Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ebooks Have A Magic Moment

Other authors may do this, too.
The traditional publishers are facing some scary magical power, wielded by none other than J.K. Rowling. Her web site has begun selling Harry Potter ebooks, as the exclusive place to buy them. Rowling's clout is such that she even got Amazon and barnes & Noble to point to her site in affiliate marketing arrangements. Rowling gets to keep roughly 70% to 90% of the revenue from the Potter ebooks, which are selling for $7.99 for the first 3,  $9.99 for the last 4... or $57.54 for the set. Sure beats the heck out of the usual 17.5% cut that traditional publishers give to authors for ebook editions.

Granted, Rowling is not the typical author; far from it. Yet other big names (paging Stephen King) are probably looking at similar arrangements, or at least better terms. The big authors are what generate the most profits for traditional publishers, so this should be a wake-up call. Of course, you'd have thought the events of the last few years would have been a wake-up call, too, but you would have been wrong. Legacy publishers seem to be pulling the sheets over their heads and hoping the scary ebook monster goes away.

This is not to say that publishing your own ebook is necessarily the way to go. But every author now has a lot more options to consider, and some thought as to which path to take. There are many more options for getting your book to market, and that's a good thing. It's more complicated, though, and not necessarily easier. Heck, signing a deal with a publisher and then sending in your manuscript and waiting for checks is about as easy as it gets. Publishing it yourself is much more work... but you may make a lot more money, too, if you are successful at it. I advise all authors to study the market carefully; read Joe Konrath's blog, Mike Stackpole's website, and others.

Be prepared to do a lot of homework. Magic spells optional.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Kickstarter: New Publishing Model?

Nice try.
There's been a rash of Kickstarters lately connected to people and publishers I know, and I think it's worthy of comment. Double Fine's Kickstarter brought in a record of over $3.5 million to do an adventure game. Yes, an old-school, point-and-click adventure game, to be created by Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert, who did games for Lucasfilm like Monkey Island and Grim Fandango. It's interesting to note that their proposal doesn't even describe what the game will be about. The fan base is so devoted to all of their old games they don't really care what a new game would be about, they just want to see one.

Similarly, Brian Fargo put Wasteland 2 up as a Kickstarter, and it's already broken through $1.5 million. People remember the original RPG, and want to see a sequel. Other Kickstarters are proposed for novels, tabletop RPG projects, and mobile games. More people on jumping on, looking for funding. I think there's some things to be aware of in order to have a successful Kickstarter campaign.

First off, Kickstarter has lots of advice, which you should take to heart. They have to approve your project, too, so that's a hurdle you have to pass. Make sure you do an excellent video; that's a key element in most successful proposals. It's your chance to make the pitch in the most compelling way possible. Use it well.

Now, some other considerations:

Have an audience. If you've got a big fan base, that's going to be a key element in success. If you know the size of your fan base, and can run some numbers ahead of time, you'll get an idea of how likely your Kickstarter is to succeed. If your lowest support level is (say) $10, and you have a fan base of 1,000 (based on previous sales, or members in your forums, or Twitter followers, or some such data), and you're asking for $5,000, you're likely to be disappointed. Why? Because you're expecting 50% of your followers to cough up money; that's a very high percentage. Something in the single digits would be more believable. Try to set yourself up to be pleasantly surprised on the up side; if you can make a go of it by getting 1% of your users to support at the lowest level, you're in good shape. But what if you don't have an audience? Then...

Be totally cool. Whatever your doing just has to be a cool concept. Maybe it's a gadget, or an RPG setting, or a movie, but when you explain it there's a lot of people who will go, "Ooh, me want." Don't expect a huge response if you're doing something obscure. If it takes you a long time to explain what it is and why it's cool, it's not compelling enough. If you can boil it down to a simple phrase, and everyone you tell that phrase to says "Wow," then you've got something.

Offer good value. Don't expect people to throw money at your project, even if it's totally cool and you have a big audience, if you're not offering a reasonable value. A paperback book for $50? Not a good value. A hardcover coffee-table book with gorgeous photographs or art for $50, signed by the author and photographer, in a numbered limited edition? A great value. It's all relative, so look at similar things on the market or available in stores to get an idea of reasonable pricing.

Be believable. If the audience doesn't believe you can deliver, they won't support it. Hopefully you have experience that will lead them to believe in your project, but make it explicit as to why you can deliver what you're promising. Also, can you do it in the time frame described, with anything or everything else you may have going on? Convince the audience of this.

Offer a wide range of benefits. More is better, I think. Check out a bunch of Kickstarters to see what kinds of things they are offering. Don't neglect the high end! You'd be surprised how much money some dedicated fans will come up with (some free-to-play games have sold in-game items for $10,000 or more!). Make sure you are ready and able to deliver on everything; don't offer dinner with yourself if you really don't want to have dinner with some random people, even if they are your fans.

I don't think this financing model will take over game publishing of any kind, but it certainly has a place. It's also good marketing for you and your company, if it's successful. So make sure it's a success!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

GDC 2012: Uncertainty

The dust is starting to settle down from the show, though I still have a stack of interviews to process; breaking news keeps getting in the way. It was an intense show, with each day booked more or less solid with interviews. I did have enough time, barely, to walk through the Expo and the Career center, but hardly any session time. Heck, I didn't even run into Eric Goldberg this time, and that always happens!

