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[Gamesbriefers] Biggest marketing mistakes

By on September 9, 2013
CC image by Daniel Kulinski

This is a Gamesbriefers post, where we ask industry luminaries to share their wisdom. Read other Gamesbriefers posts here.


What is the most common marketing mistake you see in the industry?

A lot of people struggle to get their games noticed in this crowded market, but they can still be a bit squeamish about actually engaging with the dark art of marketing. I think that finding and attracting the right audience is an essential skill, and I want to hear from you what lessons developers need to learn about making their work more visible.


Mark SorrellMark Sorrell Development Director at Hide & Seek

I’m going to be brave and open the batting by suggest that ‘thinking you can do it yourself’ is probably a big one. To qualify that, paid acquisition is a science and one that takes money, but is well understood. It’s generally best to concentrate on what you’re good at (hopefully retention and monetisation) and save most marketing functions for professionals who can do it in their sleep.

There is a the whole other side, the organic and social marketing stuff, the marketing story, but I know full well that several Gamesbriefers have strong opinions on that, so I’ll leave them to it.

In summation, set aside budget and hire an expert.

tadhg kellyTadhg Kelly Creative Director at Jawfish Games

The most common mistake? Making a game that has no marketing story.

It’s a mistake that most of us make most of the time because we’re developing a passion project that we forget to validate in the real world, because we’re developing a game purely from the perspective of a business case, or because we’re developing a game with so many resources behind us that we think it’ll be a success through brute force acquisition.

andy payneAndy Payne MD at Mastertronic

I can only talk from a personal perspective, but everything we commission/develop ourselves has to have an audience or better still a community of fans in mind from the very start. Without that we just don’t make that game.

eric seufertEric Seufert Mentor at Gamefounders

I think the biggest mistake would be thinking about “marketing” as a segregated business unit that merely receives a finished product from the “product” team and proceeds to try to build an audience for it. If a studio is following MVP principles, developing in an agile environment, listening to users, iterating, etc., everything it is doing is partially “marketing”.

Oscar ClarkOscar Clark Evangelist for Applifier

There are too many mistakes we can make so I’m going to cheat by saying the biggest mistake is about not asking “So What?” enough times.

…We are making a great [insert genre/mechanic] game… So what?
…People are going to love the character… so what?
…My kids love it… so what?
…Its got a great 8 bit retro feel… so what?

This question is about giving ourselves a fighting chance by challenging our assumptions. Of course we should fail fast and fail forward, but we also shouldn’t be wasting our efforts by failing the same way twice. A lot of problems can be avoided by taking time to ask the right questions and “So What?” forces us to consider what the real benefit of our ideas is from the perspective of our audience (and ideally testing these assumptions with real data).

Making the game you want to make is a hobby. Making a game as a business requires acknowledgement of your audience’s needs.

This isn’t a new idea. This isn’t even a idea specific to game its the very definition of good marketing; the “identification and satisfaction of consumer needs.”

PatrickO'Luanaigh2Patrick O’Luanaigh CEO at nDreams

I’m a big believer in ‘the hook’ (I think EA used to call it the ‘razor X’.) A one line description of your game which explain why it’s unique and will grab attention from the plethora of games out there. It’s similar to Seth Godin’s fantastic “Purple Cow” concept – making sure your game will stand out and has a reason why people will notice it.

Too many games don’t have that hook. Without it, your marketing is utterly crippled.

Martin DarbyMartin Darby CCO of Remode

I would agree with that, and think it broadly conforms to Tadgh’s concept of a marketing story. I do think it can seem harder to nail down making indie games though. I mean would anyone have guessed the market uptake of a platformer about friendship (Thomas Was Alone)? Or as someone from a big publisher once said to me “We wouldn’t have guessed anyone would want to be a boy lost in a forest” (Limbo).

So I guess a way to extend the concept would be to know your customer base more. Which can be hard, as I honestly don’t think we see nearly enough decent research in this area. I am not a market researcher but based on observation I think there are types of gamer sub-groups that go beyond just “hardcore” or “casual”.

The PC indie crowd for example is highly motivated in finding new quirky stuff. This is a totally different crowd to the japanophile console gamers who like more wacky, irreverent content that embraces goofy fun anything more serious. For example it also seems to me that there are some more casual mobile gamers who engage with gaming because it is part of youth culture rather than because they are deeply invested in games as an art form. Yet this is a different casual audience from the candy crush/Farmville “soccer mum” phenomenon.

Something I always find interesting is that I have many friends around my age (25-35) who aren’t self-considered “gamers” but have consoles with COD or Halo and just like to play that: So they are male casual gamers but want a product that is very accessible and mainstream & aren’t bothered about the technology barrier. This list of predominant attitudes and sub-cultures goes on and on. However the majority of people in the games industry I know I would consider us highly invested gamers to whom deep knowledge of fantasy universes, nerdy pop-culture in-jokes, and the latest game releases are like badges of self-expression: i.e. from a fairly narrow slice on the whole spectrum. I guess one of the mistakes is assuming all people playing games are like that if you are not consciously trying to target that, or worse, trying to commoditise creativity like the Facebook game boom.

Aside from that though I think there are really basic things that a lot of new developers get wrong that make it inherently harder to market a game. I don’t profess to be an expert at this, but as well as making a few mistakes of my own I have spoken to a lot of people who’ve failed (i.e. the ones you DON’T generally hear about)………..and you begin to spot some patterns, so in the interest of being asked to give an opinion here, this is a non-exhaustive (and admittedly somewhat anecdotal) list of things I think make it much harder to market a game……

  • Bad game name that doesn’t describe the principle action or world well
  • Sub-optimal graphics that realistically don’t compete
  • The game not really being a ‘fantasy for sale’ that people care about
  • Not properly assessing the competition: How is this game different from others that provide this fantasy? Why will people care? …”the hook” as Patrick says
  • The game not really oozing the core emotion that it will make you *feel*, for example….. clever, excited, scared, claustrophobic, joyful, powerful

Basically, marketing starts before you even make the game! Sadly though I know a lot of developers who I don’t think consider things in this way and expect unbridled self-expression as well as a financial return (because after all, Notch did it right? So that could be me!). Also problematic is the fact that I often feel like we live in a world where a lot of games marketing feels more like a numbers game: shove it out there on the platform with the most users and hope the relevant sub-cultures stick. This makes creatives even more cynical about marketing and so the gaps of understanding start to appear between people who enjoy playing games, people who enjoy making games and people who enjoy selling games.

This is one of my favourite subjects though. I love trying to figure out what makes certain types of people buy into certain games even if some would say that’s a really hollow thing to do. It just feels like an ever evolving deep and layered problem that is always dying to be made simpler & tied back into design directly


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Every week, we all ask our august panel of luminaries a burning question in the world of free-to-play and paymium game design. Or we ask a broader question on the future of the industry. We’re not going to announce who is a GAMESbriefer. You’ll just have to read the posts to see who is saying what to whom. We have CEOs and consultants, men and women, Brits, Germans, Americans, indies, company people and much more besides.