Mobile gaming and the importance of marketing

If you have spent countless hours trying to market your game and already understand the value of marketing and advertising, then this post isn’t for you.

However, if you tend to focus on content creation, leaving advertising as a mere afterthought, then you might want to keep reading.

I consider myself a fairly logical-minded person and until recently I held the mistaken idea that popularity and sales is primarily based on a product’s content – things like features, materials, quality, etc. If I devote a few years of my life to making the ultimate game, upon release that game should perform wonderful, since after all it’s a great game that deserves to be downloaded, right?

Not quite.

As I think more about products are made, marketed, and sold, I’ve realized that the content itself is only one of the factors that contributes to a product’s success. The more competitors out there, and the bigger the potential audience, the more a product must be advertised to have a chance to make it big.

Part of me screams out “but this just isn’t fair!”, but I have to accept this is reality. It’s been known for some time that human consumers are not robots, they aren’t always “logical” and don’t always but the “right” products. Instead, they are influenced by so many things, including the “image” of the product (hence celebrities are commonly used to buff up a product’s image) and what their friends and family think. Product naming, packaging, positioning – there are so many factors outside “what’s in the box” that influence whether we buy something.

Of course, there is no guarantee that marketing dollars will reflect to sales, which is why all all businesses that create and sell products have a certain degree of risk. You can think of it as an investment: If I invest X dollars on advertising a game that costed Y dollars to develop, what are my chances of making my money back? What are my chances of making significantly more than I invested? Without a doubt, a great game with a large marketing budget (assuming a competent and creative team of marketers) will have the best chances to profit.

Looking at popular products out there, I’m sure you can find cases where the top product isn’t always the best, but it may be a so-so product with a great marketing budget.

If you create an awesome game that is super addictive, there might be some chance it will go “viral” and spread to a global audience without aggressive advertising. But I think everyone agrees that your chances are always better with some type of marketing push, since without that your game will easily get lost in the sea of forgotten games that never got past a few hundred downloads.

If you work for a medium to large sized game company, part of your company is surely dedicated to marketing and advertising, but if you are a small team on a small budget, the importance of marketing makes your odds of success even worse. Apart from trying to find a person to advertise your game for free or cheap, you can try to become a marketing expert yourself, spending half (or more!) time just on this aspect. But this puts those of us who “just like to program” or “just want to make games” in a pretty tough spot.

Personally, I always get sort of a dirty feeling about advertising, because it essentially involves trying to convince or even fool consumers into believing a certain thing or feel a certain way. I’d like to think that straight out lies or deception will come back to haunt a product eventually (a sort of advertising karma), but I’m not sure if the world actually works that way. In any case, all I can do is try to keep my own marketing efforts from annoying people too much.

For example, it’s fairly common to use a blog to help get the word out about a game, app, or website, and this is clearly a form of advertising. I’ll admit that this is one of the purposes of this blog, which was originally created to be a support page for this game. But I don’t randomly spam people, telling them to check out my game. I feel that the practice of spamming – forcing your product down someone’s throat who probably doesn’t care – is one of the lowest forms of marketing on the Internet. Instead, I’ll read blogs about mobile gaming and other topics that interest me, and if I happen to appreciate an article I’ll give it a like, or even a comment. Some of those people happen to read my blog, and may even become interested in a mobile app I’ve written. This a kind, passive way to market a game without pissing people off.

With posting on forums to advertise a game, you can do things politely and only post in the appropriate areas in related forums at a reasonable frequency, or post all over the place any end up pissing off more people than not. The funny thing about spamming is that even with a low rate of acceptance (say 5-10%), the overall effect is still positive, whether it’s more people downloading an app, viewing an add, or purchasing some product.

Advertising a game is not just about where you try to push your message, but what your message is. Is it a single screenshot or a short movie showing off the cool graphics? Is there a list of features to just a short quip talking about the concept of the game? Or do you position it as “similar to so-and-so (popular) game”? You can write about your game on 100 websites, but if nobody finds the posts interesting your time will have been spent in vain.

I’ve used the terms marketing and advertising somewhat interchangeably in this post, but advertising is only one part of marketing. An important step that must be done before advertising is understanding the existing market (rivals, and what sets them apart) and identifying the demographic group(s) you want to advertise to. The better you can zoom in on to your target consumers, the more you can fine tune your advertising campaign. Trying to please everyone is a sure way to fail, since a 13 old girl with expendable income and a 60 year old man living off savings will have completely different buying patterns. When watching or listening to a commercial, it’s a fun exercise to try and guess what the target demographic is for that product.

Watching the initial presentations of Apple’s yearly developer convention (WWDC) yesterday, I was again reminded of the power of marketing and what a massive advertising budget can achieve. Generally there seems to be great polarization between Apple fanboys and haters, but I think it’s hard to disagree about the power of the marketing videos they have been able to consistently produce. Whether it’s about Apple trying to connect their products to the amazing legacy and history of music, or a group’s heartwarming attempt to help deaf children experience music for the first time using an iPad (Project Ludwig), their advertisements give us all something to think about.

[Credit: Featured image from Gratisography]

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