One question that I was asked repeatedly: What's hot at GDC? In other words, what's the most interesting thing I saw? I saw and heard a lot, but my overwhelming impression was this: Uncertainty.

There's a great deal of uncertainty floating around the industry, and that's highly unusual. For decades, since the late 1980's, the business model was pretty stable: You took a pile of money, paid a bunch of developers to make a game, and then a year or two later it would be done. You'd take another pile of money and build a bunch of inventory, your sales force would get it out into retail stores, and the marketing would hit a bit before release. You'd sell about 80% of what you were ever going to sell in the first month. Once you shipped, you were pretty much done, and everybody involved would have moved on to the next project.

Oh, there were variations on this. Over time the piles of money required got bigger, and the time required got longer. Technologies changed every 5 years, so that would always make things more difficult (read: expensive) for a while. But basically the business model stayed the same. If you wanted to bring out a game, you had to do all of those things. Sometimes that meant partnering with one or more companies in order to get something (like distribution) done, or you had to raise money in a variety of ways to pay for one step or the other. You may have been uncertain about how to accomplish a given step in the process, but you weren't uncertain about the steps you had to take.

Now that's all changed. Digital distribution, free-to-play, ad-supported, mobile, social, subscriptions... all of these innovations have irrevocably shaken up the business. It doesn't mean the old business model has stopped working, though it has gotten more difficult (retail sales down 4 years running, and dropped over 20% last month and the month before over the previous year). It's just that there are so many more places to sell games, so many new platforms, new business models, new regions of the world (China is now a huge game market), and, oh yeah, every possible demographic is now a gaming demographic, not just teenage boys of all ages.

So nobody is really sure that they're doing the right thing, or all of the right things. I talked to one developer who is getting a tablet game ready for shipment in a couple of months. I asked them whether it would be free-to-play, or whether they would charge for it. "We still haven't decide that yet," was the answer. Wow. YOu never would have hear that even a few years ago.

I guess the best advice at this point is that you should be re-examining all your assumptions about the business. And then do that again in a few months, and regularly after that. It's gotten very unpredictable in this business, so stay agile.

Will the next console generation sell better than the last? I don't think so, unless the console makers pull some very large and clever rabbits out of their hats. If it's just "same as the last console, only 5x better graphics capability and it's $499," then no, the next console won't sell better than the last one. Good luck with that, console makers. It's going to be far more difficult this time to launch new harder and have it sell well over time.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

GamesIndustry International Live

The new GamesIndustry International site, which combines and in a whole new layout, has gone live. Check it out. One cool feature I like is how if you click on my name, you not only get a bio, but it also shows all of the pieces I've written (not all the old ones from IndustryGamers yet, but at least some from this week as we switched over). Another nice feature is that it automatically formats for a mobile browser, so the site is easily read from a cell phone.

I'm sure there will be issues and glitches as we work things out; certainly it will get a stress test this week with all of the news stories we'll be posting from GDC. Not that I know how I'll find time to write everything... no in-depth analysis this week, just trying to re-direct the massive data stream.

I hope to see some of you during the show as I race from interview to interview...

Saturday, March 3, 2012

GDC: Rumors Ahoy!

It's almost here.
The Game Developer's Conference starts on Monday, but I'll be up there tomorrow. Already the rumors are starting to swirl. David Cage of Quantic is supposedly going to show some of their new work that may represent a new stage in the evolution of story in gaming, beyond Heavy Rain. Valve is supposedly working on their own console design, a "Steam Box" that's like a custom PC built around Steam but priced like a console; the big difference, really, would be that such a device would be built around digital distribution at its core. Yeah, you could go to a store and buy PC games for it, but why bother with the drive?
Then, of course, Apple's got a little announcement to make on Wednesday morning, just a co-inky-dink that this takes place during GDC at a venue literally on top of the Game Developers Conference. It'll be their new iPad, of course, sporting a screen with 4x the resolution of the current one, no doubt with a faster processor and other bells and whistles. Also rumored is a new version of Apple TV that can handle full 1080p video... and maybe apps? Is it time for Apple to begin the apocalyptic battle for control of the family room? Maybe, but  probably it'll be later in the year when they actually have some content deals on board.
More rumors? Sure, there will be whispering about Microsoft's successor to the 360, and maybe what Sony plans to do with the PS4, and even the unthinkable might happen and Nintendo lets slip with a nugget of more info about the Wii U. I not sure I believe any of this, but I welcome anyone who wants to whisper rumors of half-glimpsed developer version of new hardware into my eager ears.
Oh, and the IndustryGamers site will be merging with to create GamesIndustry International, the world's largest game industry news and analysis site. That should go live on Monday... check it out, especially on your mobile phone (where it will automatically format into a nice friendly mobile version).
Me, I'll be busy during GDC conducting interviews, chasing down rumors, listening to talks, and hopefully seeing a lot of friends. I'll try to post some news and tidbits every day if I can... there will be plenty of posting heading to the new GamesIndustry International site, so keep an eye there (it'll be at the URL with a whole new look). See you in the halls!