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Ask Moonpod: Marketing and PR
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MiceHead



Joined: 18 Nov 2004
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 18, 2004 7:16 pm    Post subject: Ask Moonpod: Marketing and PR Reply with quote

Howdy. A question from the Peanut Gallery: what suggestions would you give an independent studio regarding marketing and PR for a Windows title? Is there one approach, in particular, a small studio should take when advertising? Are download sites the best way to get the word out? Is it true that walking into a crowd and yelling, "BUY MY GAME, ALREADY!" is not the way to go?

Could you share a bit about what you did right with Starscape, and what you might have done differently?
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Poo Bear
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 18, 2004 8:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Contact all the review sites google can find, don't spend too much time on the big ones though you're usually wasting your time.

Contact all the gaming magazines, again, don't be disheartened that you don't get a review, but you will almost certainly get regular inclusion on their cover disks.

The free download sites only work if you hit every single one and the only way to do that without going insane is to buy some specialist uploading software. I wont mention the one we ended up using because we have to pay a fee every time we use it which seems a bit rich to me, i'm sure there are plenty of others.

Your website is your shop, so it better work and work very well. It needs to look good, respond quickly and have well written copy.

Be very wary of paying any money to anyone for anything unless you KNOW you can measure its effectiveness. This is crucial, lots of people will come at you from all sides with different ideas that all cost money. One in ten will prove worthwhile and you wont know which one unless you are measuring anything/everything. So things like, where did my site visitors come from, how many people coming from this magazine cover disk actually bought the game, where do visitors go when they reach the site, how many visitors do I get each week, etc, etc.

Work out who your game appeals to and try and contact them, very tricky to do but different games appeal to different groups. For instance, if you make a 2d shootemup then you will probably find friends on specialist schmup sites, retro sites and fans of emulators (for playing old games). You would certainly be laughed at if you started posting on planetQuake, for example.

If you make something that appeals to ~35 year old housewives then gaming portals like RealArcade will bite your hand off to get the game. Apparently that demographic spends millions on quality puzzle games (go figure).

Then there is paid advertising, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but either way it will cost major major money. Very dangerous unless you are very careful, it is just so tricky to work out where people are coming from and whether they are serious customers or not.
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guillett



Joined: 12 Dec 2003
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 20, 2004 1:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I can't claim to have much experience here, but I'll throw in my two cents anyway. You may want to take my opinions with a grain of salt, though.

The portals take a HUGE percentage of their sales. When dealing with RealArcade, Yahoo Games, etc. you can expect them to take 70% of each sale. With so many games on these portals, an awful lot of games get lost in the noise. That being said, if you can break the top five and stay there for a bit (they typically appeal to the "casual gamer" market - age 30+ housewives, as Poo said), then you can sell tens of thousands of copies (Feeding Frenzy is an example that comes to mind). However, unless your product is unbelievable, and also marketed directly at that market segment, it'll be nearly impossible to overcome the sheer numbers of other games. Most indies end up losing out on the huge cut that the portals take, while some cash in on the sheer volume. Enter at your own risk.

Paid advertising is kinda hit-or-miss; i'd recommend starting with Google AdWords first if you go this route. While they only use text-only ads, you can change them (and their targeted keywords) at will, allowing you to see very quickly what search terms and advertising text gets the most bang for your buck. You can then target those search terms and use that copy text on your more expensive, professional-looking ads. Still, you'll probably be lucky to break even on most paid advertising campaigns.

Last, but definitely not least - your website is as important as your game. Make sure your website looks professional, and, preferably, is search engine friendly. If people aren't comfortable buying your game through your website, then they won't. And if they can't find out how to download your game on your website, then they won't. If your screenshots and copy regarding the game don't make people want to try your game immediately, then they won't. Heck, if the desc tag they see on Yahoo isn't interesting enough for them to follow the link, then you may have lost a sale right there. Some indie game developers skimp on their websites. Don't.

