Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Flooding Hits Game Industry

So according to this report, 1,099 games were released in 2009. That's electronic games at retailers only, so it doesn't count downloadable-only games and non-electronic games. I don't know if anyone does a count of download-only games, but it would surely be somewhere in the thousands just due to the App store. (Of course, there's the issue of whether or not you count updates...)

The natural consequences of this huge number of releases are clear: games stay on the shelves for less time, since shelf space is certainly not increasing (given the loss of retail chains like Circuit City, one could argue that shelf space is decreasing). Which tends to lower average unit sales per title, which puts pressure on sales prices, all as game budgets for AAA titles (at least) continue to go up.

It's not hard to see why big electronic game publishers have been laying off people, cutting development, and generally feeling the pain. With industry sales lower than last year, there are fewer dollars to go around, and more games to spread them over. It's going to be an interesting year as companies scramble to change their business models, or invent entirely new ones.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Package Copy Fun

As has been my usual holiday practice, I volunteer with the local Toys For Tots campaign. We collected, sorted, and distributed over 5,000 toys and games to needy kids in the local area this year. Part of the fun for me is seeing what's happening in the toy and game market at a grass-roots level. There's always some interesting packages that come along, and this one wins my award this year for the Funniest Package Copy.

Check out the bullet points... "Fully Wonderful" is certainly going to get my attention, but who can argue with "Allare fangle and in high quality"? Certainly, low quality fangles are a recurring issue cited in consumer surveys as a key reason to avoid buying a product.

I am somewhat concerned by the name on the vehicle... "AIGator" sounds like a frightening, artificially intelligent reptile that could be scary for some kids.

This is package copy as art form... isn't "Many colours a lots, selected freely by yourself" a tone poem extolling freedom? I would never have had the boldness to try for such free verse.

It does make you wonder what our packages end up saying in China...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The High End of IPhone Gaming

Tapulous, creators of Tap Tap Revenge, have told Reuters that their iPhone games bring in around $1 million per month (see the article here). That's some serious revenue... too bad this is not a typical example of an iPhone developer. But it does show what is possible to achieve with the right title, the right timing (being an early iPhone game was a big help) and some good marketing.

Of course, the immediate question any game publisher has is "Damn, how can I do that with my game?" You might expect that as a marketer I'd say great marketing is the answer. Sorry, but I'm also a game designer, and I have to say that I think you need a great game more than great marketing. Yes, you'd like to have both. But make sure you start with a great game. The iPhone market in particular is so challenging (partly because of the sheer number of games) that you have to do something that stands out in some way. The better your game is, the better your chance for success. That is a necessary but not sufficient condition for great sales... sometimes you'll get lucky and a great game will succeed without much push from marketing. But don't just stand around and pray for a lottery ticket... put some effort into marketing and your chance for a "lucky" break will improve.

Microsoft Admits Marketing is Hard

Or, at least, Microsoft says it hardly has to work selling hard-core shooters, but casual games are hard to market. Not surprising given you've built up a huge audience for your games targeted at teen boys of all ages, and you have yet to make much of an impression on the rest of the world. Yes, and all those other potential customers don't read enthusiast magazines or web sites. Looks like you'll have to do some basic spadework at building an audience, or better still, a fan base in other areas.

I sometimes wonder if a lot of the problem the game industry has in reaching non-core markets is because most of the game developers are into the hard-core games and have nothing but disdain for more casually oriented titles. This contempt makes it harder for them to conceptualize and successfully execute titles for other markets. The marketers have some of the same problems... those that are gamers. Of course, the big companies often hire marketers who come from P&G or other consumer-oriented companies, and they don't have familiarity with any games at all. A different set of problems for them...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Writing Effective Copy

There are articles, books and even courses on writing effective copy for advertising and packaging. You probably don't want to spend that much time studying the subject, so here's a few tips to think about before you sit down to bang out some sales copy.

  • Bullet points stand out.
  • Make 'em brief.
  • More than three reduces the effect.
Effective copy gets you message across in a few muscular words. Look for words charged with positive associations, and work and rework the copy to make it sing. Words matter; would you rather have a segment of muscle tissue from the corpse of an immature castrated bull, or a nice thick juicy steak?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Comical Marketing

Sony has announced that they're making a bunch of comic books available as digital downloads. For your PSP Go, that is... what? You don't have one yet? You're not alone. Anyway, once you have one, you can look forward to downloading digital comics for only $1.99 for a 5-year old comic! Isn't that a deal? Think of how much fun you'll have scrolling around on your screen trying to figure out the panel layout and get the impact of the graphics design for full-page layouts. Sigh.

I'm sure it's probably Marvel here, and other publishers, demanding absurdly high prices for their comics. Look, publishers, these are back issues that are currently making you damn close to zero. Do you really think you're going to get many people rushing to buy comics for $1.99 in a very awkward format? Is this any way to expand your market? You should be flogging those issues for 25 cents apiece... 5 for a dollar, even. You've got bazillions of back issues. Why not try to create some new comic book fans? Then sell them the newer issues for $1, or even $2 for the latest ones.

Digital content is the perfect product to try out different pricing structures. Maybe you'll find, like Valve has with Steam, that cutting your price in half can result in a 3000% boost in sales, which more than makes up for the reduction given that there's no cost of goods (bandwidth is pretty cheap, comparatively).

I shouldn't be surprised at comic book publishers... book publishers are falling into the same trap, as have music publishers. Fixed pricing schemes make little sense for your massive back catalog which is earning you nothing. Why not play with the pricing and maximize the revenue?

Atari Must Save Vs. Lawsuit

Oh, the tangle of licenses and subrights... now Hasbro is suing Atari because (apparently) Atari is trying to sublicense D&D rights to Namco Bandai, and Hasbro doesn't believe Atari has the right to do that. Atari's been having some difficulties lately, and I do have to wonder how it's managed to muddle through all of its twists and turns. The latest news I saw is that David Gardner is no longer CEO; no explanation was given for his abrupt departure (though supposedly he's still on the board). Not even the gentle fig leaf of "resigned to pursue other interests" was granted him.

Of course, I'm still wondering how Atari (the company formerly known as Infogrammes) has managed to survive burdened with over $600 million in debt. There were lots of complicated corporate maneuvers involved, and somehow you could no longer see the which shell held the debt. Then Atari bought Cryptic from Take Two, but what they used for money I'm not sure.

