees of success.
Note: On Self-promotion rules
I think self promotion rules on reddit are generally “you can’t post straight-up ads all the time”. This is different from posting OC (original content). For example, posting a photo you took to /r/pics isn’t self-promotion, it’s OC. Similarly, posting a free browser game you made to /r/WebGames isn’t self promotion, it’s OC.
Please don’t spam random subreddits with links to your steam game. The above two reddit strategies have worked well for me with no bans or warnings, as they both comply with reddits rules.
Interlude: The above is the bare-minimum
Doing steps 1-4 gets me at least 500 plays, usually around 2000 plays, and sometimes over 5000 plays. At the very least, doing the above gives you a strong chance at being put into the “New and Popular” tab on itch.io. Most people who release on itch don’t have much external traffic driven to their game. If you do the above, you’ll have at least a few hundred clicks coming from elsewhere, which is enough to propel you past like 80% of games in the ’new and popular’ tab.
Once you’re high up in that tab, if your game is fun, it can snowball a decent amount.
Regardless of how successful you are with the above, I highly recommend making the above 4 steps your bare minimum marketing for any game you release. If you do the above for every game you release, you may even start to build a small following.
At the very least, you’ll get eyes on your game and possibly some valuable feedback.
5: Post the game to larger web portals
I have two games on ArmorGames and they’re my most successful games so far. Both of them got around 50000 plays and hundreds of comments. My ArmorGames posts have given me the most fulfillment out of basically all of my games.
ArmorGames has a ton of traffic at its disposal, mostly because its entirely curated. You can’t just upload onto ArmorGames: You need to…
Email someone at ArmorGames a micro-pitch for your game along with a playable link to the game
Get approved and receive a developer account
Submit your game for approval from their QA folks
Await a ‘release date’ for your game, chosen by ArmorGames
Step 1 is enough to weed out a ton of games. Step 4 ensures that your game releases on a day that isn’t over-crowded with other games (for Planet D4RK, I waited a few weeks before I got a release date on Armor due to other games releasing on upcoming days).
Both of my games on ArmorGames got about 1 month of front-page visibility. In the first 2 weeks, both of my games got 20000 plays. From there, because they were favorably-rated (any game with higher than 70% positive is good enough for this), they continued to get plays for the next few months or so. This is the biggest draw of ArmorGames to me.
The second-biggest draw of ArmorGames is the comments: I got hundreds of comments with feedback, adoration, anger, and more. It’s very difficult to get unsympathetic feedback as a hobbyist dev. With ArmorGames, I had people writing multi-paragraph mini-essays on my games, sharing tips and tricks, begging for sequels, angrily asking for updates and fixes, and some people even started a speedrunning discord for one of my games.
You can check ArmorGames’ employee twitters to get their public email contact info, and from there you can email them. Alternatively, their developer page also has info on who to contact with your web game pitch.
CrazyGames is also a curated space. My only game on CrazyGames got around 40000 plays (though it’s since been removed due to low ad revenue lol). The median playtime for the game was around 20 minutes, and the analytics on CrazyGames told me quite a few players kept returning to the game. I had first uploaded the game to itch, and then was contacted by a dev at CrazyGames to post my game to their site as well. From there, I was given me developer access for the site. They also have a more-public submission process you can go through to pitch your game to them.
You can also make some ad revenue on CrazyGames, but I was told that most of the money comes from playing midroll ads in your game to maximise revenue, which is something I didn’t have time to implement. As a result, around 40000 plays of my game resulted in only around 20$ of ad revenue from pre-roll / banner ads.
The downside of CrazyGames is that there’s no comments, so it’s a lot less fulfilling.
I haven’t tried these other sites, but I’ve heard good things from other developers.
Newgrounds: I know of some devs who got their start on Newgrounds. The low barrier of entry to uploading here means it’s often flooded with games; Many games die with only a handful of plays as a result. That said, they have a monthly contest with cash prizes, though I think those cause some strange game-rating incentives so I personally avoid these contests.
Poki: There are a few articles (1, 2) about gamedevs who have made tons of money on Poki through ads. From what I understand, it’s a hybrid mobile/web portal for games. This means your game needs to run in a browser and in a mobile browser, with controls and windowing to match the target device. This is a pretty high barrier of entry for me, but that also means it has less competition than other sites. I see tons of new games on there hit millions of plays pretty quickly, so I’m definitely interested, but haven’t had the time to support all their requirements yet.
Sometimes, different strategies just click
When I originally posted TRYH4RD to reddit, it got downvoted and people generally didn’t jive with it. It topped out at like 500 plays in the first week, ending with around 2000 plays on itch.
However, I later posted it to ArmorGames and it got an overwhelmingly positive response, with 50k plays and an 85% positive rating. Tons of comments gushing about how amazing the game is. I still get emails and comments begging for a sequel.
The takeaway is: Sometimes, different communities resonate with your game differently. If your game doesn’t do well on itch, it might still do well on other sites.
Why do all of this if you’re just a hobbyist?
At least for me: I started having a lot more fun with gamedev once I nailed down a process to guarantee that someone sees my game. The emptiness of working on something and not knowing if anyone will ever even see it is really paralyzing. Now that I can get at least a few hundred people to play my game, it’s given me a lot more confidence to just make things.
In the end, even though many of us are hobbyists, we still derive a lot of fulfillment from people actually playing our games.
I see posts on /r/gamedev all the time about devs failing to reach an audience. Then, /r/gamedev jumps down their throat, telling them useless platitudes like “your game looks bad” or “why would I play your game instead of Celeste/Hollow Knight/Dead Cells/etc” or “you should buy ads”. In reality, there absolutely is an audience for free, small, high-quality web games. You just have to find it.
Hopefully the above process is helpful to you. I don’t have a huge audience, but I have an audience, which makes this hobby even more fulfilling. If you try the steps in this post, you’ll probably find people to play your games.
I really love web games; I wish the ‘golden age’ of webgames was still a thing. It felt like from 2000-2010, everyone I knew played games on miniclip and ArmorGames. A lot of those devs went on to do really cool things. In 2024, my goal is to release more web games and reach even more players.
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