Getting Indie Developers On-Board With Online Contests

The reason I had originally designed this online contest was to enhance our company’s game portfolio. We needed developers, mostly Indies, to work with our Software Development Kit (SDK) and generate new content. This was our marketing strategy to improve our credibility and to define the market of the SDK we’ve just released.

Getting games created with your product is one of the issues troubling not only small companies such as ours, but also massive corporations like Microsoft, Sony and Facebook. I found that all of them are pouring millions of dollars into convincing Indies to work with their SDK and to improve it, so how can a small company prevail, especially with a limited budget?

Here is the outline of the contest. It follows a similar structure that most online contests do:

  • Purpose

Having a specific and attainable goal is key. Ours was to get developers to create an iOS game with our SDK. Any game would do, however, it had to include motion control. This helped us internally in setting a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for the project – how many games should we strive to deliver in the end? For us, 4 were enough.

  • Defining Target Audience

Define which audience you are trying to reach. For us, it was game developers with skills in Unity3D, which is our preferred development environment and experience with iOS games. We did not have any specific location criteria.

  • Timeline

The full contest schedule is usually divided into three parts:

   – Registration opens:

Registration for the contestants is conducted before the actual contest starts. Contestants need to submit team details and a project concept overview.

   – Submission period:

This is the time from the start of the actual contest to the final time of submission. This period should be long enough to enable developers to submit their ideas and projects.

We decided on two months for this period since it’s the average time for an expert to develop a game with motion control.

   – Judging period:

This marks the deadline for all submissions and the time in which materials are prepared for and brought to the judges who will then have to decide on the winners. We took 3 weeks for this period – 1 week to prepare materials and 2 weeks for judging (judges need lots of nudges).

   – Winners announcement:

End of contest – winners are announced and publicized.

  • Prizes:

Unlike Hackathons, which are short and carry small prizes, online contests usually provide greater monetary compensation. Teams know that they will need to invest serious resources and time into the project and they want to have a good return on the investment.

Prizes can be divided between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd winners, or given only to the one winner. Developers prefer to divide their chances and have the cash divvied between the top winners.

  • Judges:

Judges play a crucial role in the contest. In terms of judging, your own team can judge the submissions and probably do an excellent job. However, a team of well-known judges will add credibility to the contest (unless you have a more effective brand already) by giving you the ability to add their name to your board and provide advertising and PR for your contest. Try asking them to Tweet your contest posts to promote it even more (not all would agree, but you should ask).

  • Promotion:

The contest is worthless if you don’t reach your target audience. No one will notice it in this bustling market if you try to launch it only on social media or even if you do some AdWords campaigns.

– Challangepost (now called Devpost) is a platform with about 500k registered developers from around the world. We used this platform twice and each time had about 200 registrants and 20 submissions, which exceeded our expectations.
However, it is not cheap. Advertising on Challangepost costs about $1,500 per month for each month of the contest (we had 4 months). For this price it covers all your needs except for the prizes, i.e. promotions, submissions dashboard, forums, etc.

  • Submissions:

Decide on the requirements expected of each submission. Make sure that it is reasonable; enough to judge the quality but not too overbearing that it becomes a tedious task for the judges to sort through. For us, we found that the best basic submission requirements should include a project description, a link to the game, screenshots, and a promotional video. Some of the other contests requested more in depth submissions such as walk-through videos and a link to the application. To make sure we achieved our KPI and expanded our game portfolio, we made sure only submissions that were uploaded to iTunes would be eligible to receive a prize.

  • Finals:

Prepare yourself, reaching the deadline means a whole mess of coordination. First, you’ll receive requests to delay the deadline. Next, you’ll need to start sorting through the submissions making sure each one has everything that is required and contact those developers who could improve their submission slightly to help their odds or complete their submissions with a missing item.

We made sure not to send the judges all of the submissions but only the top 5 we found as the best and asked them to choose their top 3 in an order of 1 to 3.

  • Moving to actual delivery:

Once the contest is over and winners are announced, it’s not the end of the line. The whole purpose of the contest was to get more applications or games with our technology so the submissions need to become an actual app on the market. It was easier since the main criteria for actually receiving the cash prize was to upload the game to the Appstore. However, we did not want un-refined apps to be published with our tech, this could hurt our reputation. So we started an actual account management with a detailed Q&A process to get these games fitted for public use.

All and all, this process was successful and reached our expectations. Marketing’s KPI in front of management was to create a game portfolio with at least six game and we’ve succeeded in that where many other SDKs and AP


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