In the previous article, we understood the importance of the concept of positioning for the development of a successful video game. We saw that by Positioning we don’t mean occupying a free space in the market, but actually occupying an unoccupied position in the mind of players.
Today we will look more in detail at Positioning, and how to apply it to your video game or software house. This is a complex concept, which requires years of research and study. However, I hope these articles will help you form a clear idea about the most important marketing concept, unfortunately still snubbed by the majority of video game companies (and by other figures of the industry).
If you haven’t read the first two articles of this series, click here and read them before continuing; this way you won’t get lost trying to understand what I’ll be saying next.
The greatest obstacle between your videogame and its success is not quality, but discoverability.
Originality, different mechanics and good graphics are no longer enough to convince players to buy or invest in your game. These aspects now have to confront a new variable: the target audience.
Who is your target audience? A target audience is a group of players with well-defined characteristics in common. Every game category (or genre) has its own target audience. Candy Crush, for example, has a target, which is different from God of War’s one.
Your game may have an original and innovative mechanics, and a better graphic than Red Dead Redemption 2 or Cyberpunk 2077. But the question is:
Are your game’s characteristics perceived as positively relevant by your target player, or not?
If these features are not positively relevant, then they are mere artifices you added to the game, following your own creativity or the trend of the moment. They often bring more damage than good.
For such reasons, if you want to develop a successful videogame today, you must take the following steps:
Step 1: Define the category of your video game
Does your game fit into an existing category? For example, is it a platform game or a Match-3? Or have you invented a new category? The last one would be the best choice.
- Why is PUBG successful? Because it has invented a new category: Battle Royale games,
- Why are Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls successful? Because they have introduced a new category: Souls-like games,
- Why is Temple Run successful? Because it has invented a new category: Endless runner games,
- Why is Minecraft successful? Because it has invented a new category: Sand-box games.
Step 2: Determine your target audience
Who is your ideal player?
What other games do they play?
Is your target player a woman? A man? A child?
Do they work at home? In an office?
Are they single or in a relationship?
You have to learn to build up what is called a Persona.
Step 3: Once you have determined your target players, you then must understand them
An Indian proverb says that you cannot understand someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes. It’s good advice.
What are the problems your target players may have?
Why do they prefer to play one game rather than another?
What do they like?
To find these answers, you have to start reading online magazines, forums, and comments in Facebook groups. You should also attend fairs and events where you are likely to find your target players and get to know them in person. These are good examples of how to gather information about your ideal player.
The purpose of undertaking such demanding research work is to figure out how to differentiate yourself from the competition and how to convince your target audience to play your game instead of another. As Dan Kennedy said in his book, ‘The Ultimate Sales Letter’:
“The goal is understanding. To persuade someone, to motivate someone, to sell someone, you really need to understand that person.“
Step 4: Study Competitors
Your positioning and strategy will depend on what the competition allows you to do. If they have entered the mind of your ideal/target player before you, then they have already conquered a good chunk of the market. They now have an advantage.
The analysis of competition is a complex work that requires a great amount of time. For just such a reason you must keep away from publishers, especially when they claim they can do everything, like:
- Social Media Growth
- Digital Marketing
- Launching Campaigns
- Social and Community Management
- and so on…
Today the competition in the Video Game Industry is so tough that these agencies should have an expert with balls in each of the above services.
Let’s pretend they actually do have them. To tell you the truth, no true badass professional can offer their services based simply on future royalties. Or for less than £30,000. The margins just aren’t there. What they will ask back for their costs (including all their network) would undermine an already fragile initial capital.
If you really want to study competition using a precise, effective, and useful method, there are only two possibilities:
- Roll up your sleeves, and commit yourself to study (for at least a certain number of years) until you understand the theory of marketing and are able to apply the techniques that lay the basis of Brand Positioning in the videogame industry,
- Entrust a serious professional specialised in Brand Positioning for the video game industry to prepare a correct positioning strategy for your videogame.
If you are an indie developer but don’t have enough capital to invest in the services of a professional, I suggest you keep reading this blog. Every year I invest thousands of Euros in learning about Brand Positioning with global experts, and I have been adapting what I have learnt to the videogame world.
I am not a good Samaritan, nor am I a saint.
I was myself a videogame developer, and my current objective is to fight against those who sell snake oil to developers, shoving the risks of the business venture onto them alone, draining them like milk cows. In the 21st Century, the need for a publisher to distribute a successful videogame is no longer necessary. If you have designed your videogame following the rules of positioning, you don’t need publishers, you don’t need to pay them loads of money in royalties or cash.
Let’s take Minecraft as an example.
Minecraft came into Beta in 2011. At Beta’s launch, it sold over a million in less than a month without the services of a publisher. Minecraft has never been commercially publicized, but only through word of mouth and few (unpaid) mentions in some media such as Penny Arcade.
In April 2011, four months after its launch, its estimated revenues were around €23 million.
What is the reason for such a success? Minecraft introduced the category of sand-box-games, inexistent until that moment.
Such is the power of Brand Positioning.
Only after having gathered enough information about your target player, and understanding in depth how they live, discovering their deepest fears and dreams, then, and only then, can you start elaborating your positioning.
Thus, you will need to know:
- What happens in the mind of your target player?