-----

While we're doing the whole "Ask the Moonpod crew questions about their business" thing, I'll ask one myself... if you consider this intrusive at all, feel free to not answer Smile

What's the conversion rate on Starscape tending towards? I've heard that most indies' initial releases are doing good at 1%, but established companies should aim for 2%. However, Starscape blows every other initial-indie-release type of game I've seen out of the water, quality-wise, so I was wondering how you guys were doing in regards to hooking people who'd already downloaded the demo.
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MiceHead



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PostPosted: Sat Nov 20, 2004 1:37 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks to you both; I appreciate the insight!
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Fost
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 20, 2004 6:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

guillett wrote:
The portals take a HUGE percentage of their sales.

It's actually a far worse deal than most people realise. With Real arcade - no one buys games at $19.95 (Real's advertised standard sales point). Real are entirely geared up towards subscribing members to their game pass - which costs about $6 a month. Once subscribed, I'd guess most people don't bother to unsubscribe because it's such a tiny amount. You then get one game of your choice FREE each month, the developer then gets his royalty based on the $6 price minus real's costs i.e. bugger all.

As for conversion rate - it's hard to work that out, because we usually get a minimum of half our downloads each month coming from places like China where you will never see a sale. Right now it's hovering just under 1%, but with sales tracked from websites we know of - such as review sites or sites we have ads on, the percentage is much higher.
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Gravitron



Joined: 12 Jan 2004
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PostPosted: Sun Nov 28, 2004 11:50 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Best advertising, still remains as ever, word of mouth.
Friends pulling other friends in.

Also, as Poo said, only advertise at the right place, going to a jumpgate site to tell them how much more fun subspace is will get me killed most likely.
However, if I put the word in at some old school astroid fans site, who happen have friends at jumpgate, they'll pull their friends in with them.

In addition, the mainstream (casual gamers/sheeps/the lowest common dominator - sadly quantity which lacks quality) is a sold-freak for eye candy.
Again, if I showed SubSpace to most people, they'll laugh and walk away.
However, if they actually got onto the game, started playing, had the balls to look past their initial demises and try and train - they'll become addicts (trialed & true).
So you need to get visuals through to attract 'em boneheads to realise how good a game is due to a great gameplay, otherwise 'em boneheads will walk on accounts of the rendering engine not being high and mighty (naturally, if you are rich in gfx and have a lousy fun-devoided game design they'll cry and leave too...idiots).
On that notion, Infantry (at its "good days" and in concept) is far superior to counterstrike or quake ****, much more fun and complicated.
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Toren Kanesun



Joined: 06 Mar 2004
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 19, 2005 1:57 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

In the vein of PR, is that Rin Fubuki in the moonpod on your logo? Smile
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Fost
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PostPosted: Tue Apr 19, 2005 3:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah - sort of. It's actually a really old model of mine, that we later converted into Rin. She looks a fair bit different to Rin with her blonde spiky hair.
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Ninjas



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2005 1:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Has any indie put effort into selling physical copies of their games? It depends on your game, but there are a lot of mom and pop comic/video game stores and if they buy games from a distributor they will typically buy the game for $40 and resell it (if they can) for $50. More or less, they would be stupid to carry commercial titles with the current distribution system (You have to be Wal-Mart to get the bulk discount). YET, a lot of these places would be happy to sell a game they could get a reasonable markup on it, or if they had some assurance they could recover their expenditure (have the ability to return the product if they can't sell it).
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Fost
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2005 8:24 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ninjas wrote:
Has any indie put effort into selling physical copies of their games?


Yes, Introversion, who make Darwinia and Uplink seemed to get copies of the game into shops in the UK. Pretty much by force of will it seems (they went into HMV, a big music and video chainstore in the UK and asked the manager what they needed to do. He told them they need to deal with a distributor that was already approved. After that, they just kept hassling everyone on that list!).

Just getting a game into shops is only the start of the battle though (as if that wasn't hard enough!) as nobody is going to buy your game if they don't know about it. Introversion managed to take out magazine advertising, but this is all beyond many indies.

