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Pocket Ponycorns and Chinese Brainwashing

How do you do pre-sales without collecting any money? Can you hold players to their promise to buy your game?

Ryan Creighton, Blogger

August 4, 2011

6 Min Read

[this article is cross-posted from the Untold Entertainment blog, which is awesome]

i try my best on this blog to give you sneak peaks at my strategies and the methods behind my madness, lest i come off as just plain crazy. My schemes to launch a media empire may appear misguided. What's up with ZombieGameWorld.com? Why did i come back from New York with a puppet? And how are the two related?

Elmo want braaains

Elmo want braaaains. (photo by Nora Warens)

(Rest assured, all will be revealed in due course.) One great tip i heard for getting along with people and resolving problems is that people don't do things for no reason. Almost always, there's purpose behind our actions, even if it's a bent purpose. Here, then, is a little glimpse at my ongoing strategy to market Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure on mobile devices.


i named the launch day for the iPad version of ponycorns "Ponycorn P'toosday". This is an absolutely ridiculous name. It doesn't really make any sense, and probably sounds stupid to most people. The reason i gave it a frustratingly insipid name is not because i thought the name itself was terribly clever. It's because i wanted something memorable, and stupid can be memorable. That's the clever bit. It's the same premise behind subtitling Alvin and the Chipmunks 2 "the Squeakquel". That's an absolutely retarded word that everyone i know absolutely despises. But it's memorable. And people repeat it, angrily, while fighting back smiles. It's detestably dumb. And oddly likable.


Hollywood pockets a LOT of our cash with the detestably dumb and the oddly likable.

So i released the game on the iPad. It took a lot of backflips and crying and asking friends and strangers for help, but it finally launched on Ponycorn P'toosday as planned. i reconfigured the Twitter hashtag to #touchPonycorns, which is still cute and weird, but i may have diluted my message. "Pocket Ponycorns", keeping with the "P" alliteration, is the move to put the game on the iPhone. Enough people wrote to me during the iPad release claiming they'd like to purchase the game, but gosh-darnit, they don't have iPads. Putting ponycorns on the iPhone requires some extra work, because i have to resize all of the game's graphics down to the smaller format. i have to do a bunch of testing, because the memory profiles of the phones and music players are slimmer than the tablets. And i don't own an iPhone, which makes testing more difficult. i could buy one, but all of this of course takes time and money - time and money i'm not keen on spending unless i can be assured i'd at least break even on my efforts.


(or i could make games out of the goodness of my heart, and let my family die of starvation)

Have Me Committed

i read a famous book last year called Influence by Robert Cialdini ... if you've read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, you've read many of the same case studies Cialdini talks about; the books cover a lot of common ground (although Cialdini predates Gladwell by decades). In Influence, the author lays out six "weapons of influence" that advertisers, marketers and salespeople use to control us. The book's conceit is that if we understand these weapons, we'll have power over them. It always struck me as a spurious excuse to teach these techniques. "i'm going to teach you how to build a bomb, so that if you ever see one on the street, you'll know how to dismantle it." Yeah, right.

Anarchist Cookbook

i'm so glad we have the Anarchist Cookbook to teach us to watch out for all that anarchy.

So being an advertiser/marketer/salesperson in the context of the ponycorns game, i decided to use one of Cialdini's weapons of influence to ensure i don't waste any time on an iPhone game that nobody buys. i'll quote directly from Wikipedia here:

Commitment and Consistency If people commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self image. Even if the original incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honor the agreement. For example, in car sales, suddenly raising the price at the last moment works because the buyer has already decided to buy. Cialdini notes Chinese brainwashing on American prisoners of war to rewrite their self image and gain automatic unenforced compliance.

My bright idea was to create a "petition" that people could sign, to convince us to release the ponycorns game on the iPhone and iPod. Really, it's just a mailing list sign-up form, but i like the connotation that the word "petition" bears. i'll have people commit to purchasing the iPhone version. Then i'll know if there's enough interest. If there IS enough interest, i'll build the game and send everyone an email. Cialdini's Commitment and Consistency principle promises that those people will buy the game, having committed. It's like a small-scale Kickstarter program, which is the digital equivalent of bumming change.

Program for food


In For a Penny, In For a Ponycorn

How's it gone so far? Following the initial announcement on Twitter, we've had 14 sign-ups. Do the math with me:

14 purchases (best-case scenario, if Cialdini's claim is bulletproof) @ $0.99 = $13.86 Subtract Apple's 30% cut: $9.70

Is nine dollars and seventy cents incentive enough to resize all the graphics for the game, do a bunch of testing, and possibly purchase a testing device? No. No it is not.

So! As it stands now, unfortunately we won't put the game on the iPhone or iPod. ... or i could use another one of Cialdini's weapons of influence:

Social Proof People will do things that they see other people are doing. For example, in one experiment, one or more confederates would look up into the sky; bystanders would then look up into the sky to see what they were seeing. At one point this experiment aborted, as so many people were looking up that they stopped traffic.

Rewriting History

(ahem) Holy cow! Our Pocket Ponycorns petition has been SO POPULAR, we've had to upgrade our hosting account to keep up with demand! Sign up for our mailing list NOW so that you, along with so many other people, will receive an email on THAT GLORIOUS DAY when Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure, beloved of millions, is released for the iPod and iPod touch.



PT Barnum

These veins bleed Barnum.

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