Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Thursday, April 11, 2013

PCs Are Diving, Tablets Climbing

Looks like PC sales have had their worst quarter since sales tracking began in 1994, according to IDC, dropping 14% in the last quarter. IDC blames some of that on poor adoption of Windows 8, which seems like a pretty good guess to me.

Tablets, on the other hand, are still growing strongly. The 7 inch size seems to be the most popular one, whether it's the iPad Mini or one of the many Android tablets in that range. Every game maker I talk to (and I talk to a lot of them) has their eyes on tablets as the Next Big Thing.

Still, we're still in the early days on tablet games. Designers have to figure out ways to get around the lack of physical controls, and there are still many innovations to be found in designing for a touch interface, all the different sensors, and all the various means of connection.

For game marketers it just means things are changing even faster. You'd better be re-examining your marketing plans frequently as the market changes. Demographics are shifting, platforms are shifting, business models are changing, marketing channels are opening and closing... It's like trying to navigate through the breakup of an icecap. What looks like clear water ahead may turn out to be a dead end, then the ice closes in and you're trapped.

On the other hand there's a chance for new players to break through the noise and find a market. It's encouraging that new games and new publishers continue to make the Top Ten list of the highest-grossing games on iOS and Android. That means there's not complete dominance by large companies.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Marketing Games in 2013

Try not to have your marketing resemble this.
At the threshold of 2013, the year looks like a transformational year for the gaming industry. This year will likely see revenues from digital game sales outpacing revenues from physical game sales; the increasing globalization of the game industry; several new console introductions; myriad new mobile hardware introductions; and many more changes and attempted changes.

It's not at all clear what publishers, genres, platforms or business models will emerge victorious in the midst of all this change. Overall, the game industry looks to hit some $50 billion in revenues worldwide; but for individuals and companies, the key knowledge is exactly how that revenue will be distributed. The number of gamers will continue to increase; who they are, where they are, the platform they're playing on, and the type of game they're playing will continue to diversify.

How do you create an effective marketing campaign in the midst of such a chaotic, changing marketplace? First off, you have to abandon the idea of a standard marketing plan. Oh, there are standard things to consider, but you can't expect a single plan to work for all games. Even if it did work now, it would need tweaking in a few months... and perhaps wholesale changes in six months. Things are too fluid for business as usual.

Creativity in marketing is more important than ever. Look for the unique selling points of the game... and if it doesn't have any, why did development even begin on that game? Take those unique points and get creative... can you make an interesting video? Is there a compelling story the press might be interested in, perhaps about how the game was created? Does the game connect in some way to famous person, a news item that's hot, a fan base that's large and active? The marketing has to be compelling and creative, and it's best begun when the game is first being designed.

What's going to be happening this year? We'll see a continued drop in physical retail sales, an even greater rise in digital sales, an even bigger flood of mobile games... and the competition among games will only get fiercer. New consoles will be duking it out for mind-share and dollars... and it's not clear that any of them will do very well. Tablets, though, are a damn good bet, as are smartphones. So are markets in China, Russia, Brazil and many other countries.

It's going to be a very exciting year.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Will the Wii U Succeed?

The success of the Wii U is an important question not only for Nintendo, but for the video game industry in general. Publishers are suffering from the decline of retail video game sales; only the best AAA titles make a return on their investment these days, and as a consequence publishers have mostly stopped producing anything but games they think have a good shot at AAA status. Everyone's looking to next-gen consoles to save the day and return sales to the fabled days of yore... or at least stop the continuing double-digit slide every year.

The Wii U is (in some views) the first of the next-gen consoles. Really, though, it's technically on par with the 360 and the PS3. Many of the launch games are noticeably worse than their PS3 or Xbox 360 versions, though that may be due to unfamiliarity with the new console. Still, no one seems to think the Wii U is a step up in power from the Xbox 360 or the PS3. It is, however, significantly more expensive; $299 for the base 8 GB model Wii U compared to the current deals of $199 for a PS3 or Xbox 360 with a 250 GB hard drive and several games.

