Note: This is the third post in a series. If you’re new, start with the intro post.
If a videogame creates a new category then it’s likely to become the undisputed leader. But being first does not automatically mean your game will become the leader. It only gives you the license to do so. What’s important is to establish the perception of leadership in the mind of players.
Old entertainment industries (books, music and movies) know this rule very well. If a book doesn’t make the best-seller lists in its first weeks, then it will never make it. If a movie doesn’t open with a big weekend, it’s not going to become a blockbuster.
A starving crowd of players
The key is advance publicity. You have to use publicity to create demand before your game is published. You have to get what according to the famous copywriter Gary Halbert is a “starving crowd”.
In one of his seminars by mail, Gary asked this question to his students:
“If you and I both owned a hamburger stand and we were in a contest to see who would sell the most hamburgers, what advantages would you most like to have on your side?”
Some people said they would like to have the advantage of having superior meat from which to make their hamburgers. Others said they want sesame seed buns. Others mentioned the location. Someone wanted to be able to offer the lowest prices.
And so on.
After his students finished telling what advantages they would most like to have, Gary told them:
“OK, I’ll give you every single advantage you asked for. I, myself, only want one advantage and, if you will give it to me, I will whip the pants off of all of you when it comes to selling burgers!”
“What advantage do you want?” they asked.
“The only advantage I want,” he replied, “is a STARVING CROWD!”
Motion Picture industry is using massively this “starving crowd” strategy. Why do you think teasers and trailers exist? Movies are announced years before the release date to create a starving crowd and get people excited.
They also magnify the first-weekend numbers by opening the movie in as many theatres as possible. If more theatres screen the movie, then more people will end up seeing it.
Put these two techniques together and the result is assured.
For example, Captain Marvel was released in the United States in 4,310 cinemas. That’s about 10% of all theatres. Additionally, Captain Marvel character made his first appearance at the end of Avengers – Infinity War, creating a massive hype. The result? The movie made around $153 million in the first weekend.
The advertising generated by these first sales generates the necessary word of mouth to strengthen the brand. People want to see what other people see. A film that opens with a big splash creates the perception that it’s a “must-see” movie.
All this word of mouth also creates strong social pressure.
I have a friend who paid for the HBO subscription just to watch the first episode of the latest Game of Throne series. The reason? Because the next day everyone in the office would have talked about it and he didn’t want to feel isolated.
A starving crowd for Stardew Valley
You should constantly be on the lookout for groups of players who have demonstrated that they are starving (or at least hungry) for a particular type of videogame.
For example, think about Stardew Valley.
In mid-2012, after nearly a year of working daily on Stardew Valley, Barone launched a website and started posting about the game on Harvest Moon fan forums, where there were plenty of people sharing his belief that the series had gone downhill. Those same people were instantly drawn to Stardew Valley.
Once a month, Barone posted an update on the Stardew Valley website, outlining new features. By the end of 2013, Barone had hundreds of followers watching and leaving friendly comments on each of his blog posts.
He didn’t know it, but it was unconsciously creating a starving crowd for his game. Sooner, fans asked when the game would come out. The rest is history.
Once you have created a starving crowd, enabling pre-ordering of your game is the next step. Again, the goal is to create word of mouth and the needed social pressure to persuade people to buy a videogame immediately, rather than waiting. Players want to play what their friends play and if a game opens the first week with a record of sales then it automatically becomes the game to play.
The majority wins, especially when it comes to perceptions.
Create a new genre…and a starving crowd will arrive
To maximise this result, your main purpose should be to create a new genre and position your game in the mind of the players as its leader.
There is no advantage in being the first unless you can use that opportunity to also become the leader in the player’s mind.
Castle Wolfenstein was the first video game to introduce the Stealth genre, but it was Metal Gear that first entered the players’ mind.
Canabalt was the first endless run video game, but it was Temple Run that first entered the minds of the players.
Conventional marketing claims that there is no advantage in being first. It’s true. Being first on the market does not necessarily lead to being first in the mind of the players. It’s most important to be first in their mind.
Players are human beings and human beings are governed by emotions. When you manage to be the first in the player’s mind, your videogame creates a powerful emotional connection with the player. This means that even if your videogame loses its market leadership, it will be very difficult for it to lose its emotional connection with the player.
As you saw in the previous article, Pac-Man is no longer the leading brand of arcade games, but people still remember him because he was the first to establish an emotional connection with the players.
PlayerUnknown’s Battleground is no longer the market leader of the Battle Royal category (Fortnite is) but it’s still perceived as the creator of the genre. Fortnite is instead perceived as a clone.
The power of imprinting
This phenomenon is similar to the natural one called “imprinting” and described by the ethologist Konrad Lorenz in his book “King Solomon’s Ring”.
Imprinting is that particular type of instinctive learning that takes place within the first 24-48 hours after birth. Lorenz’s studies started from the observation of geese and ducks that, just after birth, tend to follow the first moving object or person they see, identifying him as their mother. During his observations, Lorenz also realized that he had become an adoptive mother for some ducklings who had bonded affectionately to him. Imprinting occurs both in birds and mammals, therefore also in humans.
