Welcome to our new blog on Game Marketing.
Marketing is a vast and complex area that contains way too much to cover in a few articles so the focus of this blog is on the practical rather than the theoretical. Although GameSparks (http://www.gamesparks.com/) is much more about building great games and helping you to manage them post launch, one of the key areas I find most of our customers need help with is marketing and, being a marketer, I figured I could help. So, over the course of the coming weeks, we plan to write several articles about game marketing that should help a beginner create a successful marketing plan for their game.
I guess the very first piece of advice I can give you is to think about how your game is going to be marketed right at the beginning because there are a couple of important decisions you will make that will impact the game design and how successful you are in taking it to market.
Assuming you are at the beginning of the process, there are 2 key artifacts you need to create:
- Marketing strategy
- Marketing plan
I advise you to keep these two things separate, at least, in the beginning. I recommend this because thinking strategically about something is very different to thinking tactically or focusing on the more tangible parts of a plan. Think of the strategy as the over-arching guide as to what you are trying to do – your goals – and the plan as the more detailed translation into what exactly what you are going to do to execute on the strategy and deliver the goals. The plan is something you could give to someone else to execute on your behalf, for example, the strategy is probably either too high level or too important to delegate. Once you are pretty confident in creating both of these artifacts then the marketing strategy can merely become the first section or two of the plan. To begin with, like I said, keep them separate, as they require you to think at different levels to create them.
You need to think about the marketing strategy right at the beginning of the game creation process because certain decisions around things like game design, monetization, languages and localization will all be impacted by your marketing strategy. Indeed, the very first question I would ask is ‘am I going to self-publish my game or not’? If the answer is ‘no’ then many of these strategic decisions will be made by your publisher and the whole process should look very different. After seeing a vertical slice (sorry – I know many people hate that term now) of your game, the publisher will have a view as to who you are going to target and where, on what platforms etc. It’s really those that are self-publishing that need the crash course in marketing as one should rightfully expect a publisher to bring a huge amount of marketing expertise and to be able to direct the process from beginning through to the end.
If you are self-publishing then the key things you need to cover in your marketing strategy are:
- GaaP vs. GaaS:- Are you going to launch your game as a product (the traditional model) or as a service, which is the model we in GameSparks advocate along with many other respected games industry commentators. If you are self-publishing, you really need to think about your game as a service where you will launch the game as early as is feasible and you will steadily iterate new releases while simultaneously building a loyal audience. This is much more akin to running a subscription business and developers who are self-publishing need to think about their games business in this way. You will effectively, find the most effective marketing channels and use them to acquire new players who you will then convert to paying players. The success of your business will rely on you being able to generate a higher average revenue per player than it costs you to acquire that player (through marketing).
- Business Model of your Game:- Are you going to charge for the game (premium) or provide the game for free, charging for additional content (freemium) or charge for in-app items or virtual goods (Free to Play). You really need to have a view on this right at the beginning as it has a big impact on the overall game design. Quite a lot of Indies make this decision too late on and try and add in the monetization or business model at the end. It rarely works when done like this so you should really take note and decide how you are going to make money from your game right form the get-go.
- Target Audience:- Who is your game aimed at? Kids, adults, male, female? While it might be ok to be reasonably open-minded about this in the beginning, early testing should tell you which target audiences you are trying to appeal to. In my view, games should be designed with target audiences in mind and there is plenty of research available to tell you which games are doing well with which target audiences. The particular audience will make a big difference to the marketing channels you exploit obviously. TV companies decide which TV programs to make or buy based on the audience they are trying to target. So for example, a TV company will decide that at 8pm on Friday nights it wants female audiences in the 18 – 30 bracket so it buys and / or makes programs that it knows will appeal to this demographic. We, in games, need to get far better at this. If you are finding your audience at the end, you have not thought about it enough and while it is still possible to create a successful game you have seriously handicapped your chances.
- Platforms / Stores:- Is your game destined for console or PC? Or perhaps you are building it for mobile, tablet or other handheld. Most game developers decide this pretty early on based on variety of reasons such as past experience, bias for technology, budget, relationships with publishers and / or console providers etc. There are lots of factors. However, I feel relatively safe suggesting that not enough of that decision is driven from the marketing strategy. Am I right? Certain platforms are much better for certain audiences and certain types of game. Traditionally, it has been harder to self-publish on certain consoles than say on mobile for example although all of this is changing rapidly. Once you decide on the platform, then there may be several channels or stores you can push the game through and some of the stores may offer significant advantages over others. The Samsung store on Android devices has far fewer games on it than the Google Play store, for example, and they are offering a higher percentage of the revenues to the developers (90% last time I checked compared to 70%). There are lots and lots of factors at play here so careful attention should be given to the choices made here. Of course, with development tools like Unity and Marmalade, games are becoming a lot more transferable across platforms so the trend is for games to be released across several platforms.