At some point all of the financial manipulations and stock flotations and loan covenants can no longer make up for a failure to create and ship products that make a profit. I just hope that there's a minimum of collateral damage to good people when that happens.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Pay to Play

Social networking games are growing fast, and as usual with rapid growth you get a few growing pains. One of the tricky points is the way users get virtual cash to spend for in-game items. You can, of course, pay money for virtual cash; you can also earn it through play. It's the third method where problems have arisen -- accepting an offer from a third-party (like a Netflix subscription) in order to get virtual cash. These third-party offers are brokered by other companies, and their methodology can be less than transparent. A class-action lawsuit has been filed and companies like Zynga and Playdom are cracking down on the practice.

Here's the latest wrinkle -- an interest group trying to astroturf some opposition to health care reform using this process. So now games are involved in politics... and so is marketing games. We do live in interesting times.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

When Marketing Goes Bad

Microsoft is admitting that they didn't really communicate well about Halo: ODST. In fact, the marketing was bungled. Consumers weren't sure whether it was an expansion pack for Halo 3, or a stand-alone game... which lead to mixed reviews, and questions over whether or not it was worth the price.

Not that it's a complete failure, with 1.5 million copies sold so far. (Most publishers would kill to "fail" at that level.) But given the track record of titles linked to Halo, the upside potential was clearly much higher. It does show that all sizes of companies make mistakes with marketing. The trick is being able to recognize that you made a mistake, recognize it as early as possible, and then do something about it. Marketing is a process, not a one-off event. If at first you don't succeed, then maybe base jumping isn't the sport for you. Wait, no, that's not the saying... something about trying again, that's the phrase I was looking for.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Whither App Sales?

It's been a great year for Apple, now with over 100,000 apps in the App Store and over 2 billion apps downloaded. And Apple gets 30% of each and every one... analysts estimate this has added a cool $1 billion to their bottom line. The story isn't so good for app developers; the vast majority of the apps don't make a profit (irregardless of whether or not they are free).

The situation doesn't look to get any better. Apple seems perfectly content to let things go on the way they are now; there's no hint that they intend to improve the App Store significantly any time soon. I think most of their energy is going into keeping up with the demand for app approval. So don't look for any magical help from Apple to get people to find and pay for your app.

Speaking of which, many developers are saying piracy is a big problem. This hurts not only in potential lost sales, but for apps that use your servers, pirated apps hit your server but pay nothing for the additional bandwidth they chew up. Fortunately it looks like the piracy issue diminishes over time, but it's still another barrier to profitability.

What's an app developer to do? It's wise to look at your development costs and your potential market size, and your competition, and your marketing plan before you embark on your project. Maybe that idea is cool, but not cool enough to make a profit. Or maybe you should hold off until you figure out how you're going to market that app before you start spending money on making it.

Ideally an app would take a small amount of development resource to create, and generate a large amount of interest and sales. Unfortunately, with 100K+ apps around, the odds are better than ever that the most obvious ideas have already been done, and done pretty well. Competitive analysis should be an essential part of your plan, if your goal is to make money.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Whither Adventure Gaming?

Seems to be that time of year for reflection, and a good place to start is where the market is going for adventure gaming. There seems to be some mixed signals. ICV2 reports that third-quarter adventure game sales were good, but certainly if you look at the long-term trends sales just aren't what they used to be for RPG products. The core audience continues to erode in the direction of cheaper, easier entertainment dollar sinks like World of Warcraft. (Cheaper may be arguable, given the monthly cost... but since you don't have to read a 300 page rulebook, I'd say it wins the easier argument.)

Certainly some adventure gaming products continue to perform well, such as Magic: The Gathering and Warhammer, and various collectible miniatures games. There are clearly compelling aspects to the hobby that have not been overtaken by other media.

I see this as a combination of a product development problem and a marketing problem. The marketing problem is a failure to reach a new audience, due to high price points, high complexity, lack of awareness and lack of product availability where the new buyers might be found. The product development problem is similar; products need to be simpler, cheaper, and packaged in such a way that new buyers are easier to obtain. All of this means wrenching changes in business models and game design, which is neither easily achieved nor without risk.

Certainly it's possible to continue making money, as a number of companies do in the adventure game industry. But it's not getting any easier. It would be nice to see some companies with new breakout products expanding the market for everyone. More on this in a future post.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Games as Gifts

If you've still got a chance to make a marketing pitch, you might try positioning your product as a perfect gift item. This works well for deluxe editions, limited editions, and collector's editions. Encourage the gamer to give the gift of gaming to their friends. Maybe it's a chance for them to bring a friend into the hobby. Or give the already fanatic gamer something cool that they don't already have.

For downloadable content, this is a good time to experiment with pricing under the guise of a holiday special. Drop the price for a day or a weekend, and make sure it gets mentioned in sites like Kotaku and Joystiq. Or add a special holiday component to goose sales (Santa Claus written up as a supervillain, available for download? A new North Pole themed level?)

How about putting some gift-suitable items up on CafePress or Zazzle, using the images or themes from your games? Then spread the word by emailing your customers and posting it on your web site. ("The perfect gift for fans of...")

If nothing else, staying in regular contact with your customer base is always a good idea. It'll help make your next marketing push work better.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


OK, I've looked around for a while, and I've yet to find a really good solution to the App finding problem. The problem is that the App Store's sorting functions are rudimentary, and basically if you're not one of the top 100 Apps in a category you may not be seen at all. Apple see themselves as being a store shelf; it's up to each developer to bring people to their App. This is all well and good when you have a tremendous brand or a tremendous advertising budget, but what do the other 99% of the developers do? Yes, there are some Apps to help find other Apps... some websites that review Apps every day... and regular lists of good Apps on some popular blogs.

What suggestions do you all have? Post to the comments, and I'll compile a list along with the things I've found.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Reviews Cause Sales?

An interesting article on Gamasutra about whether reviews, or more specifically the Metacritic rollup of review scores, actually affect sales.  The gist is that, in surveying consumers, they rated game reviews as the least important factor in deciding whether or not to purchase a game.

I still think that using pull quotes from good reviews is a useful selling tool on package copy on on your product splash page; studies have shown that such independent validators of a game's quality influence the buying decision, at least in a retail setting. Personal recommendations are much more powerful in influencing a buyer, so if you can generate good word-of-mouth that's much better than a good review.

Sometimes there's no better marketing than just making a great product.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Marketing Guerrillas

If you want to maximize the impact of your marketing dollars, get creative with your marketing. This post shows some interesting marketing campaigns that drew media attention to the products. They aren't necessarily that expensive, either. Sometimes you can set up a compelling photograph (like the sandals shown in the post) and get some media attention with that.

