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Three Common Mistakes in Promoting a Game

By on October 23, 2013
FlickrCC by Floeschie
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This is a guest post from Ken Johnston, Senior Manager of the gaming division at VSC PR.

Working in communications for mobile games can do funny things to a person. When you set up your Google Alerts to include terms such as “in-app purchases,” “cross-platform gaming,” and “Mark Pincus” you see a lot of bad and good game stories on a daily basis- and your dinner conversation skills generally take a dive. However, helping to work on hundreds of game launches does give a person some insight into common missteps developers can take when promoting a game. As mobile gaming is on track to be a $14.4 billion industry by 2017, it’s only going to get more competitive to promote and market games successfully. Here are a few easily avoidable mistakes.

1.  Don’t assume coverage of your game will result in downloads.

Games PR is good for a lot of things – from helping recruiting efforts to supporting business development . One thing that games PR doesn’t do a great job of is driving downloads for your game.

It’s always a great idea to get your game in front of editors at mobile gaming and review sites. They’ll give you accurate and honest feedback, if they cover it they’ll give you some quotes you can add in your App Store description, and it will get your game seen by a ton of industry folks from potential hires to potential investors. However, game coverage doesn’t generally mean game downloads, and it is a mistake to think that it will.

If you’re looking mainly for downloads, you’re probably better off putting your budget and energy into buying mobile and Facebook ads. With advertising, you’ve also got a much better shot at reaching your target demographic. If you’re trying to promote a magical pony game, your ideal user probably isn’t reading the sites where your game got covered.

If you know anyone at Apple or Google, shooting for a feature in either of those stores will also probably do more for you than any of the strategies above. Of course, Apple sees about 1,000 app submissions on a daily basis so it’s not advisable to count on a feature to make your game the next big hit.

2. Misunderstanding what and when to announce

Developers are usually so focused on their game that it takes over their lives until they’re dreaming about tutorials and conversion rates. While creating a successful game does require enormous amounts of passion and dedication, it can also skew one’s outlook about what is a big deal and what isn’t. As such, it can be tough for developers to keep perspective on what’s newsworthy.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • People don’t generally care if you won an award- keep it in the email signatures.
  • People don’t usually want to hear about your Beta launch unless they can play it and participate in it.
  • Unless it’s a new C-level executive or they have a really interesting background, media probably won’t cover your new hire.
  • I’ve yet to see a compelling story about anyone having plans to attend any conference.

That being said there’s a plethora of stories you can probably tell. No one knows better than developers and game creators what’s relevant and interesting in the industry. What’s keeping you up at night? What are the biggest challenges you are facing in scaling your business? What’s something you learned in your game that you think could benefit the ecosystem? Put some thoughts together about that and you shouldn’t have a hard time finding someone who wants to talk to you.

3.  Avoid anything remotely sexist

It’s a little crazy that sexism in gaming is still such a prevalent issue- especially at trade shows. At GDC 2013 alone, we saw Brenda Romero resign from her chair position at IGDA due to some dancers that were hired at a GDC party. The same show also saw a standing ovation for a panel where female developers discussed the subject. Additionally, GDC 2014 is adding a new track solely dedicated to discussing this issue.

However, walk around E3 and GDC next year and you’re still going to see scantily clad women hawking games goods. The takeaway? If you’re considering doing something that anyone could possibly consider sexist, just don’t do it. Coincidentally, gaming is no longer a boy’s club if it ever was one. A lot of the best writers that cover games today are women.

There’s really no formula to ensuring a game’s success. Sometimes you can pour vast budgets into advertising and downloads and see minimal return. Sometimes you can quietly launch a game in the App Store to see it take off with viral success. PR is a great tool to give your game a leg up in the market but any developer will tell you that great content is the best way to ensure your game’s success.


About Ken Johnston

Ken is a Senior Manager of the gaming division at VSC and has experience working with brands such as OpenFeint, GREE, Storm8, The9, DeNA, NaturalMotion, Kiloo and NativeX. His work has led to several client exits and has generated over 4,000 stories in every gaming outlet and influencer that matters. Prior to VSC, Ken cut his PR teeth working with small businesses and in the education sector. Ken studied Journalism at the University of Arizona with minors in business and Spanish. When out of the office, Ken enjoys writing for a number of gaming sites, running a blog on comics, learning to play the banjo, and teaching his dog, Spud, not to eat his shoes.
  • I think you misunderstood the argument. I think this was about the value of PR, specifically, and how to do it. The writer talked a lot about different ways of marketing and driving downloads. I see no evidence that he was arguing that if you build it, they will come.

  • Anon

    So today it’s “If you build it they will come”; tomorrow that will no longer be true. This back and forth just never ends.

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  • Spheroku

    Enjoyed the article. One thing that is clear is that marketing is an ongoing business.

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  • Sik

    #1 really depends a lot on your audience. If you’re going for a casual audience, then yeah, PR on sites doesn’t matter since nobody will read those. Being featured matters more, but I’d say that being able to generate word of mouth matters even more (especially in the long term). On the other hand, if the game is more suited for hardcore gamers, they will be probably reading some sites or at least be involved in communities with people who do, so in that case PR on sites makes more sense.

    Reminds me on the whole forums vs Facebook thing, eventually I reached the conclusion it depends on your audience. If you’re going for hardcore gamers, they prefer more to hang around in forums, so making a forum is worth the effort. If you’re going for casuals, then trying anything other than Facebook is about as idiotic as it can get.

    I suppose that what the above means is that indeed there’s a divide between hardcore and casual gamers, but it isn’t defined by the games they play but rather by their culture. Oh well, tl;dr make sure to pay attention to the culture of your audience.

    EDIT: typo

  • Anonymous

    Great piece with solid advice that goes beyond just games companies.