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A Great Game Isn’t Enough

Just making a great game isn't enough to guarantee success. Even more frightening is that adding PR and marketing to a great game still might not be enough to garner widespread public appeal. What do we do now?

Just making a great game isn’t enough to guarantee success. Even more frightening is that adding PR and marketing to a great game still might not be enough to garner widespread public appeal. What do we do now?
 

The Problem:


As a consumer, there are too many options. There are more developers making more games on more platforms than ever before. Not even the most dedicated gamer could possibly consume every good game released into the current market. Consumers also have huge backlogs of unplayed bargains and bundled titles, in addition to ever-expanding access to decades of classic hits. In this crowded market, how do we get anyone to know our great game exists?
 

Developers must find a way to get attention. If you are making a game and you aren’t working on exposure from the start, you aren’t likely to see commercial success.
 

Take Control:


As developers we can’t wait for someone else to solve our problem. We can’t rely on platforms to improve discoverability. It isn’t the responsibility of Valve or Apple or Microsoft to promote our game. They provide us the platform and collect their portion of the proceeds. We must be proactive in our approach to discoverability. We can’t wait to get lucky, even if luck can be a factor in big success stories.
 

Our approach:


We must have a great game. If the game is seriously flawed, we fix that first. However, I would suggest that great exposure starts with the initial game concept. We shouldn’t just start making our favorite game without first thinking about how to get attention for that game. The game is going to be a commercial product, after all. It deserves some careful planning.
 

The question we ask ourselves is: How do I get the attention of potential players, people who haven’t played my game yet?
 

I am talking about attracting players before they play our game. We can’t rely on a good game by itself when our target hasn’t had a chance to play it yet. There needs to be something about my game that will get attention, a hook for bystanders and passersby.
 

Even more challenging is the need to be innovative. The “proven methods” lose power over time. Intrigue turns to disinterest. New mechanisms and techniques are always needed to keep marketing fresh. The best ideas haven’t been tried yet. We can’t get caught in the trap of seeing others succeed and saying, “I can do that too.”
 

Some Areas to Consider:


The need for a “Big Idea” is absolute. But the “Big Idea” must be unique to the game in question. Otherwise it doesn’t seem so… big. There are some things to consider that might help to spawn ideas. Even with the crucial need to look ahead for innovation, inspiration can come from the road behind. You can take an old concept and inject new elements for a fresh approach.

Blue Ocean

Early adopters of iOS earned boatloads of money in part because they made good games, but also because competition was limited. Can you accurately predict the rise of a surprise platform or distribution method and reach it while the market is uncluttered?

Development Story

The press are suckers for unique developer stories. The same game might get increased coverage because of a strange inspiration, bizarre process or unorthodox team. Is there something truly unique and compelling about you and your development process? If not, what could you do differently?

Game Message

Games with a strong social message have been hailed as masterpieces, not only for outstanding polish or innovative game mechanics but simply because of the message. Do you have a fresh, timely and powerful take on a critically important and underserved topic?

Social

When the first social games used Facebook to spam everyone, it was innovative and very effective. Now it can serve as a one way ticket to a boycott. People still use socially platforms constantly. Can you provide new and effective methods to motivate and encourage your players to evangelize your game without annoying them?

Monetization

The first cheap, $.99 games grabbed attention. Now everything is $.99 or 90% off. New ways to monetize content have sprung up in recent years. Ideas like pay what you want, developer donations, game bundles and other interesting variable price options have proven to be effective in the past. Can you be the first to implement a new and compelling method to earn money?

Fame

If you already have one million twitter followers or you can’t walk down the street without an autograph request, you might be set. Is there a way you can get a huge number of followers and active fans to help guarantee the success of your next game? Can you team up in an innovative way with someone who already is famous on social media?

What’s Old is New

Bringing back a nostalgic game has pre-sold a fair number of games recently. Whole genres have been exhumed and cleaned up to dazzle new generations of gamers. Who knows what other blasts from the past will translate to bushels of cash. Is there an untapped and totally new way to take advantage of the love of something old school?
 

A Lot More

We can continue to look back. Not to copy but to learn and improve. This list is nowhere near exhaustive. In fact, the truly creative will probably come up with something so innovative it won’t be on any list, until you do it successfully and everyone else tries it too.
 

Get Crazy

This approach won’t be for everyone. If you just want to make a great tower defense game with some cool new features, you might not see the need to try all these fancy tricks. The game may speak for itself. But if you want a shot at creating something as big as Facebook you aren’t likely to stumble across that game without a very progressive concept.
 

To lean on a cliche, we need to think outside the box. The very best solutions to the discoverability problem will be entirely new, different and even shocking at first. They will affect the nature and design of the games you make. I hope these ideas have inspired you to think of a way to get exposure that is custom fit to your team and your game. Trust me, it will save you a ton of headache later to ponder the fundamentals up front.

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