You do have to choose your guerrrilla marketing tactic carefully to embrace and enhance the product positioning; it's not enough to get attention. It has to be the right kind of attention. Think of viral videos... yes, Star Wars Kid got lots of views, but was it really enhancing the way he was perceived? More to the point, you want your marketing efforts to bring positive attention to your product and hopefully make the target more likely to buy.

One of the effective guerrilla marketing tactics I remember well was at the introduction of Champions at Pacific Origins in 1981. We hired a model to wear a Wonder Woman costume (the model was 5' 10" without shoes, and over six feet tall in costume) and hand out flyers about Champions to the attendees as they stood in line to register. It turned out that registration was a mess, and there were several thousand gamers (overwhelmingly male at that point in time) standing in line with nothing to do... except desperately try to get the attention of our model and cheerfully take a flyer. The stunt contributed to the success of Champions at that show (we sold over half the print run at the show).

So try on that guerrilla suit!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Hiring PR

Here's a useful post by a PR veteran about what to look for in a PR firm. While most small game companies wouldn't consider hiring someone to handle these functions, it might well be worthwhile for a company that's looking to increase its profile as well as get some attention for its game. Additionally, there's some good hints about how to deal with PR if you're going to try and tackle it yourself.

Part of the reason for hiring a professional PR person is just that it can take a lot of time to get a message out even if you know how to do that. And one resource that smaller game companies typically have in short supply is time. Strategically applying a scarce resource is very important (as any good Settlers player knows) to your future success. When you choose not to spend time Twittering or answering questions in the company forum, hopefully you're doing something else of equal or greater value to your company.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sales Up And Sales Down

The report is in, and the sales data continue to look grim for the electronic game market. Sales dropped 19% from last year, continuing a string of lower sales since early 2009. OK, there was one exception... September sales were flat compared to last year, only rising 1%... and this in a month when Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft all cut their console prices. It's gonna be a grim Christmas for electronic game companies.

At the same time, according to ICV2, sales are up in the 32d quarter for hobby games, and Magic The Gathering is red-hot. Looks like price is an issue here... the entertainment value of many of the paper games is far higher than many electronic titles when you look at the number of hours of play you can get for your dollars.

What's a marketer to do? In many cases, long term strategies are dialed in months in advance. If you have any flexibility in delivering your marketing message, try to stress the high entertainment value of your title. Gamers are looking to maximize their fun for the shrinking amount of dollars they have to spend, so make sure they understand how good a value your game is.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Marketing Budgets Reach For The Stars

Seems like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is tearing up the record books, booking $550 million in sales in just 5 days. Not bad even when you break down the budget a bit, as revealed here. Seems like Activision is admitting to spending roughly $50 million developing the game, and another $150 million in marketing and packaging expenses. Here's a hint... I don't think the majority of that $150 million was packaging costs. (I might believe about $20 million, given that they've sold around 8 to 9 million units... though with that sort of quantity the unit cost has to be pretty darn low.) So a marketing budget in the neighborhood of $130 million... further separating the "haves" from the "have-nots"; games with big-time marketing budgets, and the rest of 'em.

I do wonder if it was really necessary to spend that much for a title that was already destined to sell well... I would have pocketed half the marketing budget and bet on the game doing as well with half the expenditure. I think there's some element of company promotion and stock price support inside of all that spending... perhaps it's not a coincidence that this week Bobby Kotick (CEO of Activision) sold a cool $37 million dollars worth of Activision stock. Hmm, betting the stock will go down in the future? You're not likely to get a Modern Warfare every quarter, or even every year.

Having dealt with multimillion dollar marketing budgets as well as multi-hundred dollar budgets, I can tell you it's sure easier with lots of money. Doesn't mean that you should spend like crazy, though, unless there's some other reason than just trying to get one product to sell well.

Like, for instance, making sure the stock price is nice and high.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Collector's Editions Revisited

The web site Ars Technica has taken a look at the latest collector's editions in an interesting article. The edition above was never actually for sale, just given away in various promos... and now you can get one on eBay for as little as $2000 (!).  One point they make is how some collector's editions end up being remaindered for a lot less, both because the publisher made far too many and because they can take up a lot of space on retailer's shelves.

The lesson for marketers is to make sure you do these collector's editions in a truly limited run; that you make sure they're profitable; and that you make sure they actually add value that will get customers to spend the extra money for them. You could damage your brand and your profits by making too many of these things and pissing off retailers, and then when customers see them on shelves for less than the price of the regular edition it makes the look less worthwhile.

Monday, November 16, 2009

3 Packaging Tips

While digital distribution is The Next Big Thing in electronic games, and PDF versions of paper games are a rapidly-growing market segment, let's not forget that most of the revenue for games (electronic or paper) comes from products sold in retail stores. So here's some things to remember when designing packaging for your product.

1) Make it stand out. Before you design your package (whether it's a box cover, a book cover, a blister card or something else) take a trip to a retail store that will be selling your product. (This is a good idea even when you aren't designing a package, too... you can see what marketing is working and what isn't.) Look around... there's dozens or hundreds of products all screaming for your attention. Well, some may be screaming, and some may be whispering, and some may be hiding. Look at a few products that caught your eye, and try to analyze why they did. Was it the color that stood out? The contrast? The title? The graphic treatment? You'll learn some things about what works and what doesn't, in the environment where you will be competing. Take pictures... take notes... ask questions... and think about how you can put some more snap into your package. Packages that look good two feet away may not help you from ten feet away, and you need to understand the likely distance a customer will first see your product is more likely ten feet or twenty feet rather than two feet.

2) Make it readable. Elaborate title fonts may be cool, but if the customer can't read it they may be less likely to pick it up or associate it with your other marketing efforts. Interesting text is fine for title, but not if it's hard to read. Make sure it's readable from ten feet away. And make sure the spine of your product is readable, too, because your product is likely to be sitting that way in most cases. And while you're at it, make sure that any text you put on the package is readable, and isn't rendered illegible by the artwork or graphic design. The first job of the package is to sell the product; looking good is secondary.

3) Make it work. Your package is one of your most important marketing tools, so it should work as hard as possible at selling the product. Make sure you get your key selling points in there, along with any awards or great reviews, and don't forget to make sure you have a web site prominently displayed for any curious customer to look at for more info (and more chances to sell them things).

These are just a few points to ponder; I could write a book on how to do a good job making the book cover sell... Wait, the recursion is making my brain hurt. Time to think about my next blog post.

