Saturday, March 23, 2013

Moved... to a new beginning!

This blog has moved to a new home, with a new beginning:

From this new home, I will not only share marketing tips for indies (because who gives a damn about triple A anymore), but I will also chronicle my own adventures in game development! On the marketing side, my goal is to post two to three articles a week, walking you through various stages of creating a marketing plan for your game. I will talk about some important marketing concepts, such as:
  • Knowing how to look at your game with a marketing hat on,
  • How to know your audience and where to find them,
  • Market segmentation,
  • Competition,
  • Differentiation,
  • Positioning,
  • How to write a good description/pitch for your game,
  • And a whole bunch of other stuff.
Some of these stages will have assignments that you will need to complete. They will be structured in a way that you will be building on what you did in previous assignments. The ultimate goal is to have something that resembles a marketing plan at the end.

If in the past you enjoyed this blog and found it useful, but were unsure how it could apply to your indie projects, please update your bookmarks to the new address for my how-to guide to video game marketing for indies @

See you there!

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Brief Update

I have been very bad at updating my blog, due to my new job taking up most of my time. I'm hoping I will eventually manage to get back to writing about my favourite industry.

In the meantime, I'm entertaining a creative idea for a crazy internet experiment. What I need is the help of a web designer/developer to begin with. Someone with knowledge of international law would also be helpful to brainstorm with. They do not have to be the same person.

If you are curious/interested, email me at

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

Codemasters' EPIC FAIL

I don't review games on this blog. There are too many people out there doing that. I usually try to focus on what it means to have a well developed and well marketed game. However, it is worthy of mention when a game does the latter very good and fails colossally at the former, the way Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising seems to have pulled off.  But still I must admit the real reason I'm writing up this post is because of how bad I feel as a consumer who's been lured into buying their game. I feel so bad that it hurts. Also let me mention that my impressions are based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Let's talk marketing then. The concept is great: a military shooter that focuses on realism and atmosphere, summed up by the words "This is not a Rambo game." Great differentiation strategy there. So far so good.

They had a strong brand equity coming from the first title in the franchise, the original Flashpoint, which many people remember fondly. That's a great advantage which they have been able to use to their favor. Still good. 

Timing-wise, it was a great window to launch the game; just when people are bored to death by CoD: WaW, and Battlefield 1943, and just before the other strong titles (MW2, BF Bad Company 2) coming out. Even better.

Promotions were exceptionally done, focusing on all the mouth-watering features of the promised game. The constant stream of trailers and developer diaries did a lot to build up anticipaton, all the way to the release day. So all in all, it was great marketing... would you say?

This is why, I suppose, it sucks to be a marketer in the video game industry. Because the most essential component of marketing, namely customer satisfaction, is decoupled from the other functions of marketing departments. So when the game gets in the hands of the gamers and the rubber hits the road, when the horrors of a blatantly unfinished game at $60 bucks are unleashed on the naive and unsuspecting consumer, when all the promises are broken and it all adds up to an overwhelmingly bad customer experience, as a marketer I just grimace and think: this is actully horrible marketing and I know the "marketing department" couldn't have made a difference. Such is the sad state of marketing in this industry.

If you want to know what exactly is bad about the game, I recommend checking the official forum pages. There are more flames there than you could find on a particularly warm day in hell.

You just lost a brand loyal, Codemasters. And I have a feeling I'm not the only one.
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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

How to Create/Market Games for Women

(Dear readers, 

Allow me to introduce you to Julia Barry; song writer, musician, and director of the documentary "In Her Image: Producing Womanhood in America" - a multimedia documentary of how media portray and shape women's lives in America. Julia gracefully accepted my invitation to share her views on video games from a woman's perspective, as a guest blogger. I think you will, as a reader of this blog, benefit from her observations, especially if you are trying to make/market games for women. Enjoy...)

I’m really glad to be guest blogging, and want to give kudos to Taylan for soliciting a female point of view on videogames.

Many people assume that girls and women don’t talk about videogames and media because they’re simply not interested and therefore not involved in it.  Being a bit of a tech geek myself who also does work with girls and teens, I can safely say that there are just as many females intrigued and excited by digital tools and toys as guys.

