We chose to initially offer the film on iTunes, DRM-free from our own website (powered by VHX) and on Steam (the world’s largest online video game retailer). Indie Game: The Movie was the first feature film to be released on Steam.
Though Indie Game did well on the festival circuit and theatrically, it was always our belief that the film would thrive and really find its audience online. In many ways, everything up until this point was in service of the film’s eventual digital life.
In the end, the film did indeed perform best online - charting very high on iTunes, Steam and capturing a great amount of online conversation. To the point of which the terms ‘Indie Game’ and ‘The Movie’ were actually trending worldwide on Twitter (A fleeting, but enjoyable 45 minutes or so).
In this post, we want to share the thinking that went into our digital launch, along with some results and discoveries.
Being on iTunes is extremely important for all films, and that was certainly the case for ours. Not just for the very obvious sales & exposure reason of iTunes being iTunes. In many ways, as much as a theatrical release can be used to deem a movie a ‘real movie’ (from a consumer perspective), iTunes has the same validating effect on online material.
How: In order to get a film on iTunes, you cannot go directly to Apple. Normally you have to go through a distributor of some kind. It can take the form of a distribution company (like Film Buff, New Video, etc), or an aggregator (Distribbr). We were fortunate enough to have our film sales agency, Film Sales Company, as a certified iTunes distributor - making the process much easier.
We were also very fornuate in that, the team at iTunes, really liked the film and felt it was a good fit for their core audience. They really got behind the film in an amazing way, giving IGTM excpetional placement on the launch week. We were very fortunate and very appreciative to have their support.
In the gaming world, one of the most novel points of our release was offering IGTM for purchase on Steam. We were the first (and currently only) feature film to be offered on the platform. For the uninitiated, Steam is the largest online portal/store for downloadable PC & Mac games. It has over 8 million active users, selling large AAA-fare such as Call of Duty, Skyrim, etc. But the service is also a huge, empowering force in the world of independent games - being one of the major reasons for present-day indie game success.
How: Throughout production, we had hoped to have the film on Steam. However, there was one slight problem: Steam didn’t do movies, nor were they really looking to.
After a warm intro by game devs Edmund McMillen & Ron Carmel, we proceeded to talk with Steam over the course of 6 months. They were receptive to the idea, but needed some convincing. In order to finally get the Okay:
- Show Steam that the movie was good. The Sundance selection & award helped with this, but did not cement it. We travelled to Seattle to do a private screening for Steam and Valve (their parent company) in person.
- Turn IGTM into an interactive application. In order to have IGTM to work within Steam’s marketplace/ecosystem, we had to package the film as an application (with extra video, commentary tracks, subtitle options, etc). To do this we brought on to the team, Adam Saltsman, an indie game designer and all-around nice guy/genius to build a movie-based application using Adobe Air.
Our Website, powered by VHX
By launching our film on your our website, it was our chance to truly Think like a Fan - offering IGTM exactly how we would like it. This meant same-day world-wide release, DRM-free, full 1080P, multiple ready-made formats with both DL and streaming, and other options. This was considered a relatively risky-thing to do, as it effectively closes the door to other distribution options and really places a large amount of trust in the audience. We felt strongly that if the film was going digital - it needed to be this way.
How: The VHX/IGTM partnership happened in a wonderfully 2012 kind of way. On Twitter, we were openly musing about how many people felt strongly about streaming as an option for their digital purchase. An early supporter (now friend), Andy Baio saw this, and suggested that we talk with Jamie Wilkinson and Casey Pugh about the service that they were about to launch: VHX. We were introduced over Twitter in May and two weeks later, our main page was redesigned and launched.
Distributing film from one’s own website is something that is relatively new - especially in film. It makes so much sense, especially for this film, that we thought we’d talk about the benefits of this strategy a bit more. Here are some key benefits for releasing from our website, with the help of VHX...
- DRM-Free in Multiple Formats This film’s audience wants to watch the film digitally in the way they want to - meaning no restrictions, multiple devices, multiple copies, multiple formats, download and/or stream. Part of this is consumer convenience, and the other part is consumer trust. They bought the film, let them truly own it.
- Leveraging Internet Search When people search your film online or read an article or Tweet, generally they are directed to your website. By having the film available on your website, people can find it and have it available as soon as they find it.
- Worldwide Distribution Approximately 60% of the film’s preorders & web-traffic came from outside North America. We needed the digital launch to be world-wide.