There's also the possibility that it might not actually be worth it - budget publishing is extremely cut-throat. Even more so than mainstream games. Profit cuts for developers are absolutely miniscule. Many people seem to think that until you get your game in shops you are nobody, but that's rubbish. I would hazzard a guess that there are no indie games out there that would make more money in shops than they can online (at least, if they had to deal with the current distribution methods). At Moonpod, we realised this a long time ago - we get a few publishers a week contacting us, but they take a lot of time to talk to. Very few of them are ever worth dealing with (there are some great ones out there, but they are pretty rare) and time spent pushing your game online is far more worthwhile in our opinion.
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Poo Bear
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2005 8:53 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Fost wrote:
There's also the possibility that it might not actually be worth it - budget publishing is extremely cut-throat.


This is where introversion starred because they didn't use a publisher who would have immediately packaged their game as a budget title or even bundled it with 10 other games for sale out of petrol stations. They got it into HMV themselves via a respected distributor so they could push it as a normal mainstream game with a normal mainstream price. Although I think they did price it a little lower than the big releases.

I've read about the effort required to do it though, apparently two of the three man team were dedicated to getting the game into shops and drove up and down the UK and hung on the phone for months begging distributors to talk to them. Maybe that is why they have had no luck in the US, they can't afford to send the two guys over there for 6 months. There was an interview recently where they were complaining that even though they'd drummed up an enormous amount of hype for Darwinia they couldn't get a (proper) publisher or distributor interested in the US.
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Toren Kanesun



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2005 2:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, there was an indie-driven US publisher called Gathering of Developers, now called Godgames, which of course someone bought up and is now part of the huge marketing machine. When are suits going to realize, in BOTH mediums of vodeo and game media, that beancounting is tertiary... when quality is superior they go flying off the shelves, provided the HAVE shelves to fly from.
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Ninjas



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2005 4:39 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm working on an indie title now (from Wolfire Software) doing some contract design work, but ultimately I want to do my own game, and I am very interested in the marketing aspect (with a typical product more talent and money goes into marketing it then actually creating it)

I guess the system I think might work is one where you have authorized resellers, and your customers are directed to them from the website. Why would that work when they could just buy the game from the site? Some people don't like to buy stuff on the internet, others don't like paying for something that isn't a physical object. I like the little booklet and dvd case and cover art. The advantage of delivering a disk is that you can put a lot more on it. Movie intros, your collected developer diaries, Design docs etc.

If you just tried to sell a game at comic book/tabletop game stores, I figure there are maybe 15 game stores per state, so 750 total in the US. It would probably take a year to call them, talk to them and get that a distribution channel set up. Maybe only half would be interested, but that still give you a place a person can drive to to buy you game in every major city.

I'm not saying you guys should do it. I don't even know if you have the same setup in the UK. But, I think someone WILL do it and when they do they will be able to help out other indie game developers by giving them an alternate distribution channel.

The reason going through the normal channels is so expensive is that people in suits are like leeches. They are willing to screw anyone and everyone so they can suck money from the actual creators of the products. The catch here is that nobody with the skills and fire to create games wants to do the marketing job, yet the second you let in an outsider they will spread like cancer. The reason I give mom & pop comic book and game stores as an example for an outlet is that the people who run these places are normal people driven by a love of the products they sell.

To sum this up, I don't think any indie should waste their time talking to suits but instead build a distribution channel free of them and their lawyers.

Appendix:

The Economics of Selling

Because your buyers are going to come from different walks of life and have differing incomes the way to maximize profit is to offer slightly different versions of the same product. For some paying $40 is nothing if they actually like the game. Other people will cringe at having to pay more than $19.95. Ideally, everyone would pay what they think the game is worth, but they are motivated by greed to pay as little as possible. By offering a slightly diffrenent 'premium' version of the game, you are able to target those with more disposable income. The premium version doesn't have to be much different. Take this example.

Person A living in estonia has an annual income of $8000 US

Person B living in the UK has an annual income of $80,000 US

You sell one version of the game with a premium making of DVD for $40
and the normal download game for $19.95

This means that in value terms (since they both make a living wage in their respective economies) you are asking the estonian to pay 10 times more for your product than the person from the UK. In other words, if the customers were indenticle in their desire to play your game, and Person A is willing to buy at 19.95, then logically Person B would be willing to pay $199 for that same game (certainly paying $40 would be no big deal for him).

