Before you get your hands dirty developing a videogame, the first thing should be thinking about how your game will pre-empt a position in the player’s mind.
The development of a videogame does not start from the creation of game mechanics. Game mechanics are important, but the game design should start from a little bit higher. It stems from the analysis of competition because your game must be published with a very specific angle of attack.
Think of all the players in the world as a big cake.
Most videogames do not have a precise angle of attack because their goal is to get the whole cake, taking as many pieces as possible. Developers think that if their game was for everyone then they would have more chances to get a bigger slice of this cake. In military terms, this attitude leads to a flat front. Therefore it’s very difficult to attack those slices of players that are already taken by competitors.
It’s difficult because these games don’t have a real differentiating idea.
We can’t think anymore to acquire players without realizing that the competition has already taken them.
In conclusion, we can’t have the whole cake.
Most likely we can develop a game for a particular slice of this cake and become the main preference for a certain target of players. To do that, we must have a very precise angle of attack.
The final goal should always pre-empt a unique position in the player’s mind. Game mechanics and graphics come later and are pieces of the planned strategy.
Moreover, being simply yet another Candy Crush clone doesn’t lead anywhere in the medium or long term. You can survive in the short term but copying a leader is a terrible marketing strategy in the long run.
It could work today because the videogame industry is booming and there is still space for everyone. But the gold rush is almost over and we are already seeing some of the consequences:
- It’s difficult to be competitive. Videogame companies are laying off employees or shutting down completely. Here some names just in the last few months: Human Head, 5th Planet Games, LuckyHammers, Gameloft UK, Fantasy Flight Interactive.
- Big Developers are jumping on the publishing bandwagon because they no longer know which way to turn and they prefer to play it safe. Here a few names: Team17, Hothead Games, Jagex, Splash Damage, YoYo Games and Huuuge Games.
Therefore, before mechanics, your first question should be:
“How I can differentiate my videogame from the others?”
But being different is only the first step in building an effective marketing program for your game.
Pre-empt a position in the player’s mind
The long-term goal of any game is not to maintain a significant difference because competitors will start copying your point of difference.
This is actually good for you because if they don’t do that then players will assume your differentiation point is not that important.
What works best in marketing is for a game to pre-empt an idea or concept and then have all its competitors copy the idea.
As a result, the leader gets credit for being a leader and its competitors get bad marks for being copycats.
The controversy between Fortnite and PUBG is an example.
As time passes, brands become more and more alike, except for one thing: the most successful game have pre-empted positions in the mind and the least-successful game has not.
Studying the competition can lead to new business opportunities
It’s important to analyze the competition, so who are your competitors?
Your competitors can be divided into two categories: direct competitors and indirect competitors.
Direct competitors are those companies producing a similar videogame that aim at the same target of players.
If you are developing a survival horror game, then every company developing a survival horror game is a direct competitor. If you are making a new console, then direct competitors are the manufacturers of other consoles.
On the other hand, indirect competitors are those companies that satisfy the player’s needs with a surrogate product.
For example, board game producers are indirect competitors of videogame companies.
Therefore, when you are looking for the right angle of attack, you have to consider both direct and indirect competition.
If you focus only on direct competitors you could exclude some points of differentiation that would allow you to create a new category in which to become a leader.
Think about the recent rise of tabletop games. In 2015, Market research group NPD has recorded a 20% rise in the sales of tabletop games (including card and dice games). The designers of the forthcoming video-to-board-game adaptation Dark Souls, for example, sought £50,000 on Kickstarter. They hit that in three minutes and ended up with £4.2 million.
According to Statista, the global market value of board games was estimated to be around 7.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2017 and was forecast to reach a value of 12 billion U.S. dollars by 2023.
A new business opportunity comes with the explosion of board games: the development of companion apps. Everyone has a mobile phone and you could focus your videogame company on producing only companion apps for board-games. If you become the leader of this new category you would have a profitable business.
Reposition the competition
There are hundreds of variations in videogame categories and every day it becomes increasingly difficult to find a free position in the player’s mind.
In 2019 the number of videogames published on Steam hit 8,284. In 2017 they were 6.709. This is an increase of 23.5% in two years. In April 2014, according to a research carried out by Forbes, about 37% of the games were not even downloaded.
With an overabundance of videogames in each category, how can a new game find a place in the player’s mind?
The basic strategy is to “Reposition the competition”. Since there are only a few positions to take, a company must create a new one by repositioning those competitors who occupy a particular position in the player’s mind.
Repositioning a competing videogame (for example the leader) often comes down to finding a weakness in its strength and attacking at that point.
Yes, you got it right. You have to find a weakness in the leader’s strength, not “find the leader’s weakness”.
Sometimes leaders have weak points that are just weak points and not an inherent part of their strength. The company may have neglected that point or simply forgotten about it. But there is another kind of weakness, a weakness that grows out of strength.