I look at the potential Wii U audience as falling into two categories. The first is the audience that already has a PS3 or an Xbox 360. For them there's little reason to buy a Wii U. Until there's a compelling game, like a new Zelda game, any important new game is going to appear on the PS3 or the 360 for sure, and probably look better. Until the Wii U gets several compelling new games with gameplay you can't get anywhere else, I don't expect many sales from PS3 or 360 owners.

Then there's the audience of people who don't own a 360 or a PS3. They either have a Wii only, or no console at all. Maybe they have child who's just now getting old enough to want something they can play games on. That's an even tougher market for Nintendo to capture, because the competition is fierce. Great deals abound the 360 and the PS3; they are at least $100 less, come with several games, and there are hundreds of games available at very reasonable prices (especially classics and used games). Or there's a wide array of tablets like the Kindle Fire, the Kindle Fire HD, the Nexus 7 or the iPad Mini. They all are cheaper than the Wii U, have thousands of free or low cost games, can be used to surf the web, read books, watch movies, or a zillion other things, and are completely portable with better looking screens than the Wii U.

I noticed a disturbing thing looking through the Sunday ads; both Target and Toys R Us were offering deals on Wii U software. Toys R Us is offering 40% off your second Wii U title if you buy one at full price; Target is offering 50% a Wii U title if you buy two at full price. Not the greatest deals, perhaps, when titles are mostly $60. But I have never before seen sales offered on software at the time of a console launch. To me, that says that Target and Toys R Us are not convinced that the Wii U will be able sell all the software possible. Or that Target and Toys R Us are concerned that people may buy their Wii Us at other stores, so they need to attract those buyers.

If Target and Toys R Us were convinced that Wii U's be selling out, there would be no need to offer software deals to attract buyers. Buyers would be scouring all the stores looking for Wii Us. Toys R Us and Target must also be concerned that not all of this Wii U launch software is going to sell, so they are looking for ways to move that inventory. The fact that this is occurring in advance of the console being offered for sale is most disturbing; Toys R Us and Target aren't even waiting to see how sales go before cutting into their profits. (These deals are coming out of the store's margins, and it means they won't be making any profit on those game sales. Why do it? To move some hardware, which they do make money on, and to prevent that hardware from selling somewhere else.)

The important thing to keep an eye on is whether store actually run out of Wii U's, and if they do whether customers actually care or not. I suspect at this price, and with Nintendo probably providing more units than the Wii at launch, that we won't see shortages, or if we do they will just be Nintendo manipulating the supply a bit. I expect the Wii U will see sales grind to a halt in a couple of months, waiting for more compelling software (if it ever arrives) and a price cut to make it more appealing.

Then the even bigger challenge comes next fall, if there's a new Xbox and PS3. Those will certainly have a significant graphics advantage over the Wii U. Their price may not be much higher... or it might even be lower, if rumors of a subscription-subsidized console come true (think of the effective pricing of smartphones, which are subsidized because of the telcos). At that point the Wii U will need to dramatically lower the price, if it hasn't done so before then. Don't think Microsoft and Sony are going to ignore Nintendo when they think about the pricing of their new consoles. They would love to see the console market get less competitive, and if they can kneecap Nintendo they will do it in a heartbeat.

2013 is going to be an epic battleground for the future of the dedicated game console.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Call of Duty Black Ops II: Targeted Marketing

Her'es a great example of a company that knows its target market well: It's Target. Their Sunday ad had a wraparound section, and on the front was this image:

The special section is pushing the arrival of Activision's Call of Duty: Black Ops II (or, as I like to call it CODBlOps II), and in case you don't have one, an HDTV screen to go with it. Inside the flyer pushes more TV screens and hardware you might want to buy. The back, though, is a revelation:

Yes, it's got all the major gamer food groups covered, from pizza to Monsters. Ready for your all-night CODBlOps session? You will be after you chow down on these specials. Yeah, they know their market, and they're going to generate some nice additional sales because of it.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

How Much Do Apps Make?