- Kickstarter & Preorders Because of the KS campaigns & ongoing pre-orders, we had big volume of digital orders that we needed to fulfill in an accessible, universal, worldwide way. With the website, we could fulfill our digital pre-orders directly to our audience at low cost.
- Discount Codes With our own site sales, we are able to generate discount/free codes within a few clicks. This allows us to be very responsive. We can give discount codes to a certain online community/group. (For instance: here's a code if you're reading this blog post - IGTMCASESTUDY for 50% off.)
- Real Time Stats We can see in real-time who, where and how people are discovering the film. Allowing you to be quite engaged and responsive to opportunity and more informed about your audience.
- General Flexibility Selling from your own site allows us to modify/improve the offerings as needed. This can be done on iTunes & Steam as well, but not nearly with the immediacy of the VHX system. This has been most useful with our generously crowd-sourced translations. The film is now in 20 languages, which we’ve been able to upload and offer on the website rather easily.
- Audience Connection The entire process of making IGTM has been an exercise of building a relationship with an audience. With our own site sales, we can build a list of people who have demonstrated, in a very real way, support for our work. With the opt-in email list, we have an actionable way to continue our relationship with them. As an independent artist, that relationship is like gold and we look forward to making more films for this audience.
The film was released digitally on Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 and the response kinda blew us away. On launch day, Indie Game: The Movie...
- iTunes: IGTM reached #1 in documentary on the iTunes store.
- iTunes: Reached #14 of ALL MOVIES on iTunes (sandwiched b/w Mark Walhberg & Katherine Heigl films)
- Steam: IGTM reached #7 of all games on Steam, and #2 in the ‘Under 9.99’ charts.
- IGTM Site, powered by VHX: People responded really well to the way we offered the film. Web traffic was at an all time high (165K uniques for June),
- The digital release created a new wave of reviews, articles and mentions. Twitter & FB activity was at an all-time high, the terms ‘Indie Game’ and ‘The Movie’ were even trending worldwide, for a moment :)
Some Interesting Results: Going into launch day, we thought that iTunes would likely be the top platform, followed closely by Steam and then our own website. The results were a bit surprising.
In the first month, the film was really high on the iTunes film charts, but the film surprisingly was selling a similar amount on the film’s website. And, Steam was was outselling both, with 41% of the first month total.
Steam continued to be our number one sales channel for a little while. However, four months after launch, the interest shifted to IGTM site becoming our number one seller, followed closely by iTunes and then Steam. It seems now people are getting the film through word of mouth and search. Our website is the number one Google result for ‘Indie Game: The Movie’.
Although, looking at the total gross sales overall (across the 3 platforms across all months), Steam is still the leader was 41% of the total. And, the digital launch channels in general (Steam, iTunes, the website) are so far the biggest part of the film’s distribution.
Some Early Observations
Cross Promotion or Cannibalism?
Going into the digital launch, we never really considered going platform exclusive. It didn’t fit the spirit of the film, and we didn’t think it made sense for IGTM. The concept was certainly discussed. But to us, we felt, more options equals more people watching. More people watching equals more people talking...which equals more people watching.
Of course, that’s a very simplified way of looking at it all. But, we do think IGTM’s results really speak to the idea of multi-platform helping raise audience on all involved channels. Indie Game did exceptionally well on iTunes, reaching the #1 documentary and #14 film on the site. At the same time, the film did similar numbers on its own site. And, as mentioned above, the film did even better on Steam.
We would argue that people were watching the film in the way they were most comfortable with, adding to the general word of mouth and excitement - helping the film perform on all channels simultaneously.
Qualifier: Multi-platform worked well for our film and the audience/community that was built up over two years. Exclusivity may be a good for certain films, especially those in need of more exposure through the charts.
Find Your Own Steam:
Obviously, IGTM & Steam is a specific, special partnership that won’t apply to many films. But, the takeaway here isn’t really about Steam, rather, it’s about the simple notion of...‘Take your film where your audience lives.’ This is especially applicable to documentaries - which inherently lends itself to the idea of the niche. Every doc has a core audience, and every core audience has a spot on the Internet. Take your film as close to that spot as possible.
DRM-Free Isn’t as Scary as You May Think:
This is really a much longer post, one that we plan to do in the future. But, hopefully we’ve made the case that the launch wasn’t crushed by it.
Thanks for reading...We'll likely be posting more about some of the other aspects of the film’s release. And, if you have any questions, please let us know below.
-Lisanne & James
OTHER CASE STUDY POSTS
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