Game Marketing 101: Getting Play, Getting Noticed, Getting Social

November 02, 2011 - by alexsalkever

A few weeks ago I was buttonholed by an upstart game developer at one of Joyent’s Node Office Hours in San Francisco. He knew how to code up his game. Obviously. What he wanted to ask me about was marketing his game. It was something he had never done and not surprisingly. Rare are developers who are both coding and marketing experts. Who has the time? But every upstart game developer, except the lucky few who get seed funding right off the bat, start out as a bootstrapped entity. Hence, the Dennis Crowley/FourSquare model of entrepreneurship becomes essential. Dennis is the consummate startup marketer (even if he wears the CEO hat now) and he really launched FourSquare with his marketing chops.

(Note: This post was contributed by Lisa Petrucci, the VP of Global Marketing at Joyent and the head of marketing at Joyent Cloud. Lisa has deep roots in both marketing and social media, having occupied top sales, marketing and BD roles at Lotus, IBM and SixApart. Joyent Cloud powers Utinni's Being Human game.)

If you aren’t ventured backed and don’t have resources, you better learn the basics of game marketing. Because no matter how cool your game is, a solid marketing effort is always essential to building a lasting, sustainable game company. So here are some quick pointers.

Make Friends with the Media: Really, they don’t bite. They may blow you off but don’t take it personally. And trust me – as a founder who codes, you are far more interesting to them than a PR agency who makes a living flacking journalists. So what exact steps are we talking about? First, compile a list of publications where you want to get mentioned. Email the person there who will likely cover your title. If they are at an event or a meet up you plan to attend, make sure to introduce yourself and give them some way to contact you. Be friendly, polite and persistent. You’re a founder. You rock. You don’t suck. Words to live by.

Forward Movement is Mandatory: A corollary to making friends with media is the press release. Write a press release for every major milestone your company attains. Or a blog post. Or something to announce to the outside world that says “Hey, I Am Making Huge Progress. This is damn interesting!” If you have a few ducats, pay $200 for the Bay Area press release distribution circuit. This should get you published in a few places. Keep in mind, many media outlets have a specific slot for press...

releases so they like to know about this stuff. All of this activity must also be noted in your Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, Google + and in your Twitter account. Did I mention social media?

Social Media Takes Work But is Worth It: Of course, you know about social media. If you are designing games today, you probably live in it. That’s great. But from a marketing standpoint, social media needs to be used differently. How so? Well, some posts that are interesting to your friends may not be appropriate for your game company and target audience. And some blog posts that you don’t want to bother your friends with may in fact be compelling for social media. So here’s an easy way to benchmark. Look at social media efforts at a number of game companies. Find the approach you like the best and copy it. Now, wasn’t that easy?

Actually, not really. Truly integrated and successful social media means maximizing replication while minimizing annoyance. So be judicious but regular. Be responsive but not invasive.  It’s like showing you have a pulse.

At the same time as your steady engagement with your customers and prospects, every now and then shoot the moon with something really interesting. Video footage of the hottest sequences or of a player achieving the highest level yet attained on your game? Done. (Get their approval first, of course). Funny contests with prizes that encourage users to share your game and generate their own cool content? Compelling.  Cartman audio voiceover on a game sequence? Excellent. Remember, there is very little downside penalty to trying this, and the upside can be tremendous.

About that work part – social media takes real time and effort. So make it easier. Get a decent social media management tool that can handle multiple social media accounts in a single pane and allows you to schedule tweets. Make sure you carve out a portion of your day to do this. Or, failing that, identify a real evangelist in your game community and see if you can pay them to help. Unlike PR, this not a series of discrete efforts. It’s never ending.

Help Your Fans Market You 

Your community is your biggest asset. Give them all the tools they need to market your game. Allow them to chat with each other both inside and outside the game so they can talk to each other – and to invite others into chats, as well. Make sure your social share bars are always working (this can be harder than it seems as APIs do have a way of changing without warning). Make it easy for them to capture game sequences as videos. Set up a CafePress or Threadless account that allows them to create personalized game shwag easy as pie.

And celebrate your fans. Sounds corny, but if someone is coughing up $20 per month on virtual weaponry like clockwork, sending them a voucher for a personalized “Medieval Killer” T-shirt when they hit the 100,000 point mark is really just a good investment. As soon as you feel that you have critical mass, start some physical meet ups. Going to GDC? Make sure your fans know they are welcome to stop by the booth.  Also set up, if possible, some location-specific fun overlays on your game to reward those in the know at the show. Bottom line - by getting fans to know each other and to know you, you will create a vibrant community that is more cohesive and more lasting.

This is hardly an exhaustive guide but it’s some of the first things I tell devs who ask me how to market a game. And marketing, unlike coding, can be frustrating because progress is not linear and virality just happens sometimes. Granted, if your game is picked to be featured in the Apple Store, then your life just got a whole lot easier. If not, then sharpen your marketing chops and enjoy the ride. Really, it’s all about telling the world why you built your game and getting to know your fans and users. If you want to read a great Bible to all-around social media dominance, I’d pick up Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It!.  Please don’t feel you need to embrace Gary’s recommendations to the depth and breadth as outlined in the book, as it would be a full time job in and of itself.  But the read will provide you tremendous insight and prepare you to embark upon the social media path,