Friday, November 13, 2009

GameStop Announces Ignorance

I see where GameStop, sensing digital distribution on the horizon, has announced a plan to incorporate that into their business model. They're going to sell digital downloads in their stores! Yes, you'll be able to drive to a GameStop, walk right in, select the digital content you want, then walk out, drive home and download it! What could be easier? Ummm... not having to drive to do this?

They're going to need to change their business model just a bit more than that if they expect to prosper, or even survive, as the digital distribution tsunami rolls over them.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fans or Customers?

A useful way to look at your buyers is to determine the percentage of fans versus the percentage of customers. A customer may like the product; they may be a repeat customer; but they are not the same as a fan. A fan (which, remember, is short for "fanatic") eagerly awaits the next product; is eager for any and all products connected to the object of their adoration; loves to get the latest information; and delights in spreading the word to other people and persuading them to be equally devoted. Certainly some types of products don't attract many fans; toilet paper, plumbing supplies, and similar goods may have an occasional fan, but mostly just customers.

Fans are the majority for buyers of fiction, television shows, sports teams, celebrities, and many (but not all) types of games. Marketing to fans is obviously different than marketing to customers. Twitter is an example of a great tool for marketing to fans, but not really useful for marketing to customers. Who wants to get tweets about toilet paper?

Now, it may be that your game currently has mostly customers that could become fans if you engaged more with them. Use a Facebook page for your game; start discussion groups on your web site; tweet and blog and use every tool you can to communicate every little bit you want people to know about. If you can develop a large audience that is eager for every new product you create, you've got a nice steady business.

If you're a fan of something, check out how they market to you... you'll find ideas you like and methods you despise, so feel free to let that inform your marketing planning. (I like to call that "research".)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Facebook Marketing

Here's a good article in the New York Times on Facebook Marketing. Social networking tools are invaluable for connecting with your customers (and creating new ones), but like any tool they have to be used properly. Don't underestimate the time it might take you to use these tools, nor the patience you will have to have in dealing with the occasional blockhead. In the best case, you might find some devoted and competent fan (perhaps one on your staff) to handle the community relations functions if you don't like it (or have the time). Regardless of who does it, it needs to be done correctly, and this article has some good tips.

What's In A Title?

Choosing a title for your game is an important decision. Sometimes you'll just adopt a name that you used during development, and call that a day. But the issue deserves a lot of thought, because the title is a very important marketing tool. Here's three things to think about when choosing a game title.

1) Make It Descriptive. Well, perhaps the title doesn't need to describe the game so much as it needs to point to the essential attributes of the game. Not all titles manage this, of course. But if your title can bring out a key selling point of the game, it will help sell more copies. A game titled "Super Mario Brothers" will sell better than "Run & Jump" even though the gameplay might be the same. "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" lets you know what the game is about pretty clearly; you're not expecting a light-hearted puzzle game when you see that title.

2) Make It Memorable. A game title should be easily remembered, so that a fan can tell someone else about it and they'll remember it. Generic titles that are easily confused with other games can be a problem. (For instance, "Modern Warfare" is kind of bland and hard to remember... if it wasn't connected with the best-selling Call of Duty title it would be a difficult one to remember.) Sometimes you give up being descriptive in order to be more memorable... I'll always remember Toejam & Earl as a title even though it doesn't tell you anything about the game. Make sure you're doing a good job of either being descriptive or memorable, if you don't feel you can accomplish both.

3) Make It Trademarkable. This is sometimes forgotten, but it's crucial if you want to avoid legal problems and have the possibility of selling licensed properties in the future. There are some good guides out there to navigating the US Patent and Trademark Office and how to figure out a good trademark. If you're not familiar with trademark law, you should at least get a nodding acquaintance. And a good lawyer if you don't want to bother with learning about it yourself. It beats spending a bundle defending a trademark when you could have chosen something else, if only you'd known better. In case you were wondering, trademark law accounts for why it seems people who name products can't spell common words (like "Starz"); it's because of trademark law.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Empire Strikes Back

Looks like EA, continuing its string of losing quarters, has made some major moves. First, they've announced they plan to lay off 1500 more employees, which is 17% of their workforce, after suffering another large loss this last quarter (nearly $400 million). Second, they announced the purchase of Playfish, a major publisher of social networking games. These two events are connected, of course.

It's a recognition, in the harsh terms of layoffs, that EA's been continuing too far down the road of expensive packaged games when all the growth in the market has been in digital distribution and very different types of titles. Not only are the audience demographics different; so are the game mechanics, the distribution methods, and the way you make a profit on the games. The whole business model that EA built its empire on is rapidly eroding, as development costs continue to climb while average revenue per title drops. So EA is trying to retool its development resources and expand into the market areas showing growth.

I'm afraid it's going to take more than one quarter to turn the EA Star Destroyer into a new direction. Digital distribution, and the mobile gaming and social gaming markets, have enormous implications for how games are designed, produced, marketed, and profited from. Cost of good no longer drives design... or at least it shouldn't. Years ago, the industry settled on a rough target of 40 hours of gameplay for $50 in a boxed game. Games that didn't meet that target were savaged by critics. It wasn't really cost-effective to create a $20 boxed title, once you factored in all the costs of goods and discounts you had to give up to the retailers, distributors, rack jobbers, and of course the fees paid to the console manufacturers. Digital distribution blows that whole model into little pieces... and, in fact, you can make some serious money selling little pieces for $10 or even $1. Development teams can work for months or weeks instead of years, and you can rapidly shift them to other projects if it's clear their efforts aren't bringing in money.

Marketing becomes more friend-oriented and communication-based... it's about the recommendations and the messages from friends, not ads in magazines or on TV. It's a whole new world out there. I just hope all the people who are laid off can find new places in it as soon as possible.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Features and Benefits

One of the basic ways to market a product is to list some of the features and benefits. Some key points to remember when you're trying to generate those for your product:

1) Know the difference. A feature is some aspect or attribute of your product; the benefit should be the reason it matters to the potential buyer. Your product may have many features that your potential buyers don't care about, and thus you shouldn't bother to list them. (My favorite feature listed on a product was "Four-color box"... which was good for a laugh but had nothing to do with why I might have bought the product.)

