Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

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.