I am a gamer. And have been for the last 25 years or so, starting with an Atari 65XE that my parents bought at a local pawnshop in the late 80s. Amiga 500+ that taught me how to fluently swap floppies, early Pentium PCs revealing beauty of awkward 3D environments & last but not least a bunch of consoles. Now I tend to mix everything whenever I find time to play games. And believe me, I do find time to play.
On the other hand I’ve been part of the advertising industry for the last twelve years as a brand/communication strategist, working for local and global brands across the markets. That experience gave me quite a unique perspective on what’s happening on the gaming market nowadays. I see evolution of gaming from a marketer’s POV & how marketing tries to catch up from a gamer's one. That’s a perk making my work exciting.
I say ‘my work’, because at some point I decided to merge those two parallel paths (meaning gaming & advertising) and joined 11 bit studios as head of strategy & marketing. Long story short - I’m having the time of my life, but let’s get to the point.
It’s safe to say that everyone who’s worked in any kind of creative industry felt the tension between makers & marketers. People who bring ideas to life & those who shape them into products.
That common thing is especially visible in gaming - a relatively young industry that to some extent has grown in isolation from a “standard” marketing ecosystem. It’s a world of gamemakers & devoted gaming communities following their favorite titles, series & genres. If mythical ‘lovebrands’ (sorry for the overused agency buzzword) exist - ‘gaming’ is the land of their origin & everyday existence. Try to name one other industry where ‘consumers’ actively search not only for new products but also commercials or any other bit of information for that matter. We love what we do. As creators & consumers. Our job/hobby, depending on point of view, shape us to some degree and that’s absolutely amazing.
Obviously, the market is evolving. And it’s doing so rapidly. Bigger & much (much) more complicated projects imply bigger teams, budgets & at the end of the day bigger expectations in terms of revenue. On the other hand we are dealing with a big but still limited amount of people not only playing games but also willing to pay for quality entertainment.
That makes our environment quite competitive & demanding. Communication clutter is getting denser as we seek wider audiences potentially interested in our games.
Having good games is simply not enough anymore. Many good games are released every month. The fact that most of us are not aware of them only proves that having the high quality product is just the first step. Clever marketing is a must. And it does not matter if your game is big-budget AAA or niche indie title.
You (we) have to learn how to include marketing planning as a coherent element of the overall development process. That’s because only those campaigns that are able to grab the game’s essence & translate it into clever communication will be able to succeed. And we need that success more than ever, because a huge part of the battle for gamers’ hearts takes place before the game hits the shelves.
So we look for the holy grail. A perfect recipe that will allow us to reach the sweet spot in terms of what & how to tell about our game to achieve the highest efficiency possible. We pump up the budgets even further, smarten up the visuals, edit trailers to catchy songs & put sweet kittens in between the shots. All that to stand out for a while. To steal a few seconds of people’s precious time. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. And the reason is, flashy effects & high-end fireworks, as important as they seem to be, can only get you so far. At the end of the day the clue is how relevant you are. Do you actually have anything to say that people can care about. Something they can relate to. And don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to redefine somebody's life every time you launch a campaign. Finding the right context for your game usually gets the job done. Having a guitar simulator maybe address someone’s dream of playing a perfect serenade for her/his loved one (becoming a rock star is way to obvious) while launching simplistic shooter, prove it to be the perfect after-work stress reliever. Choices are infinite as long as whatever you choose as a foundation for your campaign will remain true to both your game & your consumer. Whether you have a significant budget allowing for full-fledged 3d renders or you have to work with simple animatics is secondary. A smart, relevant idea works, even as a rough sketch, while nothing will save a contrived story. Nothing.
Recently I’ve seen a brilliant japanese TVC for Hearthstone that managed to sell the game’s premise, whilst not showing the actual game itself until the last few seconds of the video. It told a story of a young employee in some big corporation who did not have to pay respects to her boss, because she’d been a better Hearthstone player. That story, while briefly related to the game itself, explained perfectly what the game is all about. What’s crucial it did that in a way totally understandable not only to gamers but all the potential viewers. It said that Hearthstone is a game of competition and domination. A game that, once you prove your skills, can bring you respect and deference. That’s something totally understandable and appealing not only for gaming enthusiasts but for all of us, as we crave for those things each and every day on so many levels. Authors of this commercial did two crucial things perfectly. First of all they were able to perfectly grasp the essence of the game itself. Second, they translated it into an universal and relatable story. A simple yet challenging recipe all of us should be aware of. A recipe making our game something more than ‘just’ a complex composition of mechanisms and assets. It becomes a full fledged (pop)cultural building block serving as a part of everyday discourse.
Because at the end of the day, no matter the genre, style or type of our game, once it’s able to trigger an opinion or even to spark a conversation in line with its core premise - we know we’re on the right track. That’s the goal we should aim for with every activity we undertake as a part of our campaign. All the formal aspects like scale or budget being a secondary thing.