Level Up The Right Stats: How To Market Video Games

By Renzo Guevara
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Video games are one of the most profitable mediums the world has today. Behind every successful game is a great PR campaign. If the latter fails to make an impressionable impact, it’ll be very difficult to gain further momentum in today’s highly competitive market. It’s all about knowing what you’re selling.

No one likes an early “game over”

It’s easy to say that if you develop a good enough game, it won’t need good marketing as it will sell itself for you. This argument can be further supported by the examples of big franchise brands such as Call of Duty (CoD) selling record numbers with each release despite massive criticisms from fans and critics.

That won’t be the case all the time. The most recent entry in the CoD series is actually the worst selling one in recent years. Franchise fatigue, bloated release windows, lack of visibility are just some of the factors that contribute to lower sales records. Before anything else, here’s a few of the things to remember when it comes to marketing your new game:

  1. Relying on brand recognition is not always the best strategy. The most recent example would be the Guardians of the Galaxy game from Eidos-Montréal, the developers of the critically acclaimed Tomb Raider reboot trilogy. Despite glowing reviews, the publisher made a statement that the game did not meet sales expectations.

  2. Miscommunicating what the game is about is instant death. False advertising may lead to high initial sales, but you’re at risk of damaging the trust and credibility from your playerbase and potential customers. We all know the mess that was Cyberpunk 2077.

  3. Don’t forget about the importance of community building. Word of mouth is a powerful tool for any marketing campaign. Develop a solid fan base around your game, and they'll do half the job for you. Minecraft, the best-selling game of all time, was built upon this premise.

Take the controller

A large part of what makes anything great is how you promote it. You can create the best thing on earth but if no one knows about it, you won’t get anything in return. When it comes to video games, as someone tasked to ensure that it hits sales targets, you have to ask yourself first, are you selling a product or an experience?

To avoid the disconnect between the quality of the game and how it is shown to the public, it is important to make sure that both the marketing team and the game developers are working together from the very beginning of the process. You wouldn’t want to do a class presentation without knowing what your group did for the project right?

In a GDC talk given by Thomas Reisenegger, he emphasizes that development companies usually begin the PR planning between the time a game is revealed to the public and its release date. By that time, it would’ve already been too late.

There are four key phases to selling a game:

  1. Building awareness. It all begins in the pre-production phase of the game’s development. Surveys and focus groups of marketing teams will be instrumental in navigating what the current landscape is with players and competitors. Which genre is the most popular? What features do players want to see? Learn about what type of game people want to buy.

  2. Developing consideration from the audience. This is when the game is announced with trailers, PR stunts, feature videos, or whatever unique initiative that fits the experience the game is trying to convey. This is your chance to showcase what makes your game stand out. A well-made gameplay showcase is the most recommended here as long as you don’t pull a Watch Dogs. Be clear with your messaging and remember to always show, don’t tell. Making aspirational promises is one thing, but gamers will appreciate it if they can see what you are talking about.

  3. Conversion into a customer. At this point, you are already nearing the launch window of your game. You probably have released a number of trailers, featurettes, and press conferences to show what your game is about. One of the best ways to convince someone to buy something is to make them try it out first. A great example would be Back 4 Blood’s highly successful beta weekend before launch. Give players a slice of what the experience can be when they buy the game. It instills confidence in their purchases while enabling them as well to share it with others.

  4. Nurturing a fanbase. Free demos and trials can be given away through channels such as Discord, social media, or newsletters. Not only are you slowly building up a community for your game, you are also giving them an exclusive look at what they can expect. Transparency is ideal for the customer experience. Social channels are a great way to constantly communicate with potential customers about the behind the scenes of development, dev diaries, and community updates. A great example is God of War 2018’s “Raising Kratos” documentary of how it all went down from the pitching phase all the way to the release reviews. If you’re looking for an example for a multiplayer experience, Warframe’s regular dev streams are a great template to show what the studio is working on while at the same time, celebrating the community of the game.

As soon as potential customers turn into fans, they’ll begin to sell the game for you. A classic example is the critically acclaimed Demon’s Souls which was initially considered a failure. After people started talking about the difficulty and uniqueness of the experience, others got more and more curious until it eventually got considered as one of the best games of the generation.

Word of mouth advertising can also be achieved through partnering with content creators such as streamers and youtubers to showcase your game. In 2020, the number of people that watch games being played online have reached 1.2 billion.

Game reviews will either make or break your launch. They will serve as your voice to speak to the consumers. If you are confident in the experience of your game, make sure to get in contact with gaming publications and media to provide them with early review codes. Come launch day, thousands of individuals will look for external confirmation if the game is good enough to spend their hard earned money on. If the reviewers say so, gamer wallets will soon follow.

The more eyes that are placed on your game, the more conversations there will be about it. Eventually, distribution platforms such as the PSN store, Steam, Apple Store, and Xbox Marketplace will take notice and start showing your game in the featured discovery pages. Barely anyone goes to the second page in a google search right? Same concept here.

Speaking of search results, it’s also worth noting that release dates are very important for SEO. What good is all your promotional initiatives if gamers won’t know when the game will come out? Once you hook in a potential customer, the first thing they'll be asking is “when will this come out?” When they inevitably search this question on Google, you would want to draw them into your website or social channels.

Press Start

PR planning for a video game is not an exclusive process. Sometimes a great trailer can lead to a bad game or vice versa. Sometimes a great game can be overshadowed by a bad one just because the latter had the better public appearances.

Thousands of games get released every year. That is thousands of competition gunning for the top spot with each release window. Not everyone has the capability to buy every single release during its launch. Most would rather wait for a sale and as the marketing team, profit from discounts is not the most ideal.

To market a game based on surface-level concepts such as how good it looks, who’s in the cast, who’s the studio that made it, etc. is to rid it of its potential to reach a wider audience in a much more substantial manner.

The advantage of video games is in its interactivity. The unique experience each one gives to the player will hardly be replicated by any other piece of media. It’s already a story worth telling, now all it needs is the extra push to make it worth getting.

 

Pretty cool, right?