Make or Break

Ask any developer what they think of their marketing department and you’ll be guaranteed a flood of expletives and death threats. The common knowledge dictates that marketing departments have a disproportionate and destructive say in the design of your product; stories of interesting ideas being shot down, due to the uncertainty of their success in an unproven market, or numerous me-too design changes based on today’s best-selling competitors are the standard. Indeed,it would seem a lot of games are designed entirely to the marketing department’s wishes, so that they have a known entity to sell, rather than the onerous task of actually trying to market something new and potentially exciting. These stories are obviously vastly exaggerated, though I’m sure some have a kernel of truth to them, but it is certain that most developers view their marketing departments with hatred and scorn. Japan, thankfully, seems a different story, with sales and marketing brought in when the project is presentable, so they can learn what it is they have to sell; the way marketing is supposed to work. Either way, and however much we’d like to ignore it, marketing is possibly the most important aspect of your success. The designers may think it’s their bold new ideas, the artists their pretty pictures, the coders their bleeding edge technology and the producers their sexy, moody fashion shoots for the popular media, but all those mean nothing without the proper marketing behind it.

The crux of that last statement is, of course, proper marketing. And as an up and coming, God-willing, new independent venture, it’s something that has occupied our minds to a large extent. It has not been a direct influence on our business plan, but it is obviously something that needs to be addressed, because without it we might as well not bother.

Of the various marketing strategies, the media overkill is not something many can afford. It’d be nice to have our titles splattered across huge billboards, aired during the Superbowl and tied in with a MacDonald’s Happy Meal, but unless I travel back in time and invest heavily in Google, it’s unlikely to ever happen.

Then there is the “all publicity is good publicity” tactic, of which I am no great admirer. Abhorrent marketing campaigns like these are plenty in our industry, thinking particularly of the late Acclaim’s horrendously puerile “name your baby Turok” and “all speeding tickets paid for by us” scandals, but would include, in my book, the pushing of spokespeople like the rather obvious female pro-gaming groups, the hiring of porn stars and the disastrously sad Jade Raymond fallout. Yes, such tactics get your name splashed around, but bring with it a decent amount of loathing and bashing, not to mention nasty personal attacks that can really hurt both the person and the product. To this day John Romero has failed utterly to make me his bitch.

This interesting interview with independent developer Cliff Harris pretty much seems to hit the nail on the head.

“…if you sell games, and you don’t know which pages on your website have the lowest bounce rates, if you don’t know what the average CPC is for your ads and do A/B testing to increase the CTR…. and much more importantly, if you have no idea WTF I’m talking about, then you are quite simply losing sales to people like me, who study this stuff :D.”
Marketing is part fine art but mostly a matter of hard figure crunching. As Mr. Harris points out it’s no use spending a certain amount of money on advertising and hoping that’ll do the trick. Constant vigilance, adjusting your marketing according to short-term results and basically, spending a large amount of time and not an inconsiderable percentage of your profits on it would appear the minimum requirement, and is therefore a very important aspect of any independent venture but one that many forget about.

Our industry is a young one, and filled with gusto. Too many people still believe it’s the ideas that count, or that pouring your heart and soul into a project will result in a quality product that will sell itself. And though a passion for the job seems indispensable, it means nothing if people don’t know about it. And though it is something I have a deep personal interest in, our necessary focus on future marketing and other business strategies does distract from actual development. Starting a new business requires participants to wear many hats, but all these tasks compete with each other for time and attention, and with only so many hours in the day it’s often difficult to find a balance.

Don’t despair, though, I know more about marketing than I’ve let on. This blog is a terrible example, with badly placed GoogleAds, resulting in disastrous CTRs, equally badly placed adverts for my CafePress store, which in itself is in dire need of updating, and a readership that has been entirely built up by word of mouth. Luckily, the blog is a hobby, something for myself to satisfy my Muse, and readership, though very welcome, was always somewhat of a side issue. For a business however these sorts of things need to be ironed out and perfected. Every single dollar, or Yen rather, and every minute of time spent on marketing must be worthwhile. In the short term that is a matter of experimenting and learning from those who have gone before us, like Mr. Harris, but in the long-term it’s a constant struggle with results, CTRs, page hits, pick up rates, metrics, time, effort and money. Otherwise we might have to fall back on plan B: make a game so insensitive and abhorrent, that it will be covered on Fox News and the Daily Mail and get our names out there, and possibly land us with a jihad.
I’d prefer proper marketing, though.


  1. haha, the lack of any comments on this post says it all, doesn't it?

    Most developers have zero knowledge about marketing hence a tendency to ignore it. It's hard having to be always vigilant and when it comes to non-creative stuff developers are lazy by nature and nobody actually cares about learning marketing properly or at the very least, have a good idea of what entails, :)

  2. Thzumbs up for the article but ypou are getting the very important semantic issue wrong: what you are talking is PROMOTION.

    MARKETING means choosing what thype of game TO MAKE, WHO WILL BUY IT, how to PORMOTE it, how to PRICE IT - more or leass everything you would probably put under "development minus graphic, music and coding".

    It's a common missconception that MARKETING = PROMOTION, but no, MARKETING is much more and if done correctly it is the most important part of any product. Probably a lot of your work is really what should be called MARKETING also - if we want to stick with the academic definition of it.

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