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Marketing a VR & non-VR game. The Perks & Challenges

VR is in its very early days and taking Dead Secret, a game designed for traditional platforms and VR, to market today presents serious marketing challenges as well as some nice unique benefits.

The days leading up to a game's launch are exciting. Nerve-racking too, no doubt, but thrilling and always interesting. If that game happens to one designed both for traditional platforms and VR, these are particularly interesting times. Launching a game designed in such a way comes with both distinct marketing opportunities and challenges, some of which we have experienced by working closely with indie developers Robot Invader in taking Dead Secret to market. Dead Secret, a story-driven mystery thriller focused on exploration and investigation where you delve into a dead man’s bizarre past to correctly name the killer, hits digital shelves on Monday. It will arrive in two different flavors on two different platforms:

  • non-VR version on Steam*. This version will also land on PS4 and PS3 later this year.
  • VR version on Oculus Rift. This version will also launch on the PlayStation VR later this year.

We will start with some marketing thoughts on the latter because Oculus is a new platform and, simply put, VR is so hot right now.

The good

It is easy to get caught up in the hype but this is in fact a very exciting time for VR. Oculus Rift, the device that kicked off (re)enthusiasm in VR for most, arrives in its retail glory next Monday (March 28th) with 30 launch games. HTC Vive, selling well, will launch next month and PlayStation VR later this year. If you followed the news stemming from last week’s GDC, you know that there was a whole lot of interest from developers surrounding VR. All of this is great news for VR and good news if you are developing for VR. Dead Secret will ship on Oculus the same day consumers get the headset in their hands (on their heads?) and there are some valuable marketing related things you get for “free” by being an Oculus launch title:

  • gaming press more interested than usual. If your game is a VR game, right now you have a higher probability that people will listen to your pitch, potentially increasing your odds to break through the noise. That doesn’t make getting any form of coverage easy by any means. But that door is slightly more open than usual. 
  • non-gaming press interested. Right now is a somewhat finite time where the potential pool of press folks you can target with a VR game is larger than what will be seen going forward. Those in the non-gaming tech press or even mainstream press are today a target for coverage. This will not always be the case and is valuable, though probably less than many may think (more below).
  • high visibility. This isn’t unique to VR but rather the benefit of shipping with any new plaform. The marketplace is not crowded. For Oculus, there are 30 games at launch. By being included, Dead Secret makes up 3.3% of all the games available on the platform. Contrast that to Steam where, if 6000 is used as the total games number, Dead Secret will make up ~.0167% of all games.

The bad

From a marketing standpoint, VR is not all gravy. The biggest problem, and this won’t be news to most, is there are not a lot of folks in the “awareness business" that have the VR device that is necessary to play your game. Generally before and as you approach a launch, you want those YouTubers, streamers, and folks in the traditional press that would be a good fit for your game to play it. Increased awareness at various points before your game comes to market is a very good thing. So who in the “awareness business” has VR devices? YouTubers = very few. Streamers = even less. Traditional press = larger than usual (as outlined above). The larger than usual pool of tradition press, while a positive, does not come close to balancing out the low amount of YouTubers and streamers. If successful in courting the traditional press, it will be good for quotes and other optics but it’s unlikely many of those in this temporary larger pool attract the right type of audience for your game. You want gamers. The type of gamers who would potentially purchase and enjoy your game. The types of gamers who "discover" on YouTube and Twitch. As an indie, traditional press more often than not does not move the needle. YouTube and Twitch move the needle and the vast majority of folks here don’t have an Oculus or, because it’s not the best to record or live stream with a headset on, don’t have any interest in getting one.

And the ugly beautiful 

With Dead Secret, Robot Invader made a significant decision early on in development. Becoming a full-fledged VR game had a dramatic influence on the core design, but the team was careful to maintain a traditional version in parallel. The result is a game uniquely designed for both VR and traditional platforms, providing an equally compelling experience on either one. From a marketing lens, that early decision was pivotal as it allowed for much greater flexibility that removed some of the VR outreach constraints outlined above and increased our addressable market for those in the "awareness business” considerably. We still had to tackle some tricky messaging questions - How do we craft simple messaging that pitches both VR and non-VR? Do we call the non-VR version “flat," “2D," “traditional," "non-VR," something else? Is it simply confusing to include both VR and non-VR in the copy? - but those were minor issues and good problems to have since they were a byproduct of our ability to reach out to a much larger set of folks.

VR is in its very early days and that presents serious marketing challenges today, as well as some nice unique benefits. As the platforms and industry mature, there will be new marketing opportunities for devs and publishers to evaluate. Whether that be a Twitch of VR or a YouTube of VR or something completely different. The day will arrive when a VR creator will have just as much marketing flexibility and options as a non-VR and VR title such as Dead Secret has today.

*every Dead Secret purchase on Steam comes with a free unlock code for the Oculus Rift version

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