Note: This is the fourth post in a series. If you’re new, start with the intro post.
A co-leader is the videogame with the second-highest market share. I am not talking about number of players or downloads, but about sales and turnover. In 2018 Fortnite was the first Battle Royale game with a turnover of 2.3 billion dollars. PUBG took second place with 1.028 billion. In the genre of soccer simulations, FIFA beats Pro Evolution Soccer heavily. FIFA 19 sold a total of 12.22 million copies, while PES 2019 only 0.55 million.
Copying the leader is not a strategy
The strategy that works for the leader doesn’t work for the co-leader. When attacked, the leader can protect his position by copying competitors’ moves, as we saw in the previous post. But if you are a competitor then this strategy doesn’t work for you. Copying the leader doesn’t defend you, you are just mocking what he is doing.
And what is the typical strategy adopted by traditional marketing?
“Let’s copy the leader and tell the players that our game is better!”
Traditional Marketing thinks quality is more important than being first.
It rarely works.
Think about Rayman. Ubisoft has tried to bring it back in the spotlight with Rayman Legends. Critics acclaimed it for being the best platformer of all times. Someone thinks is even better than Mario.
Better huh? Ok, let’s check sales figures.
In October 2013, a few months after launch, Ubisoft reported that Rayman Legends did not meet their sales estimates. Apparently, the game sold best on Wii U, but individual sales across all platforms weren’t strong. By November of the same year, Ubisoft announced that the game was nearing a million copies from combined platform sales.
What about Mario? In December 2017, after just two months, Super Mario Odyssey sold 9.07 million copies worldwide, making it the bestselling game for the Switch. By the end of December 2019, total sales reached 16.59 million copies.
It’s not enough to be better than the leader (or in general better than the other competitors). Time is the factor that plays the most important role. The attack on the leader must be launched when the market situation is still dynamic and the leader does not yet have his ass firmly on the throne.
Copying the leader will lead you to failure
The strategy of copying the leader doesn’t work. Instead, the right angle of attack should be to find a hole in the player’s mind. Then, you start to erode the leader’s advantage from there.
If you want to find a hole in the player’s mind then you must think outside the box. If everyone goes North, you have to go South. You have to become a maverick.
Two forces guide human nature. The desire to adapt to the crowd, that is, to be conformist, and the desire to be different, that is, nonconformist. Most people manage to balance these two forces by trying to be conformist in some aspects of their life and nonconformist in others.
Conformism is the most powerful force at the moment but they are both necessary in a dynamic society like ours. Conformism creates stability while nonconformism creates those sparks that bring new ideas.
The strategy of copying the market leader (being conformist) doesn’t work. You must apply a nonconformist strategy.
If you think about it for a moment, it’s true in many aspects of our lives. Take politics for example. The two predominant political parties are the Right and the Left. The Left is perceived as the political party that helps workers and low-income people. On the opposite side, there is the Right party, that helps entrepreneurs and people with high incomes.
If you carefully consider these two dynamics, you realize that there isn’t space for a third one.
The same thing happens in the videogame market.
There isn’t any space for a third place. The reason is simple. It’s not possible to position yourself at the opposite spectre of two opposite forces. Even a magnet has only two poles, there is no room for a third.
I admit that it takes courage to be a maverick. It takes courage to be the opposite of the leader. The leader is successful and most certainly knows what he is doing!
Of course, he knows it!
But their strategy worked in the past and for a different market situation. If the winning strategy was to copy the leader then it would be enough to copy it and everyone would be a leader.
Copying the leader and doing it better will lead you to failure.
When a leader is overthrown from his first position, it is because a competitor has done things differently.
Avoid copying the leader with these strategies
Let’s see some of the options you have to differentiate yourself from the leader.
Option N.1 – Business model
If the leader is using a premium business model, you can try to adopt a different one. As Epic did with Fortnite against PUBG. PUBG was launched as a premium game, priced at $30. A player bought the full game and he was done.
Epic decided to adopt a free-to-play business model with in-app purchases. In this way, they managed to attract a large number of people who wanted to “try” the game without spending 30 dollars.
A different business model sometimes affects game mechanics.
In a Premium game, you can focus on game mechanics without thinking about how to make players spending more money. But if you adopt a free-to-play model then game mechanics must be redesigned to convince players to spend money while playing. This is one of the reasons why marketing should always be the first thing to think about. You cannot make a game and then use marketing only for communication. You must first know what the competition is doing and then act accordingly.
Option N.2 – Player’s age
Sega is a good example of how you can use the player’s age to position yourself on the opposite spectre of the leader. Nintendo has always been in love with children. Their target audience are children under 10 years old. Instead of adopting a “me-too” strategy, Sega decided to target teenagers and adults. With this strategy, in 1990 Sega managed to outperform Nintendo in North America and reach a market share of 55%.
Option N.3 – Reference platform
Videogame market is divided between PCs, consoles and mobile devices. If the leader is present only in one of these three types of devices then sometimes you have the chance to attack the other two.
This strategy requires careful analysis because users of different devices have different habits and gaming mode. In general, gaming sessions on mobile are more frequent but shorter because these devices are used to kill time during a commute. Console and PC players tend to have much longer game sessions. If a game mechanic does not adapt well to the target platform then there is probably a reason why the leader is not there.
Option N.4 – Player’s gender
According to a Quantic Foundry’s research, 69% of Match-3 and Farm simulation players are female. Games of this type made their appearance with the advent of mobile phones and tried to capture those people who weren’t players, like women and girls. The first ones who did it, like King with Candy Crush, became the undisputed leaders of their category. What would have happened if King had focused on the male audience as everyone else? They probably wouldn’t have had the success they have now. By focusing on the female audience, King managed to become its undisputed leader.
If the leader in your category targets male players, ask yourself what you can do to catch the attention of the female audience. The same reasoning naturally also applies in the opposite direction.
Creating a new category is the key to making a successful videogame
These are just a few options you can consider to find a hole in the player’s mind.
Traditional marketing strongly rejects this approach. People don’t want to bind to a particular positioning because they think it limits their sales or their growth opportunities.
Traditional marketing worked in the early days of the videogame industry when the market was not saturated and the competition wasn’t fierce. Today it is no longer possible. In a market where tens of thousands of videogames are published every year, it is no longer possible to succeed without having a strong Positioning. You can survive in the short and medium terms, but only if you are already the market leader. In any case, it would not be a winning strategy anyway. If the leader tries to be everything for everyone, the only result would be the loss of focus and market shares.
Creating a new category is the most difficult part. But if you succeed then it’s the most satisfying and profitable part. I can’t imagine how Brendan Greene felt when the Battle Royal category became famous all over the world. Or how Hidetaka Miyazaki felt after creating Souls games.
Why is it the most difficult part of strategic marketing?
Imagine for a moment how complicated it can be to launch a new videogame in a category that doesn’t exist. There is no definition of the category, there is no market and, above all, there isn’t any competitor to copy. He who decides to create a new category is a pioneer, with all the complications, but also the advantages that bring this position.
Every time I tell a videogame developer that he has to create a new category, he freezes in fear. If it is their first game, he is afraid because, since there is no market, there aren’t interested players. If he already has published videogames, he is afraid of losing their most loyal customers.
I understand. It’s normal. But baby…no pain, no gain.
In the last part of this series, you’ll see which is the most important thing to focus on when you want to create a new category.
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To the success of your videogame.