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Marketing for Creators - Fact From Myth (script)

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Leonie Manshanden, ex-Irrational Games Studio Director discusses the similarities and differences between triple-A and indie games marketing - from the GameHorizon Marketing Summit 2014, 26th September 2014. There are accompanying slides to these notes.

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Marketing for Creators - Fact From Myth (script)

  1. 1. Over the years I found that many studios of different sizes want to be more involved with the marketing of their game for various reasons. But as a developer it is tough when you don’t know what you don’t know. So that’s why in the beginning of this year I founded SouthPaw and made myself available fulltime to help studios with their marketing and business issues. Most developers ask me, what does marketing even mean? What do you people do from day to day? Because there is this knowledge gap at the studio level right? You have programmers, artists, designers, audio, testers and producers. You don’t know how they do their jobs by the minute, but you see them in action all the time and understand what their role is. The role of a marketing person is very unclear to most developers. And that needs to change. Because these days marketing is arguably more important than ever before. There are so many games out there and a lot of them are free. You are not just competing for people’s wallets anymore, you are competing for their time as well. So it’s really great to be here today, because everyone in the audience is coming from different places in the industry. Having worked in publishing the first half of my career and development based the second half I certainly see that everyone is facing similar challenges no matter how much or little experience with marketing you might have. My goal today is to use the time I have to get you familiar with the basics of marketing. Share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way and leave a little bit of room for questions as well. So let’s start with the basics WHAT IS MARKETING? Starting a presentation with a definition is really boring, but in this case I think essential because I get this question a lot and there are many misconceptions about marketing. Marketing is a process. Same way game development is a process. It has many stages and moving parts that all need to come together at the right time and it always has the end user is mind. Common marketing theory lists 4 main elements known as the 4 P’s of marketing. The first P: product doesn’t mean that marketers should making the product especially in a creative industry. But they can flag potential problems, help you make objective product decisions and can scope out how much revenue to expect. The 2nd P involves determining a price point and choosing pricing model. Do you go F2P, subscription or a fixed price. And then what is your price? How do you price your DLC? How do you price micro transactions? And a recent favorite: How do you price your Kickstarter tiers? The third P is about making practical choices on where you want to be selling your game: should you sell it directly off your own website use STEAM? all digital, all physical or both? The bigger the brand the more important the 3rd P becomes. Think of the Apple brand stores which play a large role in the marketing process.
  2. 2. But the 4th P is really the part where most of you want help. This is where you build awareness for your product, pique the interest of your audiences and generate WOM. This part involves PR, partnerships, advertising, channel marketing, community management, social media et cetera. Most of today will focus on this phase. Ideally, you have one person ultimately responsible for this process from start to finish because everything is intertwined. Going back to the development analogy: your studio departments can’t operate independently either. So the TL;DR here is: it’s a process. And you need to make a lot of choices every step of the way. The better your marketing people are in each phase the better off you will be. If you aren’t too familiar with the ins and outs of marketing, it may seem like there is a world of difference between marketing a AAA published game or a small independent game. But there’s always a product, there’s always a price, there’s always a place and there’s always a promotional plan. The tactics may be very different. But that can even be the case between 2 Indie games. OR between 2 AAA games. That said. It’s important to recognize the different situations that Independents and Publishers are in. AAA vs. Indie? AAA published games have a lot more resources in house, they have more money to spend on marketing, publisher support available like legal groups, licensing departments et cetera. And a publisher has more leverage to negotiate due to their scale. Small independent games have less of all of those things. The lack of budget and resources is the biggest challenge for most small and Indie games, they have to be a lot more conscious how they spend their time and money. And they have to work HARD to form alliances and partnerships to help them increase awareness. Promotional tactics will mainly revolve around PR, Social Media. Maybe some online advertising if you can afford it. If that’s what you have to work with, that’s what EVERYONE has to work with, so you have to make everything you do count: outsmart everyone else, get more for less, and execute it better than they do. Marketers at a publisher office could benefit from the same things. The problem is however, that working this way is very labor intensive and most of them do not have the time to get very granular on these small tactics, especially in the early stages, because there always the next game shipping. Due to scale and budgets their tactics mainly revolve around PR, mass advertising like TV, Outdoor, or Online and often use in-store promotions as well. Alright – now that we covered our bases. Here are some of the lessons that I have learned along the way…
  3. 3. Lessons Learned 1/5 We just talked about the challenges that marketers of published games and independent games face, but in an ideal case scenario, you would have the benefits of both. You have the time to focus on just 1 game from start to finish, you would have marketing staff within your studio so that communication is easy, the plan is clear, expectations are realistic and challenges are solved through teamwork. Most independents control their own marketing process be it by necessity or choice. Some studios have a publisher to do if for them because they don’t want to do it or maybe they’re owned by a publisher. Either way - I would strongly encourage everyone in the audience both marketers and developers to find a way work much closer together no matter the structure that you are operating under. It will benefit you, the game and ultimately the audience because there is tremendous value that developers bring to the marketing process and vice versa. Many of my best accomplishments were made possible by being able to focus and by being fully integrated with the development team. Developers know the audience so well and they know the game better than anyone. Conversely, developers like to know that they work hard for a reason. They want to know what people think of their game, that