2) Keep it brief. An exhaustive list of features usually exhausts your target's patience; it can even have a paradoxical effect (gee, if it has so many features it must be complicated... I really want something simpler). A good guideline is to keep your feature/benefit list to 3 items. Your space is probably limited (on a package, a one-screen web page, a flyer) so keeping the list short, and keeping the actual descriptions of the features and the benefits brief, allows you to make them bigger and more visible, or to put in other elements that you also want in there.

3) Make it compelling. You should select the features and benefits on the basis of how important they are to the potential customer (not to you!), and the words you choose should make them as compelling as possible. Check out some feature/benefits listed for Borderlands on Steam. Here's the first one:

Role Playing Shooter (RPS) - combines frantic first-person shooting action with accessible role-playing character progression

So they list a game feature, briefly and in bold, and then explain the benefit to the potential buyer. It does assume that the buyer understands character progression and why it's desirable, but that's reasonable given the customer demographics.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Post-Halloween Scares

Here's one that will curl your hair... the development cost of Gran Turismo 5, revealed in this Autoweek interview to be an eye-popping $60 million. Let's see, even assuming a clear profit of $15 per game, they'd have to sell... an amazing amount before making a profit.

Now, it sure does look pretty, and there are supposed to be about 1,000 cars averaging 400,000 polygons apiece, and more than 70 tracks... but (just thinking out loud here) wouldn't it make more sense to do a small fraction of that amount, get it out the door in a year (instead of three or four), and charge $20? And then sell additional cars, tracks, and so forth? At least you'd know whether it was worth spending more on development before you spent $60 million.

Marketing can do a lot, but it's asking a bit much to rescue profitability when product development's left reasonable about three exits back.

iPhone Games: That Bumblebee Can't Possibly Fly

There's an interesting commentary by Jesse Divnich over on Mr. Divnich is an analyst with EEDAR (Electronic Entertainment Design and Research), which provides business intelligence and research. In this commentary Mr. Divnich shares his reasoning as to why the iPhone can't succeed as a serious games platform.

He offers some good points, like how iPhone software prices are too low to make any money for developers, the environment's too competitive, the size of the market isn't really as big as Apple claims (because older versions of the iPhone/iPod Touch shouldn't count), etc. All very persuasive... if it weren't for the fact that the damn bumblee does indeed fly.

Look, on the IndustryGamers site on the same day, here's an article about how Gameloft sales are up 18% in nine months due to the App Store. And Zynga, ngmoco, and other big developers are posting big gains due to their expanding iPhone sales. Oops.

“Science is organized common sense where many a beautiful theory was killed by an ugly fact.” -- Thomas Henry Huxley

Yeah, marketing's like that, too.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

For Effective Advertising, "Use Quotes"

I'll use the launch of this immense RPG to make a point about good advertising. One of the things that attracts your eyes in an ad is a quote, as you can see on the front page of Steam where the Dragon Age Origins graphic includes this quote: "Dragon Age is the RPG of the decade" from PC Gamer UK. Now, this may or may not be true... but it certainly catches your eye. And it provides some verification of the game's goodness from an independent source. Whatever the truth of the claim, or what you think of the magazine, or magazine reviews in general, it's certainly true that not every game gets a quote like this. Quotes and awards should be used as extensively as possible in ads, because they attract attention and create more desire for learning more about the game and for buying it.

In the book trade, quotes are used extensively. Authors trade them with each other, there are many reviewers to quote from, and you'll see these quotes on the cover, on the back cover, inside the covers, and sometimes even whole pages are devoted to quotes. Does this liberal use of quoting diminish their effect. Yes, perhaps a bit... but the overall effect is still hugely positive even though quoting (blurbing, in book trade parlance) is far more widespread than in the gaming business.

"Quotes are a powerful advertising tool," said Steve Peterson. And feel free to quote me on that.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009


An interesting article in the New York Times this morning on new ways to find iPhone Apps. While the article is focusing on one product that offers to help find new Apps (by showing you what your friends like), this is symptomatic of the larger problem: The App Store sucks for finding new Apps unless you already know exactly what you want. Even then it might be difficult... witness the plethora of new e-book Apps and how they are flooding the App Store with titles. Search for Treasure Island and you'll find a dozen copies, all in different e-book readers as companies vie to get you to use their reader. After all, the novel is public domain now, so it's no cost to them. However, the users are getting flooded out by the waves of titles. It's starting to look like the Atari VCS market just before the crash. Now, I'm not saying Apple has to start exerting quality control... but they have to put more effort into making the App Store (and the approval process, by all accounts) better. Right now, they're a victim of their own success. And we're collateral damage. This problem is shared by any online store with a lot of products (hello, DriveThru RPG and Amazon), but others have provided better tools. Apple should take some of that expertise in interface design and apply it to the App Store, and soon.

The High Concept

This is the foundation of your product... the phrase or short sentence that tells someone what your product is in a brief and memorable way. Ideally it also creates an urge to buy or at least see the product, and also incorporates the key advantages of your product. That's a lot to ask for a phrase or a sentence! A good example for me has always been the two-word pitch for a software title that got funded at Electronic Arts, back in the day... "Indiana Cousteau." You knew it was a game set underwater that involved an intrepid archeologist hunting for treasure, with lots of action... all from two words. (What was the title? Heck, I can't even remember it, beyond that it was for the Amiga... but the high concept lives on for me.)

Why is such a phrase useful? Several reasons. Most important, perhaps, is that it serves to focus your marketing efforts. All of your efforts should be in support of that high concept. Many times, your product will have lots of cool features, and plenty of good reasons why someone might buy it, and numerous benefits... but if you can't unify those things under one banner, your marketing will be confused, confusing, and less effective.

Another good reason for an effective high concept is that most of the world thinks in such sound bites. Now, as a game's creator, you can probably describe it in loving detail for hours (or until your audience falls asleep or discovers something else really important they need to do right away). Let's say that you can succeed every time in explaining your complex, unusual, one-of-a-kind game to someone else, as long as you have ten minutes to make the pitch. You have failed in the larger sense, because I guarantee you that once the target of your explanation wanders away, and someone else asks them what it is Your Game is about, that whole impassioned ten-minute presentation will disappear. Instead, your audience member will answer "Oh, it's blah blah blah." In other words, they'll come up with their own short phrase or sentence to describe your product, neatly compressing your ten-minute presentation into a few seconds. And I can also pretty much guarantee you that you would not be happy with whatever phrase they come up with; it will fail in some way to describe the awesomeness that is Your Game.

This scenario will happen again and again... when a retailer asks a distributor about the product, when a customer asks a retailer about the product, whenever somebody not you is asked about Your Game, it'll be described in a brief way. So if you want that brief description to be as accurate as possible, and to create a strong desire to buy your product, you should be the one to create the memorable high concept phrase.

