“I made a really cool game, but nobody wants to download it. Why?”
How many times have you heard these words? How many times have you said these words yourself, perhaps pouring out to your best friend after checking the sales of your game on Steam?
And who you blame in the 99% of the cases? Marketing.
Marketing is the single, most common and universal excuse attributed to the lack of sales of a video game.
But what is marketing?
For some developers, “marketing” means sending a copy of their game to magazines to get a review.
For others, it means sending a certain number of game keys to “influencers” for a review.
And still, others rely on a publisher, “because they know how to do their job and my game will sell a lot of copies.”
Marketing, defined in this way, has a problem. It’s done at the end. When the game is finished or about to be completed.
But marketing is not communication.
Maybe this approach could have worked twenty or ten years ago, but not today. We live in an era where the video game market is completely saturated.
Technology has made huge strides since Pong or Doom. Thanks to game engines such as Unity and Unreal, it’s now possible to develop a video game in less time and more easily. The entry bar has lowered. Therefore, every year, more and more video games are released.
The goal of this website is to show you how to do the correct marketing, the one that makes your game selling copies.
It’s scientific and measurable. And, for god sake, it’s not a creative task!
Positioning is the first fundamental pillar
The concept of Positioning is not new.
It was invented by Al Ries and Jack Trout way back in 1972.
Like any brilliant and counter-current idea, the video game industry has not accepted it yet, because it subverts the status quo.
It’s not yet accepted although there are many examples, validated by data, demonstrating that positioning is the fundamental principle to be used to develop a successful video game (aka a game that sells).
Positioning is a concept that has changed the nature of advertising and marketing.
It’s such a simple concept that most people find it hard to understand how powerful it is.
Positioning is not just marketing, but it is the first step to take when developing a video game.
It works in any sector: politics, religion, business and even in wars. It’s the concept that will save you if you are able to apply it to the development of your video game.
The most successful video game companies apply Positioning (consciously or unconsciously).
Nintendo practices Positioning.
LucasArts practised Positioning.
PUBG and Fortnite developers practice positioning.
Cuphead developers applied Positioning.
Minecraft developer applied Positioning.
Positioning is part of the design phase of a video game, but it is not associated directly with the video game itself.
You position your video game in the mind of the player. That is, in the mind of the potential person who might be interested in buying and playing your game.
Unlike what traditional marketing agencies think, positioning doesn’t mean putting your game on the market.
Positioning isn’t something you do to your game. You don’t position your game within a certain genre.
And it doesn’t even mean creating yet another Candy Crush clone and then figuring out how to position it on the Apple Store.
Positioning does not mean changing one or more aspects of your video game such as the name, the price or the mechanics. These are only aesthetic changes that are made to secure a dominant position in the player’s mind.
Positioning is what is done to differentiate your video game in the player’s mind.
It was a time when marketing people focused their attention on features and customer benefits. They looked for the “Unique Selling Proposition”. But today is more and more difficult to establish the “USP”.
To succeed in our overcommunicated society, your video game company must create a position in the prospect’s mind. A position that takes into consideration not only your company’s strengths and weaknesses but those of its competitors as well.
So, here’s the definition of Positioning:
Positioning is an operation performed in the player’s mind, not on the product. Positioning takes place through a series of actions that allow the video game to occupy a certain position in the player’s mind, compared to competing games.
Today it’s not enough to invent or discover something. It may not even be necessary. You must be first to get into the player’s mind.
Why is this concept 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 8284 in 2019, without mentioning the new stores that have appeared last 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.
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.
Now, I am facing a big problem.
How can I explain the concept of Positioning in an industry famous for its creativity?
If you want to be successful in the video game industry you need to touch base with reality. And the reality that really counts is what’s already in the player’s mind.
To create something that does not already exist in the mind, is becoming more and more difficult. If not impossible.
A client called me a few days ago with an idea about a managerial game for combat sports, such as MMA. According to him, there was no such game.
Unfortunately, there are already two: MMA Tycon and MMA Manager.
My client thought he had the idea of the century.
Unfortunately for him (and I hope not for you) today the smart approach is not to create something new. But to manipulate what is already up there in the player’s mind. To retie the connections that already exist.
Why do you think big companies always propose the same brand with a twist? Super Mario, Final Fantasy, Pokémon or Halo for example.
Today’s video game marketplace is no longer responsive to the strategies that worked ten or twenty years ago. There are just too many games, too many companies and too much noise (what is called marketing noise).
If you understand this, you have already increased the chance of making a successful game.
There is very little space in people’s minds for any kind of video game. In the long run, it’s a two-man race. It usually starts as a three-man race but ends as a two-man one. In some categories it’s a leader only race, there is space only for one. If you are not there, you simply don’t exist.
In the category of soccer simulation games, the first in the mind is FIFA. The second is PES. The third is…?
Which is the best platform game for consoles?
In the category of console platform games, the first in the mind is Mario. The second is Sonic. The third is?
It is not a question of money, many have tried. Ubisoft tried with Rayman. Naughty Dog tried with Crash Bandicoot.
And then, of course, there are a lot of platform games. But they are all based on what? On being cheaper than the top two games.
In 2018 SuperMario Odyssey for Switch cost $59, almost three times what you paid for Sonic Mania.
Why? Because if you have a son and you buy Sonic Mania instead of Mario he fucks you off. That’s why!
Or why should I buy Sbirulino’s Trap? Because I don’t have enough money to buy Mario Odyssey for my son. He wants to play a platformer and I buy some unknown game. But these games have market margins which in terms of penetration are absolutely ridiculous.
It is not a question of money.
Because even if you have the money you cannot simply attack a strong brand.
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. For someone is even better than Mario and Sonic.
In 2018, how much Rayman Legends cost on Switch? $39, around half the price of Mario Odyssey.
Wait, but according to reviews, it should be much better than Mario. It should cost at least like Mario Odyssey.
And Ubisoft is one of the biggest video game developers in the world. He has the money.
But it’s not a question of money. It’s a problem of market penetration. When a brand is already established in the player’s mind, you are either the first or the second or you simply don’t exist.
In the second part of this article, you’ll see more practical examples from the real world.
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To the success of your video game.