Take for example the car rental sector. The market leader is Hertz, with Avis following in second place. One of Avis’ advertising campaigns was: “Rent from Avis. The line at our counter is shorter”. It is difficult to see how Hertz could counter this repositioning strategy. A long line is a weakness inherent in Hertz’s position as the largest car rental company, as it is for most leaders.
Or take Super Mario.
Super Mario is not simply a videogame; it is the videogame par excellence. What weak points does Super Mario have that can be attacked? What did Sega do when they attacked Nintendo?
They took the strength points of Mario and found a niche of players for whom that strength was a weakness. From that, Sonic was created. Mario was incredibly slow and pacifically submissive, whereas Sonic was chaotically cheeky and determined. But above all, Sonic was something new, and Mario, strangely and surprisingly enough, remained more or less the same.
With the magic of repositioning, the strength point of a competing videogame was taken and transformed into a weak point for a certain niche of players.
Don’t expect any marketing or advertising agency to pick up on this concept soon. Good competitive repositioning ideas are extremely difficult to sell because they are negative in nature. They go against the “positive thinking” grain of most executives.
Anytime you hang a negative, it must quickly make sense to your player.
Think about turn-based strategy games. A negative aspect it’s that you have to waste time waiting for your opponent move. It’s pretty clear to understand. Real-time strategy games resolved this weakness and created a new category.
Another way to express this concept is to ask whether this idea explodes in the player’s mind. When you present your idea, the player should agree almost instantly, without further explanation or argument. The idea should be just too obvious to need prolonged consideration. If not, then it should be discarded because it is not a good repositioning strategy.
Cutting your price is not a Repositioning strategy
When I talk about repositioning the competition, most of the people think about the price. “Ok”, they tell me. “We will lower the price to reposition the other games as more expensive.”
It’s not about price.
Trying to reposition the competition as being more expensive usually is not a good strategy to pursue.
Price is often the enemy of differentiation. By definition, being different should “be worth” something. When price becomes the focus of a message or your marketing activity, you are beginning to undermine your chances to be perceived as unique. What you are doing is making price the main reason for picking you over the competition. In the long run, that’s not a healthy way to run your business.
As Jack Trout once said: “Only a few companies find happiness with this approach, for the simple reason that every one of your competitors has access to a pencil. And with it, each of them can mark down its prices any time it wants to. And there goes your advantage”.
Cutting prices is usually insanity if competition can go as low as you can.
David Ogilvy, an advertising legend alongside characters like Rosser Reeves and Bill Bernbach, explained his idea about offers and prices very clearly.
Any damn fool can put on a deal, but it takes genius, faith and perseverance to create a brand. (…)David Ogilvy, “Fiftieth Anniversary Luncheon Speech,” Advertising Research Foundation, New York City, March 18, 1986.
There used to be a prosperous brand of coffee called Chase & Sanborn. Then they started dealing. They became addicted to price-offs. Where is Chase & Sanborn today? Dead as a doornail.
The manufacturers who dedicate their advertising to building a favourable image, the most sharply defined personality for their brand, are the ones who will get the largest share of the market at the highest profit.
The time has come to sound an alarm! To warn what is going to happen to brands if so much is spent on deals that there is no money left to advertise them.
Deals don’t build the kind of indestructible image which is the only thing that can make your brand part of the fabric of American life.”
For a Reposition strategy to work, you have to say something about your competitor’s videogame that causes the player to change his mind, not about your videogame, but the competitor’s one. As we saw in the previous example of Sonic and Mario.
Being better is not a Repositioning strategy
Saying that you are better than your competitors is not a good repositioning strategy. It’s not Repositioning at all.
Saying: “We have the best graphics” is not Repositioning. Your competitors would never admit that the graphics of their game sucks.
The affirmation that you are the best has a psychological defect that the player can immediately grasp: “If Rayman Legends is the best platformer of all times, why it didn’t sell more copies than Mario Odyssey?”
A new world requires new rules
When you run a Repositioning campaign, you should be “fair” and treat the competition ethically. Is repositioning therefore ethical?
Even today, advertising in the videogame industry is being prepared in isolation. You study the videogame and then prepare the announcements that communicate to the potential players the features and advantages of that videogame. It still doesn’t make much difference whether the competition offers those characteristics or not.
In this traditional approach, competition is completely ignored. Mentioning a competitor, for example, is considered not only in bad taste but also poor marketing.
But now we live in the Positioning Era and the rules are changed. To establish a position, you often need to not only name your competitors but also to ignore most of the old rules. The player already knows the characteristics of a videogame. To position it first in his mind it is necessary to connect the name of his videogame to the names of those already present.
To be successful in our over-communicated society you must play according to the rules established by the society itself.
The old rules no longer work.
As a person told me a few years ago: It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not. The world doesn’t care what you think. It is what it is.
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To the success of your videogame.