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Mobile game marketing tips from Surprise Attack's Chris Wright

Surprise Attack, a marketing support company for indie devs, launched earlier this month. Co-founder Chris Wright, an industry publishing veteran, discusses marketing tips with Gamasutra.

Mike Rose, Blogger

January 26, 2012

5 Min Read

There's one particular area of game development in which it's arguable that indie developers, in general, aren't exactly the masters -- marketing and promotion. Fortunately, there are avenues which they can potentially travel down to make life easier for themselves. Surprise Attack is one such helping hand, touting itself as a marketing support company for independent game developers. Having launched as a beta in October of last year, Surprise Attack fully launched earlier this month with 12 mobile developers already making use of the company's services. Of course, the big question for any developer trying to decide whether it's worth using a service such as this is: Why bother? What will it offer that I can't do for myself for free? "The key things we offer as compared to doing it alone are scale, experience, contacts and the ability for the developer to focus on what they do best - making great games - rather than trying to do the marketing themselves," explains co-founder Chris Wright to Gamasutra. Wright is an industry veteran who has handled marketing campaigns for such big-name game publishers as THQ, Microsoft, Sega, Capcom and Disney, so it's fair to assume that he knows what he's talking about. "Because we're representing 20-25 games a year compared to the 1-2 games a developer might release a year, we are more like a publisher," he continues. "That makes it more efficient for media, platform holders etc to deal with us. We'll be talking to the media pretty much every week and that should give us an advantage when it comes to getting coverage or support." Wright admits that his past expertise in the console and PC publishing space means that he "would hesitate to claim we're experts on the mobile space just yet," but that everything he is learning on the games he's currently working with is being applied to future marketing pushes. Surprise Attack is also constantly adding to its increasing list of connections, from platform holders to distribution partners around the world, plus funding bodies and, of course, a flurry of developers. "One thing that is important to us is that the developers we work with are still involved in the marketing," he adds. "We don't just take it off their hands. It's important that they're still involved and in control and that they learn as much as possible too." "We also keep true to the independent aspect of our clients and steer away from the way a more corporate PR works - the goal is to be an amplifier for our clients, not start putting barriers between the media or public and the developer." The company currently focuses on mobile and tablet publishing, as Wright points out, "it's a lot more efficient for us to focus on one market whilst we're still small as it's one set of media, one set of market factors to understand and follow and so on." That doesn't appear to have limited the scope of developers the company can work with too much, however, as Wright reveals that he's had so many developers signing up to the service, that he's had to turn many down. Fortunately, for those developers who aren't able to jump onboard, Wright has plenty of advice to share regarding how to get up and running with your own marketing angle of attack. "The first thing is to start with the positioning of the game itself," he explained. "What is really unique and interesting about it? What makes it different from other games in its genre and stand out in general?" "Find that hook - the elevator pitch - and then make sure that's how you're presenting the game in everything you do. If you don't have a strong position or elevator pitch, you might need to go back and take a look at the game." His second tip is to not rely solely on reviews and press. "It's really hard in a crowded market like the App Store to get significant amounts of PR," he notes. "There's too many games fighting for attention." "You need a plan that goes beyond announcing the game and trying to get it reviewed because those reviews might never happen. That might involve ads on websites, or in-game channels such as PlayHaven or Flurry's App Circle or other promotional channels such as using Free App A Day to drive up your user-base." Plan for the future of your game too, says Wright. "You need to plan for price drops and sales. You should be doing price promotion activity relatively often because there are a lot of sites that take the App Store RSS feeds and post lists of the latest price drops." "Finally, more than anything else you need to be trying to get noticed by the platform holders and earn their support," he suggests. "That means thinking about games that push the platform or use its features, games that stand out and offer something different and games that are of a good quality and well polished. All of which are good things to be in any case but they'll also help you get attention from the teams that decide which games get featured." Wright also has plenty of advice on how not to go about things - the core of which is to stay honest to both the press and your customers -- "Don't try to hoodwink the media or the consumer," he explains. "Another thing to avoid is the long-winded email, press release or App Store description," he continues. "When talking to the media focus on the elevator pitch and provide easy access to more info if they want it. Don't give them War and Peace in the pitch." His final big turn-off is generic descriptions for your studio or your game, that will simply leave the reader bored. "Words like 'quality', 'unique', 'innovative' are totally over-used and pretty much meaningless now," he sighs. "You can add 'visceral' and 'cinematic' to that list too." "It's surprising how often I see a studio describe itself on the website as 'an independent studio making quality games'. You need to put some flavor in how you describe yourself and your games; have a position on the kinds of games you want to make, the principles you follow and what makes you different from the hundreds and thousands of other independent developers out there."

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