And if your game doesn't lend itself to a strong high concept, maybe that's a sign the game itself needs some additional oomph.

Monday, November 2, 2009

3 Ways to Track the Wild Marketing Dollar

"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted;
the trouble is I don't know which half."
John Wanamaker, 1838-1922

Before embarking on any marketing spending, you should try to determine how you're going to track the results. Tracking can be difficult, but it's worth the effort to guide your marketing spending in the future. Here are some thoughts on how to track results.
1) Search advertising. Why has Google has become so huge? Because when you spend money on advertising through them, you can see exactly how much it does (or doesn't) pay off for you, and adjust your advertising accordingly. You buy an ad for a search term... a user clicks on your ad, goes to your web site... and some of them buy products from your online store. You get all the information on how much you spent per visitor, and you know how many sales you made in that time period and how much profit you made per sale. A few clicks of the calculator and you know whether you want to do more of that advertising or not. If only all marketing tracking was that simple.
2) Landing pages. Perhaps you're planning to put an ad in a magazine, or buy some banner ad placements on a web site. Send those viewers not to your home page, but to a special landing page. Then you will know how many of the visitors you receive in a month were driven to your site specifically by that one marketing effort. And you should be able to track the percentage of those visitors you converted to a sale; give them a special offer (for instance, free downloadable content with your purchase) so you can track that redemption. At the end of the promotional period, you can look at your cost for the ad or banner buy and see how much you made in sales from the promotion.
3) Non-internet tracking. Let's say you're going to a convention and you want to see how many sales you can generate by having flyers handed out to convention-goers. How do you track that? Put an offer in the flyer, either leading to a special landing page on your web site (see #2 above), or if you have a booth at the convention, a Show Special offer redeemable with that coupon only. (This can be a discount, or a poster, or a signature by the author, or even downloadable content.) At the end of the show, count up the number of coupons that were redeemed. You should know how much the flyers cost you, and the cost of your promotional offer, and if you had to spend anything to have someone pass out the flyers. A little math and you'll soon know if you want to try that again.

These are just a few of the ways to track your marketing spending and what it's bringing you. A word of caution, though. Just because you didn't make money the first time you try one of these marketing efforts doesn't mean you shouldn't ever do it again. Perhaps you need to fine-tune the offer, or the placement, or maybe the timing. Sometimes these promotions can have other benefits, perhaps bringing you some PR value or helping with your product positioning. Sometimes the benefits can last beyond your promotional period. Make sure you analyze the promotion before you proceed.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Marketing Tricks & Treats

Halloween is here, and it's another example of a marketing opportunity. An alert marketer is always looking for ways to tie titles to current events, and a popular holiday is a good way to generate some press interest. Halloween is an obvious tie-in for a horror game, of course. But it also works for non-horror games, as in what Champions Online is doing with Blood Moon. Here's a series of events linked to the holiday, tied in with a free-to-play time in order to pull in some new users. It keeps the existing players happy (new content!); offers a free trial for people already interested in Champions Online; and gathers publicity for the game on web sites targeting their key audience. A good example of how to tie into a holiday even when your game isn't directly connected to it.

Now, this did take a lot of effort from product development, which is not normally the case with a marketing project. So marketing needs to have a good relationship with product development in order to pull off something like this... and there's the question of what you weren't able to get done because the product development worker bees were busy with this project. So it's not always the right answer, but it's worth thinking about this sort of idea.


Looks like Nokia has finally recognized reality and pulled the plug on the N-Gage service (posting explaining it on their N-Gage blog here; see news report with analysis here). Of course, they're positioning it as merely a move to put their games into the Ovi Store (Nokia's answer to the App Store), though admitting that any community features for N-Gage games are going away, as are the hardware platforms. One commenter says "It's a sad day for N-Gage fans." Yeah, all three of them.

It was pretty clear to anyone with a cerebral cortex that N-Gage was a flop shortly after launch. Nokia gamely kept trying (note: always assumes puns are intentional on this blog), but they were never able to make the N-Gage anything more than an obscure gaming footnote about on par with Virtual Boy. Playing games on a postage stamp size screen never seemed to attract buyers for some reason. But Nokia continued to pour in money and marketing effort well after the corpse had been buried. The huge booth they had at this year's Game Developer's Conference was an amazing example of marketing dollars wasted. Nokia stocked the booth with a bevy of models in skintight white spandex and spike heels. Naturally there was a huge crowd of guys blocking the aisles around Nokia's booth... all staring at the Autodesk projection screens next door showing new features for 3D Studio Max.

If you can't attract game developers with hot babes in spandex, ain't nothing gonna help you.

Ultimate Edition Marketing

Here's another example of how marketing interacts with product development and profitability. The idea of the Deluxe Edition has been around for quite a while; I remember the hardcover Champions RPG bundled with HeroMaker software back in 1990 or thereabouts. The 90's saw a number of electronic games and paper games in limited release editions with extra features and an extra price tag. The simple form was to throw a few extras in the box (like a miniature or a map or a poster), or just a hardcover version of a softcover rulebook for RPGs, and then charge extra. Gradually this has evolved into special containers, DVD's with "Making Of" documentaries, soundtrack CDs, even such things as night vision goggles and statuary. Now comes the announcement of the God of War III Ultimate Edition bundle... so glitzy it demands a $99.95 price tag. An amazing box, an art book, a documentary, and a whole bunch of special downloadable content.

A few important things to note here. Aside from raking in some extra bucks from the devoted fans, this Ultimate Edition also serves a marketing purpose. It's free advertising... the press release is popping up all over game sites, reminding all that this game is coming up soon. It's positioning... the very existence of the Ultimate Edition tells you that this game must have a large following, and it must be special to deserve this treatment. So even if you don't spring for the Ultimate Edition, you are more interested in this because it's obviously an important title. So this adds value even to the ordinary edition.

Of course, there are some downsides to the Ultimate Edition. Somebody had to spend a good amount of time pulling together all of the elements in the package, so that's an opportunity cost (what else could that staff time have been used for?). These bits have some expense that need to be amortized over the production run, so there are more upfront costs... and hopefully there's enough margin to cover those costs, and the sales of this expensive edition are enough to cover all of the extra costs. There's a risk factor there, and some extra capital expenditures that had to be made. Finally, the DLC was not without cost. Somebody had to put together the documentary, the soundtracks, the skins and other game elements, so there's some staff time in product development that has to be accounted for. At least the DLC doesn't incur any shipping costs.

