Matej Jan

Illustrator, pixel artist, game developer

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No Bullshit Pixel Art Tutorial — Marketing Strategy for Retronator

Hi guys,

My name is Matej Jan and I do pixel art under the name Retronator.

Ever since I read Crush it! in 2010 I am on a goal to make Retronator financially sustainable so that I can work on my projects full time.

Big Picture Plan

  1. Build an audience for pixel art.
  2. Create my own pixel art works and projects.
  3. Make a living from it.

1 and 2 are my jabs and I work on them simultaneously in my free time. Step 3 will come when I'll mix in right hooks using a variety of ways to earn money:

  • start a crowdfunding campaign,
  • sell a pixel art tutorial book,
  • commissions for magazine illustrations and game art,
  • sell licenses for a new kind of pixel art creation tool.

No Bullshit Pixel Art Tutorial

About a year ago I posted a tutorial on using GIMP (free image manipulation software) to do pixel art.

It quickly became the most popular video on my YouTube channel, showing exponential growth of views and driving new subscribers interested in this topic.

Because of the unexpected success of this tutorial I am now creating a new video tutorial, catering to the new subscribers on YouTube, but also providing quality content to all the pixel art followers across my social media presences. The idea is to recognize the kind of content that proved to be the most popular (identifying a useful product) and connect it with content on all my marketing channels (maximum exposure).

The following is a breakdown by platform of how the marketing for the tutorial is being done.

YouTube

My YouTube channel (700+ subscribers) is the primary platform for the tutorial with the most focused group of followers: one third of subscribers to my channel are there precisely because of my previous pixel art tutorial.

The video is made with today's short-attention-span audience in mind (me included).

The fast paced animation at the beginning aims to immediately grab attention and promise high quality production. What follows are seven 10 second, packed, super-dense lessons that should surprise the viewers who are used to poorly planned tutorials that drag for tens of minutes.

The idea for the format came from Give it 100 , which is essentially Vine for self improvement: you pick a skill you want to work on and post 10 second videos of your progress for 100 days.

They also have a how-to section where people teach a skill in 10 second videos. The time limit forces you to focus your content and create concise instructions, which is exactly what I wanted to do with my follow up tutorial. This provides an opportunity to talk about the tutorial, not only for the high quality content, but its packaging and the current general state of tutorials as well. All of these are marketing opportunities.

The video ends with a clear call to action to visit the website where the viewer will find additional material or to go directly to the crowdfunding campaign.

Website

A special landing page on my website will hold the embedded YouTube video as well as slides that act as cheat-sheet references for the topics covered.

Besides the standard social sharing buttons, there will be a placeholder for Week 2 with a call to support further production via a crowdfunding campaign.

Once the website and the crowdfunding campaign are in place, a short press round will start, submitting the link to various art, tech and gaming blogs/news sites for more mainstream coverage.

Here is the current list of planned contacts (based on content match and previous coverage of Retronator's pixel art):

  • Kotaku
  • Destructoid
  • GamesBeat
  • Boing Boing
  • PixelJoint
  • Pixelation
  • CGSociety
  • GIMP Magazine

Tumblr

Tumblr is my strongest marketing channel. My presence has evolved and grown in 4 years since I launched www.retronator.com on their platform. Through posting a lot of high quality pixel art and indie game features it holds a focused following interested in both gaming and pixel art.

Besides posting the slides as a post to my followers (8500+ notes), individual teasers got made to announce the tutorial. On Tumblr a single post can easily get lost when posted at peak times if it doesn't get picked up soon enough by features in any of the hashtagged categories or reblogged by bigger tumblrs. So it's important to post both in advance and after the very important posts, mentioning the upcoming/released content. 

Individual sprites and featured games were posted as separate posts in this regard. Fan art/posts about existing franchises traditionally perform very well since it plays on nostalgic factors and can get more reblogs (people on tumblr post things what they like).

Notice that these are GIFs of high production value (enlarged, crisp pixels, shadows and reflections added). Posts like this got from 100+ (Zaxxon above) to 700+ (Pacman below) notes.

Compare this to an originally produced sprite of otherwise popular retro game artist that only got 15+ notes. Even though the art is (subjectively) just as good, it doesn't have an emotional meaning to most people like popular franchises do. Although every individual post is up to much luck and variance in how many likes and reblogs it will get, the overall trend confirms these findings.

Facebook

My Facebook page (900+ likes) is still probably my favorite place to post because of the more personal nature of the platform and the ability to directly interact with the followers through comments. In addition you see which of your friends like it, which to me gives a lot of motivation.

Additionally, Facebook responds to video posts (especially short ones) much more favorably than Tumblr, so this is a good platform to directly post the YouTube video. When posting the main content I can also promote the post (pay for advertisement) to make sure all my followers see it and help spread it even beyond that.

The teaser posts are also being posted and it enables me to do cross promotion like with the sprite of Maya Pixelskaya above, who actually posted it (100+ likes) on her Facebook page. In other instances you can @mention other pages and your post can appear in people's feeds if they like the mentioned page. 