- Based on what the competition allows us to do, how can we act?
The 3 Reasons why Positioning is your only weapon for reviving the sales of your game and avoiding your company’s bankruptcy.
Why is the concept of positioning so fundamental today?
Reason No.1: Video games Explosion
The number of published video games on Steam alone has gone from 384 in 2012 to 8723 in 2018. And this trend is increasing. One month from the end of 2019 and the published games are 7701, without mentioning the new stores that have appeared this year (Epic is one of them).
Reason No.2: Advertising Explosion
The explosion of video games has brought an equivalent explosion of advertising and promotional campaigns. Think about it. We now see video game advertising everywhere: on TV, public transport, and so on. Not too long ago, such a thing was quite unthinkable.
And how does the average player cope with such an explosion of video games and relative advertising messages? Not too well. According to studies on the sensitivity of the human brain, there is a phenomenon called “sensory overload”.
Scientists have discovered that a person is only capable of receiving a limited number of sensations. Beyond that point, the brain begins a sort of shut down, refusing to function normally. Dentists have realised this phenomenon can be applied to their (and the patient’s) benefit while working. They make patients wear earpieces and raise the volume of music until their sensation of pain disappears.
Reason No.3: Media Explosion
Another reason your game might not be taken into consideration is the increase of communication media. We have traditional communication channels such as television and radio and press. And we have YouTube, with its influencers.
Then there is Facebook, Twitter, Twitch and Discord.
We have video game magazines and conferences on the subject.
In general, almost anything today can act as a means of communication/advertising.
Every day, thousands of video game ads compete amongst themselves for a fraction of the player’s attention.
Their battlefield is now the mind of the player.
We live in a society where communication has reached extremely high levels. And, paradoxically, communication is becoming ever more important. If no one knows about your game, it simply does not exist. It doesn’t matter how amusing and good your game is.
It’s essential to say the right thing, to the right person, at the right moment. It’s essential to find a gap in the mind of the player, where you can slip in.
Brand Positioning is the system for finding that gap, and it is based on the concept that communication makes sense only if it happens at the right moment and under the right circumstances.
How to enter the player’s mind
The best way to enter the player’s mind is to be there first.
Al Ries, the father of Brand Positioning, has demonstrated the validity of this concept using simple examples.
What is the name of the highest mountain in the world? Mount Everest. What is the name of the second highest mountain in the world? ….?
What is the name of the first person who walked on the Moon? Neil Armstrong. What’s the name of the second person who walked on the Moon? …?
What is the name of your first love? What is the name of your second love?
What is the name of the first platform game in the world? Super Mario. The second?
What is the name of the first city-simulator game in the world? SimCity. And the second?
The first mountain, the first person, the first video game that occupies the first position in the minds of people, does not lose it so easily.
If you are not able to enter the mind of players first, you then will have a problem with positioning. Therefore, a problem of sales and success.
What happens if you don’t get there first? There are positioning strategies that will allow you to deal with the problem of being number two, three, or even number one hundred.
Brand Positioning is a very complex topic and cannot be fully explained in a blog, but I’ll try to summarise the main idea.
When competition is already in the players’ mind, one way to attack it is to re-positioning yourself. And the best way to do this is to create a new category and position yourself first within that category in the players’ mind.
Paraphrasing Al Ries words:
The first person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo was Charles Lindbergh. Who was the second? Amelia Earhart was the third person in the world to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo, however, she is more famous than the second person who did that. Why? Because she was the first woman to do it. Do you know who the second person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo was?
- Temple Run was not the first action game in history. However, it was the Endless Runner game which positioned itself first in the players’ mind.
- Minecraft was not the first open world game in history, but it was the first Sand Box game to position itself in the players’ mind.
- PlayerUnknown Battleground was not the first shooter game in history. However, it was the first Battle Royale game.
Repositioning means adjusting the perceptions of your target player. These perceptions can be related to the competition, or to your game. But, in order to do this, you must first understand how the mind of players works, and how people think.
Effective positioning strategies take into account the strength points of competitor video games in the mind of potential players, as much as the strength and weak points of your own video game. The purpose of Positioning is not to attack the weak points of other games, but to reposition their strength points in a way that they become weak points in the mind of your target player. And to use that weakness to attract your target player towards your game.
Let’s consider Super Mario.
Super Mario is not simply a video game; it is the video game 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 positioning, the strength point of a competing videogame was taken and transformed into a weak point for a certain niche of players.
Then things changed with time. Nintendo corrected their mistakes, while Sega of America never detained full control over marketing choices and was forced to fight Sega of Japan rather than Nintendo. This is another story, though.
Presenting your video game in contraposition to what is already present in the market is the correct way to create a new category in the players’ mind.
These are no longer the times of focusing on aspects of your games such as graphics, gameplay and so on. Today your game must create a position in the mind of your ideal player. This position cannot consider only the strong and weak points of your game, but also those of competitors. Today, it is not enough to invent a new gameplay or create the best graphics. It might even not be necessary. The first step to take is to become the first into the players’ mind.
To tell you the truth, Temple Run was NOT the first Endless Runner game in history. The first one was Canabalt. However, Temple Run was the first Endless Runner Game which positioned itself first in the players’ mind.
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To the success of your video game.