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Soapbox: Becoming A Better Game Marketer

In this Soapbox, Embassy's Scott Steinberg and GameRecruiter's Marc Mencher discuss why the field of video game marketing is changing so rapidly, thanks to convergence from other industries, and point out "just a few tips to help you become a better game

May 4, 2007

6 Min Read

Author: by Scott Steinberg, Marc Mencher

In this Soapbox, Embassy's Scott Steinberg and GameRecruiter's Marc Mencher discuss why the field of video game marketing is changing so rapidly, thanks to convergence from other industries, and point out "just a few tips to help you become a better game marketer". "If there’s one sign that gaming is coming of age, it’s the increasing number of outsiders flooding into the business. Film directors, venture capitalists, TV network execs, and music moguls are all sitting up and taking notice that overall video game industry sales are now topping $13.5 billion. No, it’s no longer just 18-34-year-old males who are excited about gaming. Today’s chances are greater than ever to hit it big in video games and score with products that not only rack up millions in sales, but that also resonate with insanely wide demographics. One simply needs to understand how promoting these goods differs from doing similarly for products in other industries. In other words, while marketing video games isn’t rocket science, what works in Hollywood may not work for a game like Halo. And what works when marketing a new music CD, seldom works when publicizing Grand Theft Auto. Here are just a few tips to help you become a better game marketer. Know Your Audience As with many industries, gamers are clearly divided into two camps -- casual gamers who play occasionally and have just a passing knowledge of the pastime, and hardcore players who spend endless hours voraciously consuming both new and classic titles. Needless to say, each is essentially its own self-contained society with different interests. Learning how to communicate with both and how to tailor game concepts and surrounding messages to reach both is crucial. It pays to spend time going hands-on with associated products to ensure that you’re familiar with each form of vernacular which will help you plot two-pronged marketing attacks. In other words, don’t target the readership of the magazine Game Informer with the same tactics as you would for the audience of “Good Housekeeping.” When it comes to choice of game subjects and promotional vehicles, one size does not fit all. Is Your Audience Broad Enough? Yes, games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars often connect with thousands of tech-savvy geeks worldwide. But don’t forget a sometimes-forgotten gaming audience. With the growing success of the casual games space -- which is popular with women 40 and up as well as with seniors -- there’s an entire market with nontraditional demographics out there waiting to be tapped. Ask yourself why Nintendo’s Wii is the fastest-selling next-generation game console today? Simple -- because it’s immediately accessible and appealing to all ages. Always remember that the titles in which you choose to invest will control your financial destiny. There’s no better way to improve marketability -- not to mention ROI -- than by setting your sights on the broadest possible range of end-users. Any time you have a smashing idea for a game, try this simple test. Consider whether a mother of three in Nashville who is walking into a Wal-Mart store will see it and immediately understand what you’re getting at. That’s because your game will ultimately wind up sitting there on the shelf right next to titles that are instantly recognizable, like Madden NFL ’08. If the everyday buyer can’t make sense of what you’re trying to sell in three seconds, what chance does it have of moving off that shelf? Go Wide Or Go Home Massive ad spends are well and good but, in the PC/video game space, success hinges on your ability to think small. A hip and highly computer-literate bunch, gamers don’t simply see a 30-second TV spot and think to themselves: “Sold!” The average price tag of a game console plus one game hovers $450 (much more for a hi-end gaming PC), which is quite costly for a large portion of the gaming demographic. What’s more, alternatives abound for both the platform itself and for the game title. Try scanning a store shelf to see how many sci-fi, first-person shooters there are. Consumers don’t choose games randomly; they can access countless channels -- from Web sites and newsgroups to TV shows, magazines, and even chatty friends -- to pick up information on what’s hot and what’s not. It can’t be repeated enough that you’ve got to hit the influencers from several angles, using multiple, highly targeted vehicles to reach out to them. As a general rule, several smaller impression-generating tactics that play out over an extended timeframe will serve you better than a single, larger, attention-getting gimmick. Never mind the quick hits! It’s all about building familiarity and establishing context over a greater period of time. At the very least, expect that a casual shopper, who is both internet-addicted and socially minded, will hear about a gaming product from more than one source of information. Empower The Enthusiast Consumers are savvier than ever. Sticking a two-page spread into PC Gamer magazine or simply shoving an in-game billboard touting a complementary product into the latest hi-res racing simulation isn’t necessarily going to make a true believer out of anyone. What’s more, both choices can be costly propositions. Instead, give gamers the tools they need to tout your brand in a manner that’s both valuable and constructive to all parties involved. For instance, consider building an online portal that lets users create profiles, engage in ongoing discussions, find new opponents, or exchange custom-create maps and characters. Design a level editor into your product so gamers can swap new missions and weapons. Provide the graphic files that fans can use to construct a fan site. It’s all about interactivity. The more ways consumers have to enjoy your game, the more they’ll become personally invested in the title, the greater value they’ll garner, and the more time they’ll spend in front of your game. And, of course, the more hours they’ll invest working as unpaid labor to help you tout your product. Educate Yourself Face it, there’s a simple, underlying reason we’re even having this discussion. Thanks to the dawn of new technologies and platforms like Web 2.0, social networking, digital distribution, and massively multiplayer gaming, the games business is literally changing daily. Even 20-year marketing vets are having to relearn their craft. Seriously, how many of them really understand how to work hand-in-hand with influential blogs like Kotaku and Joystiq? At the very least, it’s an absolute must that you attend 2007 MI6 Conference to keep up with trends, network with peers, and get a sense of what the competition is doing. The upshot is this: If you really want to learn how to improve your games marketing skills, make products fly off the shelf, and rack up millions in revenues, it pays to invest in your continuing education and take an active interest in the biz." [Scott Steinberg is managing director of Embassy Multimedia Consultants. Marc Mencher is a specialist in the game industry careers who works with jobseekers via his firm, GameRecruiter.com.]

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