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Friction Baby! Physics Meets Marketing

Physics meets marketing and has a lucrative lovechild. When to impede and when to laissez-faire when marketing. I'm down to get the friction on!

Alan Youngblood, Blogger

June 9, 2011

7 Min Read

Physics defines friction as the rubbing of two bodies against another. I'm sure the silly Sir Mix-A-Lot reference does the same, with a different meaning for the word “bodies.”

I would rather focus on an effect of friction for this marketing definition: resistance.

First to bust a myth: this mentality of “if you build it they will come” only worked for Kevin Costner. In a world where people talk about how “sex sells” even sex does not actually sell itself. (The people working in that [illegal/taboo] industry might be said to “sell themselves” but sex itself does not sell itself.

Allow me to explain because ironically illegal and taboo industries like sex, pornography and drug dealing have something that you should copy. Imagine a prostitute that stays at home all the time. Do you imagine s/he gets any business? There's a reason people talk about those folks “working the corner” that's where they do marketing. That's the first thing they do right: they are available in areas with many potential clients walking by. But that alone does not necessarily get them business.

Like lots of indie game developers, my company is working on a title that is for mobile platforms. The iOS store is so flooded that while there are many customers, there's very little attention that generally gets paid to anything that isn't named “Angry Birds.” (I'm not knocking the game, I'm simply stating that it's hard to get your game noticed even right beside it.)

Your game is out and it's awesome. So what? If I'm already playing Angry Birds or a perhaps deeper experience in EA's Dead Space on my iPhone why do I care about your game? Given the nature of how easy it is to get lost in the noise indies like us need to focus on standing out and making it easier.

This means you need attention. The profit rule of the internet age is: where attention flows, there too flows money. And money must flow to do business. The two biggest natural barriers of friction to people paying you are attention and value-add. The value-add is simply (but not necessarily easily in execution) making a fun game that many people will enjoy. The attention is another article altogether, so stay tuned for that. The basic overview is: be out there, be honest, be exciting, give people a reason to stay with you.

To tie back in the drug dealing part of the metaphor with friction(resistance) let's examine California politics. For Marijuana users living in Cali last year Proposition 19 seemed like a big deal. At least it did for this non-user on the outside looking in. I thought for certain Prop 19 would pass and legalize the ownership and usage of Marijuana for any purpose. But it hardly ever stood a chance.

Why was I wrong? Let's consider users and dealers. They are the main demographic that cares about legalization of their favorite plant. What happens when it becomes legal? Basically laws, paperwork, taxes, more business overhead, etc. So many voted to against legalizing the substance. It added too much friction to what they were doing.

Great, so what does that mean for my game you say? No, I'm not suggesting you smoke a bowl to celebrate release. That's your personal prerogative and still currently illegal in all of the US where I live. What I'm saying is that you need to cut out any friction like payments, tedious sign-ups, etc. for the discovery process for your game. Consider the weed dealer again. S/he is likely to give out not just a crappy sample, but the best stuff for free. The important thing to note is that weed will get used up and the user will need to buy more. This is where we as game developers will want to add back in friction. Once the demo/free version should end right when it has whetted their appetite for more. Then have the next part ready for them to buy.


Practical methods:

Free demo showcasing whats best about your game. This means chopping up your game into another game possibly. Keep some options of the good content for your paid game alone, but have a good sample of the best your game has to offer. Ideally this should be from some time in the middle of your game(you get cooler items in most games the more you play so why would you show of the crappy n00b hammer instead of the Epic Hammer of the Gods that looks really cool?) and less story driven. I'll get to that next.

Free trailer video of the story. Have cool cut scenes? This is the time you want to show of direct from game footage. Any other time I personally prefer to include a person playing it and or talking about it. There's a good reason for adding this human touch and it again goes back to reducing friction for discovery and use. People that see other people playing and enjoying a game can visualize themselves playing and enjoying a game much easier than without seeing that.

Add value with marketing material. If you've been to an industry conference you'll likely have noticed the free swag. That's just one way of doing it though. If you have something that is used by other people they are more likely to see and appreciate your brand than if you are just yelling at them. People like to be served first before they dish out their time/cash. This reduces friction to entry as the opportunity cost of your marketing is cheaper than others. Getting free value with branding vs free advert yelling at you, which would you choose as a consumer? The saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

Free-to-play(F2P) games. As a disclaimer you must do this from the start with a game, because it's difficult to put it in later without coming off the wrong way to gamers. F2P blossomed in the Asian markets like Korea where piracy was rampant. Instead of complaining about piracy like Western business workers do, they outsmarted it and came up with a better business model that eliminated piracy by nature. For Western world markets, I suggest finding a way to do it without too much grind and perhaps offering a fresh gameplay style/setting (that is not the typical Asian MMORPG fantasy world). Reference League of Legends for example. Many of these games have friction in them that they charge to remove per customer. I think a fair way to do it without being “evil” is to charge for the asset not the instance. But that might be why I'm not rich like Zynga :P

Go Multiplatform in every sense. Stay away from releasing to platforms that you are not able to. This should go without saying, but us game devs are notorious for spreading ourselves too thin. From a tech standpoint this means using an engine like Unity3D that allows easy publishing where ever you want it. In marketing this means promote your game/company on your website, your facebook page, your twitter account, at conferences, with friends, with family, with strangers you meet, with your blog, with any other blog. If you do something “exclusive” with a media outlet make sure they are delivering enough views an interactions.

Allow and encourage fans to make things relating to your game. One of the stupidest things big companies do is to shoot down fan-made tribute games, machinama, fan-fics, fan-art and similar things. You are starting a movement with your company and games. The best way to foster growth to the movement (which turns into more customers) is to treat them with equal respect. Encourage people to make these things, it's like free advertising that works better than paid stuff. Offer to feature them on your website or link to them.

When it's time to ask for money, make sure the customer does not have to click a lot or enter too much information. With technology these days it can be almost as easy as the money teleporting instantaneously to your account from your customers. Do not dick around with them by the way you design your pay system. That's all in your control. The bottom line of this point is also the summary of this article: make it as easy and desirable as possible for customers to part with their cash. To make it desireable add-value, to make it easy remove all the friction.

Follow Alan's personal twitter @apyoungblood
View Mighty Rabbit Studios on facebook and like us!
View Mighty Rabbit Studios on the web
Both sites have examples of Alan's marketing
Read more about marketing indie games from Alan at IndiePub 

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