On the positive side, you'll probably boost sales of the regular edition, and you got some free advertising and some positioning help. Special editions keep getting created, so unless many different companies are deluded they seem to have sufficient value to outweigh their costs. Consider it as another weapon in your marketing arsenal.

Hmmm... I wonder if someone could pull off a special edition of an iPhone game... might be an interesting way to stand out from the increasingly large crowd...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gaming Magazines

I forgot to mention that not all gaming magazines are digital... Polymancer is one that still does the dead tree thing. On the electronic side, there's still PC Gamer and some specialty mags for certain platforms. But you'll find far more online editions of magazines (some old mags transformed, some new). The advantage of the paper ones would be its potential to reach a different demographic, actually being in stores where customers might stumble across them.

The internet is great for finding things that you already know about, but it's very hard to find things you aren't aware of already. Game stores and game conventions are wonderful for finding the stuff you think is cool that you never knew about. Which is why it's good to have some presence in those places, to help you get those new customers that can be very elusive.

Businessweek Covers Games

Well, sort of... their cover story this last week was about apps, or as they spelled it, App$ (read the whole thing here). Though as usual, Businessweek manages to be a little unlcear on the concept; they use the term "apps" to refer to things like Facebook games and Yahoo widgets. But the interesting part is how they cover games as an important part of this phenomenon. Zynga's gone from 0 to $100 million in a couple of years, and it's profitable at that... selling stuff inside their games (like buying land inside Farmville).

It really highlights that the problem facing most of the game developers (and other app developers) is a marketing problem. Apple's App Store really sucks at helping you find what your interested in. Just for an example, check out the roleplaying section... it's crammed full of games that aren't RPGs at all (like innumerable clones of Facebook social games). Which makes finding what gamers classically think of as RPGs difficult. Some developers have taken to gaming the system (releasing new versions rapidly mostly to get listed in the new section, for instance) but the problem is bad and getting worse. Some solutions are evolving (like ngmoco's ingame ad network), but until the market matures marketing is a far more difficult problem for most developers than actually building their title. Usually because the have expertise in building titles, but none in marketing, for starters.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

7 Tips for Adventure Game Marketing

Let's talk about marketing non-electronic games for a bit, and specifically the non-mass market games that comprise the "adventure gaming industry."

The adventure gaming industry is a tougher place than ever for marketing efforts. Roleplaying games, board games, card games, miniatures rules... these are generally sold in specialized gaming stores. Some of these products are sold in bookstores and occasionally mass-market stores, but those are rare. The number of full-line gaming stores has been shrinking, and not coincidentally average sales numbers through retail have dropped, and dedicated gaming magazines have disappeared or transmogrified into websites. So the obvious places to market such games (magazines sold to your core demographic) either don't exist or are far more expensive than companies in this business can afford, for the most part. What does that leave for your marketing efforts?

1) Convention marketing. If you've been in the industry for any time at all, you realize how much money you can make at Gen Con and Origins. Selling your products can make enough to cover your attendance costs at smaller conventions too. Even if you don't manage to cover your costs, the benefits of being there can be substantial. Demoing your games, contests, running games, sponsoring games, care and feeding of the fan base... and an opportunity to bring in new fans. Consider ads in convention booklets, posting or handing out flyers, free game giveaways, or other special events. Whatever you do, try to track the results. For instance, if you put an ad in a con program when you don't attend the con, put in a special offer or web address so you can track the response you get. Then you'll know if that $100 you spent brought in at least that much business, and whether you'd consider doing it again.

2) Social networking. If your game doesn't have a Facebook page, it should. Use all the social networking tools to help your fan base connect with you and with your games. The goal is to generate more sales by getting your fans to spread the word to their friends. These tools can also let your fans know about new releases and special deals you're offering.

3) Demo teams. These have worked well for many companies for a long time. If you've got some devoted fans, harness their enthusiasm into attending local conventions (and retail stores) to demonstrate your products. Those social networking tools are great for helping to organize this. You'll need to put together a demo kit, but all of the items in a demo kit will be useful to you in other ways.

4) Search engine marketing. Yes, time to get technical. You can buy some keyword search terms in Google or Yahoo or Bing, and they'll bring traffic to your online store. You can control how much you spend, and it's relatively easy to figure out what your bidding limit should be. (Let's say you have 100 sales per month with an average value of $25 per transaction, and you get 5,000 unique visitors to your web site each month. So each unique visitor is worth 50 cents to you...which means you certainly should bid less than that for your search terms.) Research your keywords; some tools can be found here; your best bet is this. The Google Keyword Tool will tell you how many times the term you put in has been searched in the last month. There's tons more to know about this subject, but properly used you can make a lot of money with search word advertising.

5) Work the web site. Spend some quality time on your web site to add features that attract fans and help spread the word. Discussion boards require moderation, but you may be able to find a trustworthy supporter to help with this. Start a blog about your products. Respond to questions. Provide links to additional resources that your fans might find of interest. All of these things will help improve your traffic and thus enhance your online store sales. Which brings us to the online store... a vital component in your strategy as retail stores become scarcer. Don't undercut the retailers in your store, but you can provide ebooks and additional downloads for your games (free or at a small cost). You can also bundle products... some companies are providing free ebooks for people who have purchased the printed version in the store, through a code printed in the book. Podcasts, videos, CafePress t-shirts... there's a long list of things you can do through your web site, and it's growing all the time. This can be a worthwhile place to put some marketing efforts.

6) Cross-marketing. When you want to expand your fan base, look to fans of other products that are similar. Perhaps you can work with other publishers, not against them. Cross-over scenarios may help sell your products to fans of other games. Try to see if you can exchange links with other web sites, or ads in games. Usually small publishers don't produce enough products to exhaust their fan's buying ability, so it can pay off to work with other publishers. It's even better if you can find a related fan base for a product that's not competitive. Imagine putting in some ads or offers for your fantasy RPG with some other company's fantasy miniatures or action figures... find a way to make it profitable for both sides and you may have a deal.

7) Creativity. Unleash the same creativity you put into game design into your marketing. Don't just hand out flyers for your game at a con; have someone dressed in a costume relevant to your game hand out flyers. Or better still, stage a costumed event that showcases your game, outside the con on the first day while everyone is lined up to get their badges (gotta love those captive audiences!). Make a YouTube video that does something outrageous and interesting (Will it Blend?) to get people looking at your game. Auction off a special gold-plated edition on eBay. Pretend your little boy is in an escaped balloon with a copy of your game... no, maybe that's too creative. But you get the idea.

