We love success stories. These tales about amazing games getting the praise they deserve and breaking sales records in no time. Honestly though, how many can we actually name, from the top of our heads? A bunch, at most.
At the same time, according to Steam Spy, there were 7672 games released in 2017 on Steam only. That is more than 20 games a day & it means one thing and one thing only — that for every success story we got hyped by, there is a long line of titles that either failed or barely made it.
Considering that ratio, there is a high chance that the projects that we are working on right now, will end up somewhere in this long line. It might be frightening, but should not be ignored. What it should be, is analyzed and discussed so we could plan ahead and be better prepared to survive on this exciting yet highly competitive market of ours.
Gaming market, just as every other market out there is not binary and there is a wide spectrum to land on, between the total success and total failure. As much as the launch day success is important, there is a bunch of things one can actually do, to support ones product marketing and business wise long term. With well laid out marketing plan, we can not only significantly decrease the risk of failure, but also work out the recipe for the safest landing possible.
So, let’s touch few things that heavily influence the performance of a game as a product. Aside from its core quality. Because having good game is a must.PERIOD. Marketing starts with the game. In our field of work, everything basically does. So, you can try your hardest and initially you can have some results even, but if your game does not deliver, you’re doomed to fail in a long run.
EMBRACE THE DATA.
Assuming quality-wise you are covered, we may safely proceed to data & its value. There is no way to overestimate the importance of data. To say it is important, is to say nothing at all. Data is crucial. It allows to measure your performance and, what is even more important, to replicate the process that led to the initial success, or to avoid mistakes once made. After all, the more you know, the better you can prepare. The better prepared you are, the lesser the risk of failure. Obviously.
As digital as we are, we should have much more quantified information at hand. Starting with market trends, through marketing KPIs, sales analysis, to community management and customer service. It may sound boring and uptight, but it is necessary. There is so much we can learn from other categories, to leverage our business performance. And we should, as…
…gaming IS business after all. A great one and a fun one, but still a full fledged business. So, we should treat it as one. We are here to make amazing things, but also to make money out of them. Money that will allow us to make even better & bigger things.
PEOPLE, PRICES, PLACES.
At the same time, common mistake to make is to project your perception, your needs and wants, on the market as a whole. Developers like to say that they make games they would like to play. Design-wise it can be an understandable approach. Business-wise it is not.
- How strong is the category/genre/type your game belongs to?
- How big is your potential audience?
- How strong and active are your competitors and what is your condition in direct comparison?
These are totally valid questions to ask and there is a bunch of tools you can and should use to find proper answer to most of them.
Starting with Steam Spy obviously. Even though right now (as of May, 2018) it is not as accurate as it used to be, it can still provide you with a lot of valuable information.
Then you’ve got review aggregators (i.e. Metacritic), media portals and such. If you want to take your analysis a level higher, consider adding social media monitoring and campaign tracking tools on top of what I have already mentioned. They will allow you to understand the scale, condition as well as activity of your widely-understood community and build the foundation for your future communication planning.
Last but not least, there are campaign-specific databases (WARC, Adsoftheworld, to name just two) and browsing through them should give you at least few valuable cases to get inspiration from. Just keep in mind that gaming as category is usually not heavily represented on most of these platforms. All you are going to find will probably come from the AAA field. It can still be highly informative. Just not everything may be applicable to indie-marketing approach.
Your audience is a particularly interesting and worth exploring subject. Design-wise but especially business-wise.
- Does your category or genre have strong following?
- How many people can actually be interested in your game?
Then comes the matter of your pricing and the way it influences your potential sales. Obviously the lower the price the more attractive the offer, but that is not always the case. Sometimes the price that is too low can decrease the appeal of your game, affecting its image in a negative way. Also, tight pricing minimizes your flexibility regarding potential discounts & ‘promo’ activities.
Proper definition of pricing, audience profile and careful production cost management can allow you to estimate the overall profitability of your project.