When your videogame is the first brand of a new category, then it’s perceived as the creator of the genre.
The real and original one.
This perception of leadership creates a strong connection with the player and also gives the idea that your game is the best. That’s why the quality of a videogame counts only to a certain extent.
Creatives and artists will turn up their noses now, but it remains true even if they don’t agree. As long as consumers are humans, the laws of nature (natural selection, divergence, imprinting) will also apply to the videogame industry.
Follow these strategies if you are the leader
Once your videogame has managed to dominate the new category, it must defend its position. PUBG has lost market leadership against Fortnite because it didn’t do anything to block Epic, who has made all the right moves at the right time.
What are the main strategies to defend the first position?
Strategy N.1 – Communicate that you are the first, but with humility.
This strategy makes sense only if you are the true leader of your category. Otherwise, it’s just a lie. And lies, as everyone knows, have short legs.
The videogame market is still booming and every day more and more people become new players. Therefore, it’s important to communicate firmly that your videogame is the undisputed leader.
Nintendo should always have an advertising campaign communicating that Mario is the undisputed leader of platform games.
King should always inform players that Candy Crash is the most played Match-3 game in the world.
However, the message must have a certain humility, without aggressive and boastful tones. A simple “Super Mario, World’s #1 platform game” is enough. Once this strategy has been defined, it makes sense to contact an advertising agency to create a promotional campaign. But the message of the campaign must be the one you have already decided, according to Positioning rules. You don’t want creative people taking over and confusing players with mental gimmicks. The campaign must reinforce the concept that your videogame is Number One.
Strategy No. 2 – Communicate that you are the original and you invented the genre
“The real thing“. This was the Coca Cola campaign against Pepsi.
This strategy works in videogames too.
The main ingredient to secure a leadership position is to enter the player’s mind first.
The essential ingredient for maintaining that leadership is to reinforce this concept: We are the first, the originals. All the other ones are just followers.
Dark Soul has invented a new genre of gameplay that has led to the birth of souls-like games. All the other games with the same gameplay are only imitations mocked with the adjective “souls-like”.
“PlayerUnknow’s Battle Ground, the inventor of Battle Royal games”
That’s a powerful slogan. (forget the name for a moment. It’s terrible and difficult to remember, another reason why Fortnite managed to overthrow PUBG in the long run).
Strategy No. 3 – React rapidly
When a competitor copies your idea, time becomes the most important factor. What many managers do instead? They are waiting to see what’s going to happen.
It’s the wrong strategy.
Competitors must be stopped as soon as possible. Covering in a marketing race is not too different from covering in a sailboat race. Never let the opponent get out from under your sails and into the open water. You never know which way the wind will blow.
How PUBG could have won the war against Fortnite
Epic launched Fortnite as a cooperative online game for 4 players. It was another FPS and nobody gave a shit about it. This is quite obvious given the fact it has not introduced anything new compared to other FPS already on the market.
Then, in March 2017, PUBG introduced the new Battle Royal genre worldwide.
Epic seized the opportunity and jumped on the Battle Royal bandwagon at the right time. The July’s update of Fortnite included a Battle Royale variant.
PUBG’s price was around $30. Instead, Fornite was free to play and allowed players to build physical structures such as platforms or walls.
Price is a strong barrier. If you just want to try the new Battle Royal genre, then why spending $30 when you can try it for free?
Fortnite attacked PUBG with heavy cannons and PUBG was unable to react in time. In February 2018, Fortnite surpasses PUBG in monthly revenue with $126 million sales.
PUBG should have reacted quickly.
First of all, it should have embraced the Game as a Service business model and become completely free. Players who have already purchased the game could be refunded using different strategies. For example, giving them virtual currency to spend in the game or forging special weapons available only for them. The possibilities are endless.
Then it should have started integrating Fortnite’s new mechanics, such as the ability to build physical structures.
All of these moves aim to prevent players from having any excuse to prefer Fortnite to PUBG.
Finally, it should have launched a massive advertising campaign to reiterate the concept that it was the “original”, the creator of the Battle Royal genre. And that it was the most played Battle Royal game in the world.
If PUBG had reacted in time with these moves, today it would still be the undisputed leader of the Battle Royal genre and Fortnite would not have had the success it has now.
If in the 1990s Nintendo had reacted immediately against Sega’s attack instead of waiting for years, Sega would probably not have been able to surpass Nintendo in the American market, reaching a market share of 55%. Nintendo moved too late and managed to win the war against Sega not on its own merits but thanks to the internal war between Sega of America and Sega of Japan.
Being the leader brings enormous benefits and the ultimate goal of a marketing strategy should be to obtain leadership in a particular category.
Reaching the top is difficult while staying there is much easier.
In the next part of this series, you’ll see which are your options if you are the co-leader or just another runner.
Click here to subscribe to the newsletter and learn how to make a game that sells.
To the success of your videogame.