In the final moments before launching a new video game, usually the last thing on your mind is marketing. But the truth is, it should be the first.
In my experience, without marketing, or growth hacking, your game dies before it’s had a chance to shine.
After launching several viral social games, I learned that a marketing plan — even a simple one — is crucial to building a player base. For my first game, You Jump, I Jump, I had only $100 on Facebook and a few players. But it was enough to catapult us to the top of the Facebook games recommendations and garner 11 million unique players. I always include a marketing plan in my strategy, even though now I’m working with much larger budgets in a very different gaming capacity.
But whether you’re building endless runner games for a social network or creating the most comprehensive virtual reality game on the market, it all comes down to one simple component.
The secret is you have to talk with your potential audience and get feedback in real time before your creation is released to the world — whether that’s sending press releases to journalists or chatting with potential brand ambassadors on Twitter.
Competition in the video game industry is fiercer than any other in the world. If you are a true believer in Peter Thiel’s “competition is for losers” mantra, steer clear and find success elsewhere. However, if you’re like me, and love video games too much to not try, then let me share some thoughts and learnings on how to stand out from the competition.
1. A/B Testing
You don’t have to hire a marketing firm or a testing site to get feedback on your game.
Back when I was developing a music game called Piano Tiles, I wanted to test two different art styles. One was animated and cartoonish, the other more realistic. To see which version people would be more interested in, I ran a small set of Facebook ads for each style. It turns out that more people were interested in the realistic art style, so that’s the one incorporated into my game — because I had data proving that’s what more people clicked on.
The game didn’t get much attention in the beginning — just a few thousand monthly active players. As time went on, and I made improvements based on results from the A/B tests, the game grew in both user rating and popularity. It became my most successful social game, with 17 million unique players to date.
Another way to test what consumers will prefer is to create a landing page for your game that describes its concept. Include a few mockups of what the finished product will look like, then buy a small amount of Google AdWords to track how many people are coming and taking an action on your page — like if they subscribe to your newsletter.
Since developers usually have several game ideas at once, it makes sense to spend a good amount of time prior to actually starting development, creating landing pages for the different game concepts and art styles. This is a simple and actionable way to gauge interest in the different directions you can go, and it helps in making the right decision.
Not only is A/B testing an invaluable way to get live feedback from your potential audience about the game you’re creating, but it will also start to build awareness before launch. People will see your ads, hopefully engage with them, and then recognize your work when it’s launched.
2. Social Media
With so many games being released each week, reaching players on social media feels like trying to yell at your friend in a loud concert. You have to be smart about it.
When we had ambassadors playing through an early version of Seeking Dawn, our multiplayer survival VR game at Multiverse that came out in July, we designed a program to get people to join our community channels via Discord and Facebook. If an ambassador recruited enough people to join these groups, we rewarded them with in-game items — things like new avatar skins or weaponry. We then created a leaderboard on our website where they could track their progress to see who was evangelizing to the most new players, further gamifying the recruitment process. Players loved it.
Since people are most likely to trust a friend’s recommendation over a boosted ad, this started to generate a buzz about our game.
Another way to make social media work for you is with Facebook Open Graph Actions. I used this for my social games to achieve a certain degree of virality, so as players earned certain accomplishments or discovered a certain part of the world, they could share the news with their network. This way their friends would see what they’re playing, and it would spike their curiosity.
Since people were naturally sharing what they were playing, we didn’t have to boost any of our own posts or focus on social engagement. It was a simple and smart way to leverage social media to reach new players.
3. Stand Out
When it’s time to send press releases to gaming journalists, don’t be disheartened if your story gets rejected.
Journalists receive a lot of press releases on a regular basis, and they’ve developed a shrewd professional sense of what makes a game story-worthy. If your game is getting rejected by every journalist you send it to, take this as a learning opportunity. Look at what else is on the market at the same time as your game and see what makes you stand out.
If you aren’t doing anything different from anyone else, it’s time to re-evaluate. If you’ve done your homework, then you’ll have already been considering what sets your game apart in the marketplace from the very beginning. Don’t leave this to the last minute. Otherwise you won’t be able to find anything to pitch a journalist, much less your prospective audience.
For example, at Multiverse, when we finished work on Dream Flight and were looking for the next concept for a VR title, we asked ourselves what players and journalists would find the most interesting in a VR game.
At the time, in mid-2016, almost all VR titles on the market were simple experiences based on a single mechanic: throwing objects, shooting arrows from a bow, or shooting waves of zombies. We decided to make a big bet on a game that attempted to recreate the $60 console game experience. The result of that decision was Seeking Dawn.
At the end of the day, without an effective marketing process in place, your game won’t have enough players to create critical mass for organic growth. If your player base doesn’t reach that point, the number of players will continue to fall until there’s no one left, and the game dies.
A good marketing strategy for your game will fall into place with other skills you’ve used to create the game itself: you have to innovate, you have to listen to your testers, and you have to be adaptable.
You have all of the passion and determination to bring your story to life in a video game.
Don’t let it die.