That said, here appears another pitfall you can easily fall into regarding the segmentation of your audience. There is a thin line separating your advocates(vocal group creating the discourse around your game) and real spenders(generating your revenue). Both groups are valuable, but it is important not to confuse them with each other. Some genres have quite big following and active communities, but at the same time prove to be weak regarding their profitability. If I had to name an example, I would say that ‘point & click adventure games’ are ‘tricky to market’, to put it mildly. Apparently, as a community, we like to talk about ‘good old times’, watch a video compilation of some beloved titles from the 16-bit era, but then, we spend our money on more modern experiences.
And it makes sense, do not get me wrong. What I am trying to say is, while analyzing your consumer base, try to pinpoint your advocates as well as your potential spenders. Then use the first group accordingly in your communication planning, but regarding your sales predictions focus solely on the second group. That way you’ll avoid unnecessary disappointments and you’ll be better prepared when it comes to your marketing and publishing strategy.
PRODUCT & ITS BRANDING.
Having that part briefly covered let’s get to the trickier one. Working on games right now, from a business perspective you have to be a bit schizophrenic.
Product-wise you should cover all the bases. Having one strong aspect is usually not enough anymore. It’s like in the movies industry. Sure, new Michael Bay movies look good, but all Hollywood blockbusters generally do. To truly succeed, you need to be at least competitive on all the fields and then build your advantage on one of them. The one you want to own and be recognized for.
All the exceptions to that rule, that I can think of were created that way ‘by design’ and not due to the lack of effort or skills. Just think about it: Undertale doesn’t look exactly like God of War but there is a reason to it. Same goes for Virginia, which uses its simplified look to achieve certain tonality.
The bottom line is, while you have to be a jack of all trades when it comes to the development process, marketing and communication-wise you should be as single-minded as possible.
Competing on such tough and challenging market you need to break through the clatter. To achieve that, your message has to stick. With its clarity, simplicity and appeal. That’s cause games, just like all the other products out there, need their image, their positioning and all the other aspects defining a proper brand to be properly established.
Your game is like Coke…
Only way more awesome.
PLANNING & EXECUTION.
Then, proper brand design should be a foundation for your your communication planning. And you need a plan that will allow you to efficiently establish your game’s presence on the market. Rising the awareness, generating proper reach as well as the proper following for your title. That is because, as we have already established, good game is just not enough anymore.
So, plan ahead, covering all the steps of the journey leading you to the release of your title and beyond. Your objective is clear, yet pretty challenging. Especially that the average indie marketing budget is a bit limited. And there is a simple way to estimate it. Just take the launch price of your game (the one that you have agreed on) and multiply it by 75%, as you have to mind the platform cut. Then multiply your result by 85% due to the taxes and then by 60%, because the price of your game will change with time and you should base your estimation on an average price not the launch one. Subsequently, multiply your result by the estimated amount of copiesyou’re gonna push to the market, just to end the whole process by subtracting your production cost.
The number you’ll end up with is your estimated marketing budget and having this number, you should apply it to your timeline, considering all the pivotal points of your campaign, like major announcements, coverage of your release window and post release support.
It is as simple and as complicated as that.
It demands a lot of effort but also pays off if executed correctly.
Timing is crucial because you need proper following at least few months prior to your release, to gain the momentum and to boost both reach and awareness for your title. As I have once briefly mentioned earlier on, it is much more important than the media spike on the launch day. Prolonging your campaign too much, you risk loosing your initial momentum by watering your communication down and, obviously, running out of money in the process.
‘101’ AS IT IS:
Alright, to sum things up:
- Appreciation for data,
- proper brand & product design,
- campaign planning
These are the things I consider fundamental. Not covering them, you’ll fail. It is almost a given. Covering them, on the other hand, won’t guarantee you the success but will vastly increase your chances of survival. And that counts for something, right?
The choice is yours.