But why do videogames and girls still seem to exist in different realms? 

Lets go to marketing, products, and capitalism for a second.  Videogames are entertainment products, purely made to be sold to gamers.  As far as I know (correct me if I’m wrong), the gaming industry’s main mission is to make money.  (The industry has also been at the forefront of developing technology for creating stunning graphics and motion, which is pretty exciting from a tech/art point of view, but is still designed in the service of creating an exciting product that will sell.)  The framework of videogames as commercial items leads game-makers and marketers to rely on salient imagery presented at a pulse-thrilling and interactive pace to keep customers coming back.

Unfortunately for girls and women, “salient imagery” today usually means thoughtless sex and violence, both of which we are all made immune to through repeated exposure.  This content alienates girls two-fold: 1) girls are socialized not to engage in or like violence, but rather to be thoughtful and nurturing, so taking part in these sort of “boy” games undermines femininity, and 2) even if we are more aggressive and don’t mind playing “boy” games, within the games there is often little room for girls and women.  There are usually less (or no) female than male characters; female characters are primarily created of an unrealistic and unhealthy body ideal, wear incredibly sexualized clothing, and act sexually debased; and many tasks a player gets game points for (or even the video transitions that a player watches between screens) involve disrespecting or brutalizing women, or at the least, being thoroughly macho and reveling in disregard for other characters.

All that doesn’t mean girls don’t like the challenge and thrill of videogames as a media or format (many of us do!), and corporations are certainly aware of girls as a consumer market.  However, in trying to create “girl” games in recognition of the disconnect between girls and popular, “boy” videogames, companies pander even more to gender stereotypes that ironically don’t reflect the 3-dimensionality of real girls and women. Marketing games to girls shouldn’t mean making everything gossipy and pink, yet there are countless products in that vein.  Games and toys aimed at the female population are often shallow, fluffy screen versions of dress-up and shopping—worlds where friendships and rewarded behavior revolve around looking one’s best for men and spending money.  How passive and for-everyone-else’s-benefit is that?

In a past post, Taylan wrote that playing games and playtime in general is “an integral component of development of the individual” where we “learn…skills that are crucial to survival,…[particularly] when the knowledge and information is directly related to winning. Millions of years of evolution has sharpened one trait the most, common in all organisms alive today: competitiveness.”

Games surely involve competition, and competition can be a component of fun and sportsmanship.  But with many videogames, we are entrenching a world of values where boys impress each other by being violent, and girls impress boys (and compete with other girls) in being pretty and inviting of sexual encounter.  Is this type of play really actually an innocuous way to experience risks out of context?  I don’t think that hijacking cars, destroying aliens, and murdering prostitutes are risky behaviors we need to practice for real life applications. 

And let’s not doubt the connection between videogames and real life.  As Taylan wrote, “Th[e] strong association of playtime with learning of skills that are crucial to survival has shaped our brains into being incredibly receptive to new knowledge and information that we are exposed to within the activity of playing.” 

Since game-time is so important to real life, the games I love are those that skip over gender pigeon-holing and cruelty, and give us practice at tasks and behaviors that can make our non-videogame lives enjoyable and rich too.

This index includes some adventure/invention videogames where a player thinks through clues and creatively hurdles obstacles, and of course, the Wii.  I was thrilled when the Wii came out because a whole new type of videogame was born, a genre where fun is based on sports, music, and movement, rather than on death and insensitivity to fellow humans.  Funny too, how the types of games that don’t involve as much sexism and violence can be more team oriented—winning Wii games often depends on cooperation and collaboration rather than competition and singular gain.  (The only example I know of where violent videogames foster teamwork is in the case of internet games, where people can be, say, on the same Airforce squadron, working together to obliterate an enemy.)

What do you think about gender and videogames?  Do you have apropos stories?  Contentions with or examples of what I wrote about?  Games to recommend?  Please let us know your thoughts!

Further resources:
Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins (eds), From Barbie® to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Reactions to my previous post

On LinkedIn, there has been some great discussion going on about my last article, and I want to share those comments in addition to the others here on my blog.

