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To those arguing about marketing vs creativity: Marketing IS creativity

By on September 27, 2010
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On Friday, Stew Hogarth kicked off a debate on Twitter. It focused on whether product or marketing was more important, with Stew making an impassioned case that if you don’t have any money, the product is the ONLY tool that you have at your disposal. After a lengthy discussion with the likes of Brian Baglow, Colin Anderson, George Bray and Amanda Porelli, Stew wrote up his thoughts in a blog post entitled When you have no PR / marketing budget, the Product MUST be right….

The three key points were:

  • You can only shovel a shit product to people if you have lots of money behind it.
  • Critical acclaim does not equal sales.
  • Where you have no marketing budget, the product is all you have, so it needs to be the right product for the platform and audience.

Point three is where I disagree with Stew. And I disagree at a totally fundamental level.

Marketing is about understanding your customers

The Chartered Institute of Marketing defines marketing as:

“The management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably”

Note that there is no mention of spending money, of TV adverts or massive campaigns. The core skill of marketing is understanding your customers.

That doesn’t seem unlike the core skill of a game developer.

In the fabulous Art of Game Design, Jesse Schell says:

“The most important skill for a game designer is listening.”

He goes further, and says that a game designer must list to Team, Audience, Game, Client and Self. That’s a lot of listening.

And the heart of that listening is to identify, anticipate and satisfying customer requirements.

Game designers and developers may say “It’s all about the creativity, man”, and I get that.

But creativity that focuses on making something that no-one wants to play is self-indulgent twaddle. If you are a game developer who doesn’t have at least one eye firmly fixed on your audience, you are not a game developer.

You’re a hobbyist.

Marketing does not mean advertising

Just because you have no marketing budget, does not mean you don’t need marketing. The spending of money is the least skilful, least value-added part of the marketing function.

I mean any muppet could spend $1 million on some TV ads, a few magazine spreads and the usual web suspects like Eurogamer and IGN right.

The key skill of marketing is to identify the absolute essence of your product that will persuade customers to buy it, it is not about throwing money at media placements.

As Patrick O’Luanaigh, former creative director of Eidos and now CEO of nDreams says in his book Game Design Complete :

“You must have a hook. You must be able to summarize what makes your game idea distinctive in a sentence.”

Is finding the hook a marketing skill or a creative skill?

There is no distinction between product and marketing

This is my biggest point. Product development IS marketing. They are both about finding the essence of a consumer need and giving it to them.

In the case of a game (as opposed to a widget, a toothpaste or a car), that need can be pretty nebulous. It might be to be:

  • Entertained
  • Rewarded
  • Challenged
  • Scared
  • Encouraged

In fact, for games, the list is nearly endless. Usually, the key creative idea comes not from what the market wants, but from what the creator wants to create.

That’s fine. It’s great that a creator wants to make something that will challenge, entertain, reward or, even better, leave the user changed in some positive way as a result of experiencing their game.

But to do that without an eye on the audience is madness. Few, if any, creators don’t give a shit about their audience.

And if they do give a shit about their audience, they’re thinking like marketers.

Sorry, Stew, I think you’re wrong

It’s not that I disagree with your three points, per se.

It’s that I disagree with your definition. Marketing IS product development. Marketing IS creativity. Marketing IS a vital skill for every game maker.

Whether they like it or not.

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve:
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  • The four Ps of marketing are product, price, place (distribution) and promotion. A lot of the time advertising and marketing get confused because the advertising / promotion part is the most visible element.

    Actually, I can think you can move a lot of sub-par products without spending millions of dollars, but you need a very sharp / targeted promotions strategy and it probably won’t be sustainable when people realise what they’ve got (unless you manage to improve it later on).

  • There are many different theories and viewpoints of marketing. But for me, the point of view Seth Godin takes with his book: Purple Cow ( a must read for everyone in videogames biz) is one that sums it all up.

    If you keep these things valid during your development, the chance for success will rise to astonishing levels.

    read a great excerpt here:

  • Yes!!!

    Being able to make millions of people buy a trainwreck of a product isn’t something I’d personally be proud of… although I will admit it is a skill in its self.

  • I agree, it’s all one big melting pot really. I just want to crush this myth that developers don’t know / care about marketing at all.

    At the same time, I hope the era of brave developers taking risks with new ideas continues for centuries to come.

  • It’s a big part of it, but it’s a part.

  • Allan

    Product design taking account of the consumer is marketing. Product design without isn’t, though it can still be marketed.

    You can’t polish a turd, you can put a bow on it, but all things considered your better off avoiding a career selling turd in the first place.

  • Can you give any more arguments? I’m inclined to think it is, Seth Godin thinks it is, it fits the CIM’s definition above?

    I’d love to hear the counters.

  • True dat.

  • I think we have firmly entered the realm of pedantry and arguing semantics with this post. ^^

    Marketing is not the act of creating a marketable product, it is the act of promoting a product to the market. Understanding the market when you design the product (game or otherwise) is not marketing, per say, it is simply designing with the market in mind.

    But here I am getting sucked into the semantics debate as well. I don’t think it’s a bad thing to involve people who understand marketing in the game design process. Involving people who understand what makes a game more attractive, or rather attractive to more people – that helps it make a good impression – is a good thing, as long as it’s not at the expense of the fun.


  • Product development isn’t marketing.

  • Product development isn’t marketing.

  • I agree, but the tone of the conversation on Friday, and your subsequent blog post, was anti-marketing.

    But I think you’re anti-advertising.

    If you agree that it’s important to make a product that’s right fot the market, then you actually really like marketing.

    Which may be a difficult pill to swallow 🙂

  • +1

  • Thanks for the reply. Although it’s a bit of a strange read because it actually sounds like we’re in complete agreement!

    I was saying that you have to make a product which is going to be right for the market, and it sounds like you’re saying the same thing.

    “But creativity that focuses on making something that no-one wants to play is self-indulgent twaddle.” is exactly what I mean by “it needs to be the right product for the platform and audience.”

  • Marketing is an attitude.