[Gamasutra's business editor Colin Campbell talks to three joypad manufacturing companies to find out how they use Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to guide their R&D as well as their marketing.
All companies are using social media to reach consumers, to market and to receive feedback. But in the gamepad and accessories sector, this exchange isn't just about marketing, it reaches deep into research and development.
KontrolFreek sells gamepad accessories direct-to-consumers, little $10-to-$20 thumb-pad extensions that are sold as improving performance in specific genres, like FPS games or arcade fighters.
Word-of-mouth marketing, mostly via social media channels, has attracted 200,000 new customers to the company's products in the last 18 months. This company that sells small pieces of plastic with no moving parts has 67,000 Facebook friends. But it never launches a product without extensive consultation with its user base.
Power A is a more traditional maker of joypads and controllers, with a line in products based on licenses like Lego and Batman. It is also seeking to offer custom experiences that improve the gamer's interaction and performance. Although it sells to retail as well as direct, it makes use of social media to float new ideas to consumers, and sniff out new trends and opportunities.
And MadCatz, a big player in he controllers market, uses elite consumers to test its own design ideas for products aimed at the high end.
KontrolFreek CEO Ashish Mistry says, "Deep consumer contact helps us avoid creating a whole load of bad products that people don't want. A small group of engaged consumers can steer you in the right direction and away from ideas that you thought were great, but which evidently aren't going to work in the market. We've scrapped plenty of ideas we thought would be great, after we heard consumer reactions at an early stage in development. They often challenge all our assumptions."
He adds, "As a result we're very nimble. We can turn things around quickly. We can hear their ideas, and have something in their hands in a few weeks, and we can still make improvements based on feedback. The consumers do the heavy lifting."
At Power A, John Moore, divisional VP of product development and marketing says the market is changing. Keeping up via social channels is essential. "This market used to be about functionality and utility. But now it's about delivering an emotional experience. People are looking for something different, something that adds to their experience. That's some of the reason for the success of our license-branded products like the Lego Play & Build Remote for Wii. There's no substitute for direct consumer feedback."
Lucky Evani, VP sales of consumer products adds, "There's been a tremendous change in the market, an influx of people who did not previously play games. This has resulted in new and different demands in terms of fashion, ergonomics, uniqueness. How do we keep abreast of these trends? By getting immediate feedback through social media, the web and other platforms. That's how we find out that, for example, they want the A button on their Wii remote to be significantly bigger. That data helps drive our design process. But it's not just a design process. Community is also about marketing and driving sales."
Mad Catz CEO Darren Richardson believes the best quality feedback comes from experts, albeit ones drawn from the public. "We aim our products at the elite end of the market, high-end products for consumers who demand performance. So we find it most useful to work with professional gamers who can give us valuable insights into how to refine our designs and perfect the experience that we offer. It's not that we don't believe in consumer feedback and social media - we do social outreach - but when we work with these pro-gamers we get insights from the people who are best placed to understand what makes the perfect controller or mouse for a particular function."