Mobile Game Development Hint: Use associations to help market your game

Although we all would like our games to be played by as many people as possible,    trying to please everyone just isn’t going to cut it. This is something I discussed a little bit in a previous post, and this time I’d like to talk about one technique you can use to market your game – associating it with existing categories, genres, or pre-existing games.

The most effective marketing starts early in the design process, if not before many of the details of the game are decided. A key step of this is determining what your target audience is, and an important characteristic is what types of games they enjoy.

Say you are going to make a game based on or influenced by Tetris (“Dream of Pixels” is a great example). You want to know what people liked about the original Tetris and try to incorporate at least some of those elements in your game. This may effect gameplay design, visual design, sound design, UI, and many other aspects of your game.

From a marketing perspective, it will also effect how you advertise and position your game, things like the title, icon, what keywords you use, and what forums or other sites you advertise on. The key point here is that the more you can associate you game with well-known categories or existing games, the easier it will be to find potential users, and the easier it will be them to find you. For the example of a Tetris-type game, people searching for “Tetris” on an app store have a chance of seeing your game, and you can safely advertise on forums related to Tetris since the user’s there may genuinely enjoy your game. Rather than just forcing information down the throats of everyone, you are hand selecting a group of people who likely have an affinity for your product. Try and compare this with a game that can only be described as “an action game”. Though there is potentially a much higher user base, reaching out to them without spamming is very difficult.

If you decide to associate with an existing game, like Tetris, then I recommend avoiding using the game’s name in yours (“Awesome Tetris”) or making it too similar. This is because there is always a chance you could be sued by a company that thinks you are infringing their trademark or product. Nevertheless, many game companies to do this, if not by ripping off a name of an existing game, but at least a similar icon, visual style, and gameplay.

Another option is to associate your game with a classic board game or other non-copywritten game such as Chess or Checkers. There shouldn’t be much chance of legal action being taken against you, assuming you don’t copy an existing game  modeled after one of these, such as Battle Chess. The nice thing about this is you don’t have to make it exactly the same as one of these games, it can just share one or more elements, with a mix of creative differences mixed in. Like with the Tetris example, you can advertise on forums where people are into Chess or Checkers.

To give another example of association, my first app on the Apple App Store was a Simulator for the game Hearthstone, which is a digital card game made by game giant Blizzard. My app is a tool rather than a game, but in writing it I had to create my own engine to process the rules of the game, which was a fun yet challenging exercise. Since Hearthstone has gotten very popular, I was able to springboard off this popularity and get over 500 downloads – much more than my other iOS apps. For various reasons I’ve stopped development on it for the time being, but you can check out more information on the simulator’s blog here if you are interested. One of the reasons I didn’t continue improving it is that there was always a chance Blizzard could demand I remove it from the app store, since it uses their trademarked name in the title, and also it had the potential to get good enough to help out people at tournaments.

Whether it’s taking influence from one or more categories or existing games, this narrowing of marketing focus is an important step to help your game succeed.

Of course, for those games that seem to come from nowhere and create an entirely new genre (Minecraft, etc.), they don’t really need to associate with anything else. Going for a completely new style of game is a valid way to go, but it requires some different marketing tactics and there is only a handful that really succeed. Endeavors like this are the riskiest, but I feel they have the most potential to be rewarding for the developer, both emotionally and monetarily.


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