Marketing should play an integral role in your design from the conception of your prototype. Many first time developers will wait until their game is about to release, or is already released. However, the earlier you start marketing, the better results you will see. There is of a course a limit on certain forms of marketing that you do not want to pursue until later stages of development. For example, releasing material that will be replaced or removed later on can be detrimental to your game as it can give consumers the wrong expectations. However, other forms of marketing should be done as early as possible.
What are these different forms of marketing I have eluded too? First, to get them out of the way, there is the standard marketing that most consumers will think about: trailers, social media campaigns, press reviews, websites, etc. The list goes on, but these are the marketing media that your consumers will interact with and develop ‘hype’ for your game with. More on these later. The other form of marketing that you should be concerned with is market research. In essence, you need to know your target audience. This holds true for all business ventures. Make your customers happy, and they will support your product.
Designing your game with market research in mind can be a painful process. It’s very common for developers to create a game that they want to play. This is great, and I highly suggest doing this. Unfortunately, it’s also very common for developers to make a game that not many other people want to play. Your first goal in combating this is to figure out who your target audience is. This might take some self reflection as well. What kind of games do you enjoy playing? It could take some testing with different players to actually find your target audience. Designing a game around a target audience may involve making sacrifices with your original ideas to support their play styles and preferences.
Once you figure out your audience, you should stay true to that audience. Supporting more people by making your game accessible is great, but sacrificing core mechanics or impacting the flow of gameplay can ruin the overall experience for the people who will be playing the game the most. This is something I learned while making flash games. Sponsors would insist that I make changes to my games so they would be more accessible to a larger audience. In doing so, I would often stray from my target audience and damage the overall flow of my game for those players. Intrusive tutorials are never a good idea, but that’s a whole new topic in itself. Something that can help is to find some players who enjoy the same type of games as your target audience and let them provide feedback on any core changes as early as possible in the design process. I’ve done this with my latest game, Recursion Deluxe, and it has steered a lot of decisions for tweaking the overall difficulty curve for the game.
Consumer marketing should start early, and stay frequent. This is something that I personally am not very good at. Learn from my mistakes and make your game more successful. There are cases where no or minimal marketing has worked out. For example, Flappy Bird just had a share button in their game to share on social media, and that was enough to make it a viral success. If you look at any big studio game, they will usually release information about their game months, if not years before the game is set to release. Trailers, websites, social media campaigns, they will all be swarming with activity until the game is actually released.
Obviously, on your first game you will not have this kind of marketing budget, but that doesn’t mean you should wait until release to develop consumer hype. You will want to create a twitter and facebook for your game early on, and continue to update both frequently. Learn the commonly used hashtags and use them (#sceenshotsaturday is your friend). The majority of sales will be driven within the first couple of weeks after release, so all of the hype you build before then will pay off. Make sure you have at least one YouTube trailer for your game out well before release. Start early, and continue keeping your target audience in mind and you will be on your way towards a successful release!