- Geography:- Where are you going to launch your game? Are you going to test it in a trial market first and then roll it out to others subsequently? Which countries are going to target? These are all key marketing questions you need to think about. Many games developers launch their game initially in a test market where they gain valuable insight into how it is being played so that they can make initial changes before they launch the game in other perhaps lee forgiving markets. The selection of test markets and eventual launch markets depends a lot on your game, the target audience you are after and a lot of the other factors we think need to be in your marketing strategy.
- Budget:- Any marketing strategy should give careful consideration to the available budget. For most games, particularly those being run as services, the budget will vary over time as the game makes revenue. This is to be expected however, you should still plan a budget around how much you can spend before the game makes any money and then how much you are prepared to continue spending at various different revenue levels. You should know when you are going to stop spending too. It is possible to continue spending money on a project that becomes very personal to you and it is helpful to plan upfront what the limits are to your spending. Every project should have kill criteria and I would definitely incorporate these into my marketing strategy.
- Marketing Channels:- There is a large variety of channels you can use for marketing. Big console games still rely heavily on events, news reviews and other PR, high advertising spend across TV, radio as well as online, launch parties and a number of other channels. Naturally, most developers don’t have these budgets so it is unlikely, for example, that you would even consider a TV ad in the early stages of your game marketing plan (if your game becomes the next Clash of Clans then you might well use TV ads quite a lot). This blog series is much more targeted at self-publishing indies, so we are going to make certain assumptions about budgets will which in turn focus our efforts around certain channels. For more constrained budgets, web and social tend to take priority along with cross-promotional networks. The best channel a game developer has is its existing customer base on other games it has launched. Never forget this … this is at the core of creating a successful indie games business today. Start somewhere and continually build a loyal audience from there across a range of titles.
- Measurement:- One of the most important things to do in advance of spending large amounts on marketing is to set up the measurement and reporting so that you can tell exactly what return you are getting from various channels. Unfortunately, given the wide variety of channels you may employ, there is unlikely to be a single reporting solution that will be able to track everything across all channels. Most of the stores are able to tell you where the referral came from however these are not 100% conclusive across all of the channels. Its a little bit trial and error, unfortunately, and the effectiveness of certain tools over others will depend a lot on the marketing channels you use. Understanding which channels are the most effective for you is a critical part of your ongoing marketing so a lot of thought needs to be given to it and we will post a blog on some recommended reporting methods at a later date.
All of these areas need to be considered carefully at the beginning of your game project and the analysis and conclusions are what make up your marketing strategy. I am working on one now, in fact, for a customer and will happily (and with their permission) publish it when done. Once the marketing strategy is complete and you understand how you want to try and market your game, the next step is to create a marketing plan. The marketing plan is much lower level and will specifically allocate money to certain channels that have been identified in the strategy. Over the coming weeks we are going to continue to publish new posts in this series about Game Marketing that deal with the channels that should make up most indies’ marketing plans. In particular we are going to cover the following:
- Part 2: Website, Micro-sites, SEO and Google
- Part 3: App Stores and other Distribution Platforms
- Part 4: Advertising and Cross Promotion
- Part 5: PR and Games Review Sites
- Part 6: Social Media Marketing
- Part 7: Other channels (by all means please suggest some you would like covered)
In all of the subsequent blogs, we will aim to provide numbers so that you can start to put together a budget. We will also aim to give various channels a ‘bang for buck’ rating. Of course, there are lots of ways to achieve the same end goals so it would be very helpful to get your comments on what has worked for you in the past. If you are looking for other reading material then I cannot recommend highly enough Nicholas Lovell’s How to Publish a Game (available here).
Lastly, I would like to wrap up by telling you not to worry too much. At its heart, marketing is a lot of fun – nearly as much fun, actually, as designing a game. In many ways it resembles playing a good strategy game or it can sort of be like fishing where you place a certain amount of strategically located nets and each day you check them to see how many fish you have caught. Marketing is all about maximizing your ‘catch’ per unit of spend and the exact approach that will deliver the most bang for buck can vary significantly.