I think this aspect of selling is especially important over the internet since you don't know where the people buying your game live.
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Poo Bear
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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2005 8:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ninjas wrote:
like the little booklet and dvd case and cover art. The advantage of delivering a disk is that you can put a lot more on it. Movie intros, your collected developer diaries, Design docs etc.


We already do this to a certain extent, the CD version costs a bit more but has a very nice "collectible" colour printing on the disc and the box cover. It also has full length super high quality music tracks too and some high res wallpapers. Including the developer diaries with MrRobot would be a nice touch. It's a shame margins are so tight, it would be really cool to put a full colour manual in there with some more artwork stuffed in for good measure and pay the extra licensing fees to put an audio disc in. Catch 22 really, if people bought a lot more copies then we could get it all done cheaper and use the money saved to put more value into what you get.

Ninjas wrote:
If you just tried to sell a game at comic book/tabletop game stores, I figure there are maybe 15 game stores per state, so 750 total in the US. It would probably take a year to call them, talk to them and get that a distribution channel set up. Maybe only half would be interested, but that still give you a place a person can drive to to buy you game in every major city. I'm not saying you guys should do it. I don't even know if you have the same setup in the UK. But, I think someone WILL do it and when they do they will be able to help out other indie game developers by giving them an alternate distribution channel.


If you mean independent games stores then we do have those in the UK, sadly they still use distributors. The only way for a shop to get games at cost so they can make a profit is to deal with the distributors. The distributor wont let you setup an account unless you are taking a certain quantity of certain games each month. These titles are the big hits everyone knows about from EA and such, they have multi-million dollar marketing spends and part of that money goes into buying a certain quantity of shelf space. The terms of the deal between the publisher and the distributor can also affect delivery. It's quite common for instance for a distributor to negotiate a lower price for games from the publisher because he guarantees to shift a bulk number of copies onto shelves. Obviously he then pressures retailers, especially less powerful independents to take certain items in certain quantities. This can mean only showing them certain stock items that he needs to shift, forcing them to take certain things with their order or varying the price to influence them.

So you'd think the climate was perfect for independents to step in and offer games directly to retailers? There are yet more problems with this scenario. The cost of duplication and packaging for small runs is quite expensive and time consuming. If you suddenly had a lot of copies to shift you would really need to hire a professional duplicator factory, but they are only setup for huge numbers. That implies you have a lot of cash laying around to pay for the production, storage and distribution of games. Remember this doesn't really make a lot of financial sense unless you are talking tens of thousands of copies. Distributors handle lots of titles so they are setup to work in bulk and they have the distribution channels and infrastructure already in place. Plus, you cannot really do a one off either. A shop needs regular shipments of new stock and reliable deliveries. The shop will also expect to return copies of games that don't sell for one reason or another and expect a full refund (sale or return).

It's all very complex as is usually the case with anything that becomes big business. As the wheels of industry turn more and people get involved all needing to be paid. Price competition drives margins down and economies of scale kick in putting markets out of reach of the small craftsmen.

Sorry, that sounds a bit depressing but that is the reality of the situation. If we can get enough quality games out then maybe we can grow big enough that doors start to open instead of slamming in our face Wink

Ninjas wrote:
By offering a slightly diffrenent 'premium' version of the game, you are able to target those with more disposable income. The premium version doesn't have to be much different. Take this example.


This is a very common business practice in other industries. I think a game needs to be setup from the start to sell this way. People now expect an awful lot for free with games so you would have to be careful not to alienate them. It would also take a lot longer to make that kind of game. If you want to sell something at 3 different price points and not upset people then you've got to put in a lot of extra content indeed and really show there is value for money at each level.
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Ninjas



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 06, 2005 11:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thank you for taking the time with your very complete answer. I know a liitle bit about getting CDs reproduced, but I suspect you are much more familiar with that than I am. Not very encouraging.

What do you guys think about Steam? They just put their first indie game up on it.
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