These are just a few places to start... I haven't even mentioned package design, advertising, PR, channel marketing and a host of other basic marketing moves that are worthy of your time and attention.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

7 Tips for Marketing iPhone Games

Now that there are upwards of 85,000 iPhone apps, and 25,000 iPhone games, the biggest challenge isn't building your game, it's finding an audience. Which is where marketing is supposed to come to the rescue, but this is not an easy task even if you have a lot of money to spend. Given the usual low-to-nonexistent profit margin on iPhone games, and the increasing amount spent on developing games (trying to compete through more spending on art and sound), and the fact that most iPhone game developers are nano-sized companies, marketing budgets for iPhone games are more typically hovering right around zero.

How, then, do you generate some sales for your iPhone game? Here's seven tips that can help you get started. I'll add more details in future posts, but these strategies can point you in the right directions.

1) Make a great game with a hook. Marketing really starts with product development. There are so many games already out there that it's pointless to try to sell a game that doesn't have some exceptional quality. Hopefully it's got great art and sound, and fun gameplay... but if it's just another tower defense game with nothing else to distinguish it, you're going to have a hard time selling it. Either you need some really cool and innovative, fun new game mechanic, or you need some kind of hook to hang your marketing efforts on. What's a hook? Lot's of things... an unusual art design (think Okami), a subject matter that's appealing and not done to death (World of Goo), a license, a new twist... something that is compelling enough that you could see someone writing a news article about it. Then, of course, you go out and find people to write such articles...

2) DFM -- Design For Marketing. Yes, I know DFM usually stands for Design For Manufacturing, where you think about the process of building a product and incorporate those insights into the initial design, thus reducing production costs (and improving profitability). Similarly, you should consider the marketing of the product when you engage in the design phase. Creating a good free version of your iPhone game, and then a paid version with a good reason for the user to upgrade, should be a key consideration when designing. Getting the feature balance right between the two versions is an art. The simplistic way is to build the full game and then disable some features (or limit the pay time or number of levels), but this might not give you a good free version (or a paid version with enough added benefit). Take some time and consider this before you start programming. Ideally you would create your initial design document, then rough out your marketing plan, and see if the marketing plan could benefit from some additional features in the design.

3) Don't neglect the basics. The basics like having a marketing plan. A marketing budget. A web page for the game. A good title that's not tromping on someone's trademark. A good one-sentence description of your game that includes the key feature and creates a desire to buy it. (That should be a short sentence.) All that implies spending some time thinking about marketing, so budget time for that even if (or especially if) you don't plan to spend much money on marketing.

4) Start with an audience. It sure helps if you already have a fan club, because if there's a group of people that already like your work, hopefully they'll be interested in buying your latest magnum opus. Oh, this is your first title and no one knows who you are? Then perhaps in creating a background for your game you can acquire an audience. It's a game about squirrels vs. birds? Maybe you can find a way to interest birders (put in lots of interesting species, or maybe extra points for naming birds correctly). Or plug into the community of squirrel fans (hey, there are web sites devoted to selling squirrel-related products!) If you can find a way to grab an existing fan base of some kind, that makes it easier to attract an initial set of buyers.

5) Work at it. Don't put your heart and soul into building a game and then figure you're done. If you expect to sell enough copies to make back all the time you invested, your odds will improve if you spend some time and effort on marketing. Sometimes, perhaps, somebody gets lucky and sells a bunch of copies because Oprah decided it was cool and featured it on her show. Good luck waiting for that to happen. Most of the time that luck happens to the person who worked really, really hard to make it happen. As Samuel Goldwyn said, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

6) Persevere. Keep working at the marketing of your game. One of the great things about the iPhone market is you can overcome a bad launch mistake (usually not true for games sold in retail stores). You can always release a new improved version of your game. Or even just a new improved version of your slogan, or your web page, or your ad. Or even just changing the price... one game went from dozens of sales per day to hundreds by dropping the price from $2.99 to 99 cents. Figure out what works for your product and do more of it; figure out what isn't working and try something else.

7) Be creative. Finally, try to be as creative with your marketing as you were in creating your game. Maybe a crazy stunt will get you a headline or two. Maybe that whacky package of oddly connected items you mailed to some key web sites will get you a great article. Maybe a quickie revision of the software to include a scenario ripped from the headlines will get you some mainstream press. Remember, iPhone games don't come in boxes, so your marketing has to be outside the box, right?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

$25 Million Marketing Budget... A Sign of The Apocalypse?

Valve is expecting big things for Left 4 Dead 2; after selling 3 million copies of the first game (Xbox 360 and PC), they're planning on dropping 25 large for marketing the sequel. Where's it going? According to their marketing veep (as referenced here), the campaign "will include Monday Night Football and UFC television broadcasts, roadside billboards, and popular lifestyle and gaming sites."

Hey, great for them... but maybe bad for other titles. This continues the escalation of marketing budgets. It's getting harder and harder to make the numbers for the biggest titles. The industry saw six straight months of sales declines this year, with September finally ticking up 1%... this after major price cuts on all the consoles. Madden has underperformed this year. It looks like sales declines might be here to stay, so of course the natural first response is to increase marketing budgets. This will make it even harder for big titles to make their numbers, unless they raise their budgets too. Or do some smarter marketing.

But I think the problem may be even more serious. This could be a major shift in the market's expectations for pricing and value and content of game titles. I don't think marketing alone will save the day, nor product development. Some rethinking of business models is going to be essential.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Marketing Game

Welcome to my blog about marketing, games, and the intersection between the two. The game industry is in the midst of several huge changes -- the broadening of the customer base, the rapid rise of digital distribution, new platforms like mobile and social gaming, the increasing difficulty of making a profit on big titles, the transformation of customer media from magazines to digital -- that means marketing games must change as well. Marketing budgets grow larger for AAA titles, TV advertising is commonplace for major releases... and at the same time we see an explosion of games for iPhones that have next to no marketing budget at all. How do you market your game in this chaotic environment?

That's the territory I plan to explore. I'll be covering the adventure gaming industry as well as electronic games; the lines between them are blurring, after all. The same forces that are transforming marketing are also going to shape how we design games, develop them, and monetize them. Everything's in flux, and I hope that we can find some productive ways forward through this changing landscape.

I look forward to hearing from you, and I'll try to keep up a flow of information and ideas to keep the discussion going.