Ted Southard CEO at DigitalFlux Entertainment, LLC:

"Interesting, and you raise valid points. However, how do we know that Six Days in Fallujah was not that mature game in an FPS shell? It may well have been, and it was something that was touted as one of it's differentiating features, since I believe it followed the story of an actual squad in that battle.

The actual matter is that it's okay to do Call of Duty 4 or Modern Warfare 2 in these locations because they are not real, and thus do not enter into the realm of politics, which Six Day in Fallujah did. When that firestorm brewed up from both sides of the argument, Konami backed off and folded like a chair at the beach...

What needs to happen, in addition to what you had recommended in more deep games being produced (and you're right in that those are in short supply) is for companies to stand up to their parents as well. I would not have backed off the game, but would have addressed all of the critics with facts and slugged it out.

People appreciate integrity, and the lack of it in some of the dealings in this industry reflect the immaturity you speak of. In this case, Konami showed a lack of integrity in backing off of the project instead of taking their case to the public in a more aggressive manner, which not only would have benefited them, but the entire industry by showing people that we can and will stand up for our medium. Otherwise, we just look like kids with their hand in the cookie jar."

Ernest Adams Game Design & Development Consultant, Freelance Teacher

"Your message is worthy but short on specifics. Yes, the industry needs to grow up. I've been complaining, sometimes bitterly, about that for nearly 20 years. But what does that mean in specific terms?

To me, one thing it means is that when the developers of a game DO choose to tackle difficult and controversial subjects, they must do so with the utmost seriousness. They must not yield to the temptation to include gratuitous shock content, inside humor, or anything else that would justify a criticism that the game is trivializing the subject. (It will receive that criticism anyway, just for being a game; the question is whether the game includes content that, in candor, really DOES trivialize the subject.)

Some will undoubtedly complain that if Quentin Tarantino can trivialize violence and brutality, why can't we? And the answer is that Tarantino works in a medium that has already earned its cultural status -- as you yourself point out.

I don't know enough about Six Days in Fallujah to know whether it treated the war with the gravity that it deserves. I had heard a rumor that it was less a Rambo-style FPS than a survival horror game, because that's what the battle really was: survival horror. If true, I think it would have been an important step forward in our portrayal of war, and I would like to have seen it. But I also know how game developers love to slip in cheats and Easter eggs and other supposedly "clever" material that is fun to find, but subverts the tone and message of the subject matter. And that would immediately destroy the credibility of any game on a subject as grim as the battle for Fallujah.

If Atomic had included even one powerup, or hidden super-weapon, or invincible mode, or Easter egg that changed all the enemies into giant rabbits, then it would have ruined the game -- and been a major setback for anyone else trying to address a controversial subject. Did they? Or did they really take their subject matter as seriously as they should? I guess we'll never know."

Ed Salsberg Owner, Steel Valor Online - Video Game Consulting & Beta Testing:

"We've done WWII to death, raised it and to the death again! When I heard it was canceled due to the controversy of the current war(s) I was majorly disappointed. We need fresher content!

Honoring the fallen by telling their story and even pushing some of the profits to the families of the fallen would change the public's view of this game entirely. The stories on the Military Channel, especially those dealing with current or recent events are the most interesting and very popular.

I really think they should reconsider or pass the project to someone with the balls to do it and do it right. We could use the new content as teh only gold series we currently have that deal with modern day combat are GRAW, CoD and ... ummm ... exactly.

Honestly, if K was concerned about content dealing with current conflicts maybe they should stop selling their Crusades games ... as that was will always be fought until we die or forget the gods."

Jaime Kuroiwa :

"I believe this is the reason for SDF's demise. Shortly after this news broke on the blogs, Konami pulled support. I don't think it was coincidence.

And here is a comment from user randomlulz:
"... is the opinion of a jobless MBA grad in his twenties..."
...I must say I am flattered that I can still pass for twenty-something...
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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Why "Six Days in Fallujah" was really cancelled

"Bang! Boom, ratata, boom, bang!" she said, while holding an imaginary rifle in her hand and doing her best to impersonate a testosterone driven male gamer, mouth agape and pupils dilated.