their game will be played and that it will sell enough for their bonuses to be paid or their investment to be recuperated. When everyone understands the mutual goals and AGREES with what needs to be done, people will provide valuable input, add great ideas, and contribute to the process. The collateral upside too is that development and marketing keep each other honest along the way. One time my marketing team and I were working on an important video that would announce a ton of new content. We had a music track that came recommended by the game’s music director and we had a ton of great gameplay moments from the designers. We had cut the video to the beat of this track and the video had been approved for release if not for the music license. We needed approval on Friday or we had to postpone releasing the video that Tuesday. Late on Friday we got word that the licensor turned us down. We had to start from scratch. But the music director wasn’t having any of it. He told us that he would deliver a new track, license free that we could use by Monday morning. He took off and over the weekend composed AND recorded something of his own.; completely compatible with the footage that we had and it sounding better than before. The point of this story being: this would never have happened if he wasn’t invested and completely up to speed on the process every step of the way. Every campaign has those hiccups and I have seen artists, designers, programmers and even IT people step up to save the day like no one else could. That only happens when EVERYONE is part of the same team and that team constantly communicates
  4. 4. Lessons Learned 2/5 The second point is the answer to the question that I never get. Often, the first question that I get from independent studios is: how do I promote my game? This sounds like a reasonable question right? But it’s the wrong thing to start with, because it’s great to get noticed. But if you don’t figure out what you have to say to the world first, you will come up empty and you are wasting your time and money. It’s like finally being on stage and then not know what to say or saying all the wrong things. Figuring out what to communicate is the toughest nut to crack for almost every studio that I have worked with in the last 12 years. AAA and Indie games alike. Games are very complex and have many interesting elements. Developers often try to mention every single game feature making their pitch unfocussed. Or sometimes they focus on the things they like the best, like a specific enemy, but it’s too inside baseball for people to understand what they are looking at. Other times no thought is really given at all. The point is people get information thrown at them from all directions all the time. They need to be presented with clear points of interest or they will blink and move on. They won’t click to see your video that explains it all. So if you do only ONE thing as a planning thing, let it be this and do it early. It’s all about how you present your product. Think of it as a store front. If you make your shop look like a bakery when you actually run a pub, people looking for a pub will pass you by. Maybe people looking for bread end up getting drunk in your pub, but you have missed a big part of your audience. I see this all the time on Kickstarter. People say that their game has a unique, immersive environment. A rich narrative filled with mystery and suspense. But nowhere on their Kickstarter page is there any imagery of this pretty world and not one word about the story. There is an exercise that will help you rank all the different elements of your game in terms of marketability, and a real simple formula to create your positioning statement. We don’t have time to go through this exercise today. But email me if you want to know more. Once you figure out what you need to communicate, pitching and promoting your game will be easier and more effective.
  5. 5. Lessons Learned 3/5 Using quality assets sounds obvious right? But why do I still see low res images? Spelling mistakes? Warped images? Ads that don’t mention which game they’re advertising, or ads that don’t even mention they’re advertising a game? Truth be told, a marketing campaign has a complex pipeline and it can get crazy allowing for mistakes to happen. But do what you can to mitigate the risk and put a process in place. So: First – make sure that you have final approval over every single asset that goes out. Or designate someone to do it. The bigger the campaign the harder, but more important this is. Make sure that you agree on this upfront if you have a publisher. Once you have control. That’s great. But make sure you use your power wisely. Have a checklist, know what you are looking and watch out for bias. 2: Always make sure that your assets communicate the right things. We were just talking about knowing what to communicate. Make sure this comes through in your assets. I have seen this more than once: for instance a game is described as having a deep RPG system for growth and survival. But the video only shows a stunning environment. Just make sure that you determine what always needs to be shown as your constants, and what variables to add for that specific asset. 3: Because you’re too close to it, you should always get feedback on important assets to make sure that people understand the message. There are research firms who specialize in this, but if you can’t afford them. Just test them amongst people in your environment. Lastly – If you have a QA team…give them a head’s up as soon as you know an important asset is coming through the pipeline and ask them to QA it. For instance: websites in different browsers and screensizes. Videos in different players and audio settings. Get a freelance copy editor to weed out the spelling and grammar mistakes: in short: do whatever you can to check yourself. Lessons Learned 4/5 Being brief iterates on knowing what to communicate and it really applies to many areas even beyond marketing, but in this case the point is: pitching to promotional partners, speaking to journalists and engaging in social media are crucial to promote any game. It’s relatively cheap BUT it does require that you create and maximize these opportunities. So don’t waste them. In the case of PR: make sure you know what the reporter is interested in by reading their work beforehand. Don’t waste time trying to figure it out on the spot and find out you’re talking to the wrong person. And know your game: if you’re rambling along and a reporter needs to spend their brain power to figure out what you’re saying, you risk losing a great story. With social media this is even more important. Be BRIEF. To illustrate that, look at this Facebook chart, status updates between 59-99 characters get the most engagement. Anything over 250 characters plummets quickly.
  6. 6. Lessons Learned 5/5 Lastly: Marketing is an expensive business. You invest time and money and the stakes are high. You cannot afford to miss your target, so you or whoever does your marketing needs to be accountable. With any project there are things that fail or do not perform as well as expected. There are also things that work exceptionally well. Just post mortem a big marketing moment the same way as you post mortem a big milestone. Understand what works and what doesn’t work and apply this to your next big marketing moment.

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