The typical marketing error of a “game design-centric” video game company is always the same:
A group of people, who often come from the design or financial department, examine the moves of the competition. They discover that competitors have launched a video game with a new mechanic. Therefore, they think there are niches or categories where the company has not yet put their brand. So, in fear of “losing the opportunity” or “falling behind”, they order the production department to develop a prototype and they ask the marketing department to communicate that idea.
The marketing department, in the vast majority of cases, is completely innocent because it is just a mere communicator of a video game that has been decided elsewhere in the company.
Decisions have been taken on mere opportunistic calculations on a financial basis and without any positioning analysis. Therefore, these decisions are almost always wrong or against the brand, leading to a long-term defocusing of the company.
But Marketing and Communication are two different things.
Marketing cannot limit itself to communicating what a group of creatives or accountants has decided to produce, on fundamentals coming from the last century.
In a world where the number and type of video games have already exceeded the demand, the only possible empty space to fill is in the mind of potential players.
Marketing is not Communication
First of all, universities started.
Then, advertising agencies joined them.
In a heartbeat, the entire business world was infected with the words: “marketing and communication”.
Marketing is NOT communication.
In the vocabulary, the original meaning of “communication” is “sending or receiving information”.
Which kind of information do you exchange when you surrender to the broken laws of this world?
Video game companies (especially Indies) think marketing is about affirming their existence. Then they rely on publishers, hoping that they will be able to communicate the existence of their video game to as many people as possible.
When they don’t use a publisher, they usually start spamming messages on social media.
Hands up he who has never posted or seen something like this on a forum, Twitter or Facebook group:
“Hello! We have just released [name of the game].”
But Federico, Big Companies advertise in this way!
A typical Death Stranding advertisement does nothing but informs of the release date of the game, nothing more.
The problem is that you are not Kojima and players are not waiting for the release of your new video game with trepidation. Probably, only a few people in your city know you exist. Forget the whole world.
Marketing is not communication. So what is marketing?
Marketing is positioning.
Marketing is inserting your video game into the mind of your potential player, such that it remains there forever and ever.
Like Minecraft, Fortnite and Stardew Valley.
In the beginning, this is a very difficult concept to understand. Because the advertising campaigns of Big Companies have always inspired Indie developers.
But Big Brands are playing a different game that has nothing to do with what an Indie Dev should do. They have budgets allocated for marketing that you don’t even imagine.
But Federico, we are in the digital era now: we have influencers, Big Data, A.I., digital stores. We can run advertising campaigns on a much lower budget and reach only the players who like our type of game. Everything is more efficient now.
It’s true. Digital has opened up infinite possibilities for one-to-one connections. But this has been filled with cheap, empty, branded moments that people skip or avoid using advertising blockers. According to PowerTraffick, in the span of just one year, the total number of devices around the world with ad blockers rose from 142 million to upwards of 615 million.
Since 2012 the effectiveness of marketing has significantly decreased. Peter Field and Les Binet of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising have demonstrated it with a detailed analysis of over 500 articles.
“Digital metrics are very short-term focused, and that has led marketers into a short-term mindset,” Field explains. “A lot of people in management do not have marketing backgrounds and find the short-term argument seductive. They are judged quarter by quarter, and they want results, by quarter. I wish we had more CEOs and CFOs that understand if we restrain marketing to the quarterly cycle, we stuff it.”
ROI and short term vision force marketers to focus on the lowest fruit, aimed only at those people who are most likely to download or buy that game. You get an initial increase in ROI, but not a long-term profit.
How did we get here?
Digital marketing offered marketers the promise of increased efficiency by eliminating an age-old advertising problem: “waste”, the idea that a large part of advertising is wasted on people who do not intend to buy the product. A good marketer, the theory goes, should eliminate that waste.
Alphabet president Eric Schmidt once asked why one would ever pay to show an advertisement for diapers to families who don’t have a baby. That’s the wastage problem, neatly summarized, that digital solved. Marketers could now target only those likely to buy, and not waste money on anyone else.
But that’s exactly the problem because the “wastage” premise ignores the way that brands work.
The key to brand success is penetration.
As Byron Sharp shows in his book “How Brands Grow“, the key difference between leading brands and smaller brands is penetration. Loyalty plays a role, but a small one. It is the penetration that divides the winners and the also-ran because attracting new people requires “wastage”. You have to reach those who are not currently interested.
But doing this takes a lot of money.
Until you are like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft or Activision, you cannot simply announce the release of your video game to your adoring crowd of potential players.
How do you get that result?
Stop confusing marketing and communication is the very first step. Then, you must study the best marketing techniques and apply them to your video game to make it grow.
Take a look at what your marketing department is producing.
Are you trying to communicate or are you trying to position yourself? There is a big difference.
What exactly are you producing? Nothing? Ok.
Are you just doing simple advertising with creative slogans? Not good.
Today an entrepreneur or CEO cannot be a mere administrator but must be a marketing and positioning expert who knows the process of developing a video game.
Distinguish tactic from strategy
There is a large amount of confusion that you need to clear up as soon as possible if you want to learn how to make a proper marketing campaign for your video game. Or to be sure you are not wasting your money paying an agency for a marketing campaign that will never work.
There is a false idea that the individual tools you use for marketing determine the success of your game.
Today, it can work to have a community of players on Discord.
Tomorrow, live streaming on Twitch would work.
In two months the solution to your problems would be to pay Influencers to advertise your game.
In a year you will need to have an e-sport mode in your game or you will not be anyone…
And so on, in a whirlwind of fashions and micro-tools that are advertised as the magic wand you need to transform you from a frog to a prince.
Too bad that these tools are just…tools!
And here lays the fundamental difference between tactics and strategy.
The absolute majority of Indie developers, in fact, act tactically. In other words, they react to the market and to current trends by looking for a tool, a piece, a patch, a spell that allows them to increase the sales of their video game.
But in 99% of cases, they do not succeed, because the problem is upstream and it has a strategic nature.
A Tool is a Tactic, Not a Strategy
- Having a community on Discord is a tactic
- Sending emails and promo codes to journalists and influencers is a tactic
- A Twitch channel is a tactic;
- A Kickstarter campaign is a tactic,
- Having a stand at GDC, EGX or other fairs is a tactic,
- A development blog for your backers is a tactic
They are neither right nor wrong. It depends on what your strategy is.
Strategic problems lie at a higher level.
What is strategy?
- Positioning differently from competitors is a strategy;
- A Long-term vision is a strategy (at least 10 years);
- A Mid-term vision is a strategy (at least 5 years);
- The perception that players have of your video game is a strategy (that is, how I want the game to be perceived by customers, customer service, etc.)
Tactic depends on Strategy.
It’s not the other way around.
For this reason, when I start working for a client we always start with positioning.
Then we apply that positioning to any marketing tool you decide to use. The strategy is declined in a thousand different instruments that can be more or less suitable depending on the situation.
If you don’t understand this step then you’ll lose a lot of time and money to chase the tool that is “in fashion” – or that is sponsored massively – in a particular historical moment, laying the foundations for the failure of your game (Yes, TikTok, I’m looking at you).
The point, therefore, is not to copy other games following the trend of the moment.
Or adding a Battle Royale mode.
Or live streaming on Twitch because everyone does it, etc.
Marketing is not communication. Your goal must be to learn to plan and carry out a marketing campaign that is the real expression of your positioning.
This is the most profitable way.
To the success of your video game.