Here's some interesting data on exactly how much the top-grossing apps make. Since normally it's impossible to get any specific data on this from the companies involved, this data is derived from several statements by a former BioWare San Francisco producer. The key table is shown above, and you can find the blog post where he explains his methodology here.

As you can see, the top app stands to make a healthy amount of money every day it's in the #1 spot, grossing over $250,000 dollars. Not bad for one day. The reality, though, is that the fall-off from the top spot is quite fast. The author of the blog post assumed that the #100 app would earn about $3000 per day, which is still not too bad.

The reality is that the vast majority of apps earn very little. Success in the App Store is based on luck, skill at game design, and having a good hook -- fame for another reason, something about the game that connects to something hugely popular, an unusual game mechanic, setting, technology, or twist that gets the app noticed and word of it spread virally. There's no standard recipe for being a success, more's the pity.

I continue to believe that making a successful app is an exercise in patience as much as anything else. Line up all the positive factors you can for the app, but be ready to try and try again. Perhaps repeated updates and new content and user feedback can turn a so-so app into a successful one. Or just improve your odds by creating multiple apps. But in any case, try to have as many advantages as you can for your app. If the app is similar to half a dozen other apps, you're going to have a tough time getting any downloads unless you have some other reason for people to try your app (You're famous? Justin Beiber likes your app? You're ready to spend millions on user acquisition? An award-winning artist designed the graphics? You have to have some reason that people will want this app),

Monday, October 22, 2012

Wii U's Rough Marketing

The Wii U television advertising has begun, at least in the UK. The ad above (or, as they say across the pond, the 'advert')  is the first effort.

I felt like I was watching an infomercial; I kept waiting for the "act now and you get an extra controller free!" part. The controller apparently can reveal things that are hidden; perhaps it can find the excitement in the commercial, because I sure couldn't find it. The ability for someone to watch the TV while I play a game... that's really a major reason to buy this console?

It actually made games look like more work. I can't just look at the screen and press buttons, I have to hold the controller just so, while keeping my attention on the big screen, and then rapidly brush my hand across the top of the Gamepad to fire the ninja stars, while aiming at the onscreen target. Great, way to break me out of the sense I'm immersed in the game. Or I have to hold up the Gamepad and wave it all over the room to find stuff; my arms are going to get tired if I have to do that for hours. Fortunately I think the battery in the Gamepad only lasts for a couple of hours, so I guess that solves that little problem.

I think the Wii U has a rough marketing road ahead of it. The Wii was a smash hit, for two main reasons: It had a new controller and interface that was so easy to use Grandma could do it, and it was half the price of the competing consoles (PS3 and Xbox 360). Compare that to the Wii U: It's more expensive than the PS3 and the Xbox 360, the graphics aren't any better, and the controller is even more complicated. Hand the Gamepad to Grandma and see what she says... how many buttons are on this thing? Which screen do you look at when? Switching attention back and forth between the TV and the Gamepad not only breaks you out of the game's immersion, it's going to cause a headache.

I think fanboys will buy the initial units, but I think the sales curve will resemble the 3DS: Initial big sell-in, then it sits for months until Nintendo drops the price dramatically and some software that's really interesting finally comes out.

Slick Marketing

In a world where marketing is no longer cut and dried, creative marketing can be a valuable tool for breaking through. This video showcases some clever event marketing turned viral video for the upcoming Bond film Skyfall, as well as Coke Zero. People were looking for some tickets to a showing of the movie, and found they had to work to get them. The result is a video that nearly everyone will enjoy watching.

Why is it effective? It's compelling enough that you want to show it to friends. The clever use of the Bond theme with a variety of nearby musicians, the obstacles, and even the final challenge -- all were amusing and very well executed.

The whole event took place in a Belgian transit center, and obviously it required a lot of planning to set up, as well as no small expense. What does Skyfall get out of it? LOts of exposure if enough people pass around the video. Will views translate into people watching the movie? Perhaps, but at least they've increased awareness of the movie release. Measuring that precisely will be difficult, of course.

How can this be replicated? I think the major lesson here is to be creative. Of course they had a good-sized budget to work with, but much can be done with some friends and a lot of creative thinking.