Minor marketing techniques on Facebook also include changing your cover photo or profile picture to promote your main content and sharing posts to your personal profile if you have an extensive friend network.

Twitter

My Twitter profile (800+ followers) is my most underused platform. I should be using it to interact more, which I do when people engage with me, but I lack proactive posting on it. I use it similarly to Facebook, to post links to main content on tumblr/YouTube and interact with people who I'm posting about.

To create a stronger impact of the tutorial I need to build a stronger twitter presence. This will include interacting with people posting to the #pixelart hashtag and the growing @Pixel_Dailies community.

Imgur + Reddit

I find Reddit the hardest community to call home, but its large userbase is even harder to neglect. My approach is to find specialized subreddits, in my case ​/r/PixelArt (20k readers), and post there. 

Reddit works great in combination with Imgur. The tutorial slides (resized to fit the 610px width) were posted there as an ​album, independently getting attention through Imgur's own upvoting system (69 points). The album was then submitted as a link on Reddit for additional 89 points and a total of 2k+ views on Imgur.

Finally, the video itself will be submitted to Reddit, as well as a tangential promotion of my pixel art pieces. Reddit is usually not a good place for self promotion, but you can find specific subreddits that specify if they welcome it (and how to mark it as such) in the description. As /r/PixelArt is in fact a place to post original creations I will create an Imgur album inspired by the popular Art Progression Meme with the evolution of my pixel art.

To cross-promote it even more I'll include my drawings and paintings in this progression. That way I can post it to other subreddits such as ​/r/IDAP (I drew a picture, 27k readers), extending the reach.

The point here is not in just showcasing my artwork, but to provide inspiration as well. I want to show the learning path that can help beginners realize that everyone sucked at the beginning and that you must not give up. The second point is to show how pixel art is just another medium of drawing and painting in general and creating non-pixel art works will help you develop your skills and bring new perspective to your works. Finally, by also including studying computer science and game development in the progression, this is inspiration for people with multiple interests. This topic is something I would like to focus on as the key point of my personal brand.

As for Reddit in the future, more general feature articles about pixel art's role in our culture can be submitted to even wider audiences with my target user base, specifically ​/r/Gaming (6M readers).

Medium

I haven't posted anything on Medium yet as I'm waiting until I have something meaningful and self contained to write (things that can be read without the context of knowing about my works).

For the tutorial I'm going to write an essay ​about its direction, in particular the short form nature that assumes the audience is smart enough to figure things out on their own instead of guiding people by the hand and dumbing everything down to the lowest common denominator. I want to expand on the advantages, from better fit for shorter attention spans to making the content entertaining even for people that are not looking to follow the steps themselves, but enjoy learning about the process.

Thanks to Medium's integration with Twitter, even without writing a single post, I'm already starting with 100+ followers. I hope this, in combination with other places where I can post about the article, will drive attention through textual content, which is orthogonal to the visually heavy presentation I usually choose on other networks. I hope that growing an audience that likes reading will be favorable in the future if I decide to write a pixel art book, as well as for motivating me to write about my works from the personal perspective.

Art portfolio sites

When you're on zero budget and all you have is time I never get lazy to post my creations on every possible portfolio website. Different people frequent different pages and you want to make it as easy as possible for anyone to hear about your work. Since my tutorial is aimed at aspiring artists, art portfolio sites are a very good fit. Not much strategy goes into specializing it for individual sites; just post the slides or part of the slides and link to the website with all the content in one place.

In particular:

  • Behance (300+ followers): A professional network for creatives to post their (commercial) work. It helps if the editors feature your project or post it on one of the satellite sites.
  • deviantART (200+ watchers): One of the oldest art communities with everyone from hobbyist to big name professionals. Very active with lots of opportunities to get your work seen, the latest being the activity feed currently open to beta testers.
  • Dribbble (40+ followers): A much talked about community, thanks to very restrictive admission by invitations from existing members only.
  • Pinterest (70+ followers): I personally use Pinterest as a comprehensive portfolio of all my works, even old ones and sketches. Its repinning mechanic gives potential for wide content propagation.
  • Flickr: If you tag your images it could be a good way for people using search engines to find your work.
  • LinkedIn (150+ connections): Mainly to raise awareness and build future opportunities for commissions from the professional world.
  • TIGForums: A popular destination for indie game developers with a very active pixel art thread (1400+ pages).

In general, I feel posting your work in places that are designed for (or welcome) self-promotion can't hurt. It only takes a couple of minutes, but a potential discovery from someone with bigger influence in the network can help you a lot.

Conclusion

Never underestimate the ​importance of marketing. It goes hand in hand with the creation of products; you have to think in what ways you will be able to promote your content. Why would someone write about you? What makes it irresistible for people to share your work? What's the value you're giving?

For me I hope this is the short format (and the philosophy that goes with it), high production value (information-filled slides with attractive pixel art design) and the fact that pixel art is becoming more and more used in indie games while a lot of people are trying to learn to make them.

Time will tell. All of this is not worth anything if these remain just words on (digital) paper. 

It's time to: EXECUTE!

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