Back when I got started in game development, the way to get a game made was to get picked by a distributor to be put into retail. MindCraft was picked by EA's distribution arm, and we got Magic Candle into stores and in front of people that way.
Later it became about getting picked by a publisher. Treyarch got picked by Interplay, then by Crave and EA and Activision, and we got games in retail, in front of people, that way.
Another group doing the picking were the people who picked you to be a launch title, or early title, on their platform. We may be jealous of those first games on the Dreamcast, on the PS2, on the Xbox or Xbox Live Arcade, that sold so many units, maybe way beyond what they would have sold if they launched later amongst the clutter. The early pioneers on iOS were an exception here - the gates were open and a few people stormed in and got lucky - but for the other platforms you had to know someone who knew someone to get in front of people.
Later, of course, iOS got too cluttered and it became about getting picked there, as well - seems like you now have to get featured to make it on iOS.
As the last gen of platforms got cluttered, being picked by an award committee was a big help. Winning the IGF seemed to be a secret to success. Or being picked to be featured on the Xbox Live front page.
Now there are new platforms, and they're open, but who gets picked to get a dev kit first? Who is lucky enough to be picked to put out a launch title? These open platforms will become cluttered faster than ever. How are our titles going to stand out?
I include Kickstarter amongst these open platforms. (I've said it before and I've said it again, one awesome thing about Kickstarter is that you only get a limited time on there - clutter on Kickstarter grows linearly instead of exponentially.)
Now we have to get picked by youtubers and journalists. (My Kickstarter wouldn't have done so well if it wasn't for Rock Paper Shotgun and Penny Arcade; if Yahtzee Croshaw and Nerd Cubed hadn't tweeted about it.) And it still helps a lot to be picked by award shows.
The encouraging thing? Instead of being picked by just one or a few make-or-break people, there's *lots* of people doing the picking. Now the goal is to be picked by a bunch of them, each with their own reach.
And this is either bad news or good news, depending on how you look at it: being picked is contagious. The more you get picked, the more you get picked. Which means it's slow to start but you can eventually get to a tipping point.
So where do you start? First, you pick yourself.
And don't, don't, don't overfocus on one picker. Torpex put all its eggs into a basket with a particular publisher. When we ran out of money, and the publisher passed, we were done. If you're counting on a deal to come through or a particular youtuber to cover you ... yikes.
Throw a wide net. Journalists, youtubers, reddit, your social networks, the indie evangelists at the console companies (I leave it as an exercise to the student to dig up their contact info: Shahid Ahmad, Chris Charla, Nick Suttner, Dan Adelman, Bob Mills...), everyone you meet who you think might be interested in what you're making. You submit to every damn contest you know about. (I'm still kicking myself that I somehow forgot to submit to IGF this year. It's in my calendar for next year, at least.) You go to the trade shows you can afford. (I'm even trying to get into indie Megabooth this year.) And when someone does pick you, it's okay to accept a deal that might only break even or even end up with a small loss, because of that tertiary the-more-you-get-picked-the-more-you-get-picked effect.
I find that Energy Hook is being picked more and more, and I don't feel as powerless as I did in the days of, "This one publisher better greenlight us or it's the end!"