The person sitting across from me was my potential future boss, the creative director of a noteworthy agency in BC, interviewing me for a job. This was her reaction to me saying that video gaming was one of my hobbies. It was inspired by her general impression of video games (violence, explosions, guns, etc.), and followed by the question whether I was really into that

My answer to her question was a protest. It started with a sigh and continued along the lines of "You shouldn't think that way," and "That's not really fair." But as I continued to explain my viewpoint, I was simultaneously realizing that her opinion, while unfair perhaps, was at the same time perfectly reasonable in its origination.

For what reason was there to think otherwise?
Even for those of us who know that there is so much more to video games than B-rated action movie rip-offs, it is no small mental challenge to dig up a glorious example of deep storytelling from our memories, without having to go many years back in time.

There was a time that video games were giving us thrilling glimpses of a new kind of storytelling, rich with emotion, philosophy, experimentation and unparalleled immersion. There was content on par with fine literature. Ironically, that was also the time when gaming was associated only with kids, teenagers, and adults who had horribly failed at getting a life. Gaming was far from being hailed by the incumbent media as a "cultural phenomenon." It was nowhere near being mainstream, and its appeal was deemed childish at best.

And then video games did what all the other media before them had done to gain mainstream popularity: they dumbed the content down. It was in the fashion of a brat screaming and begging for attention: loud, crass, inappropriate, irresponsible, hormone-driven. Gone were long chunks of dialogue from the screen, "because people did not like to read." Gone were thought provoking stories, "because people just wanted to have fun." The content did not mature up, but rather got an "M for mature," meaning it adopted a behaviour pattern rife with sex, violence, nudity and coarse language, just like a rebellious teenager imitating his/her impression of what an adult is. And it worked like a charm!

Today, video games are not simply a childish waste of time, produced entirely by isolated programmers here and there, doing some coding while they are slacking off on their full-time jobs. It is a big, serious industry, employing many professionals from a wide variety of digital fields, and serving a global market worth billions. The content strategy has served the industry well indeed. Or so it seems, if you ignore what is starting to happen now.

What got you here won't get you there 
It was back in April, Konami announced that they were dropping the controversial game Six Days in Fallujah even before it could see the daylight, due to an overwhelming outcry against the game's premise. The premise was a digital reenactment of one of the key battles of the Iraqi War, in the style of a First Person Shooter. It was criticised by both Pro-War and Anti-War commentators. Some blamed the game for trivializing war, while others said it was glorifying war. While these points might seem contradictory to a non-gamer, it should sadly be noted that war games (to date) have an uncanny knack for pulling off both offenses at the same time.

Yet there is something in this story that does not make sense at first glance. After all, this was not the first attempt to portray the Iraqi war. There are already many movies made about almost any war in recent and far history - most of them featuring Americans fighting in somebody else's country. Why such a strong reaction to a game when seemingly anyone can make a movie about anything related to war?

Add to this puzzle the fact that there are games such as Modern Warfare, Battlefield series, and many more, taking place within the context of imaginary conflicts that are blatantly obvious anagrams of real world conflicts, and yet faring merrily in sales figures with nary a protest, nor an objection. So what's going on here?

The answer is simple. When it comes to handling sensitive subjects of the real world with due care, video games just have zero - none, null, nada, squat - vote of confidence from their audience. The situation is exactly that of the previously described rebellious teenager who, upon asking if he/she could take the keys to the family car to go to a late night party, is given the answer: "Yeah, right. Like that's gonna happen in a million years."

Six Days in Fallujah is not the only manifestation of this. It is a similar thing that happened to the game Super Columbine Massacre RPG at the Slamdance festival of 2006. A different kind of reaction stemming from the same sentiments came for the last Resident Evil game, blaming the developers for being insensitive about racism.

Movies do not suffer from the same bias because that medium has long proven itself capable of "adult responsibility" with many fine examples of film making. They have deserved and earned the benefit of doubt that saves them from being cancelled even before being filmed.

While the braindead marketing philosophy of the last century might think of these controversies as "great publicity for games," (Dante's Inferno, you hear this?) the truth is that there is no more ground left to be won by such tactics. In fact these very tactics are becoming a hindrance for video games in their rise to the dominant medium of the future throne. Especially at a time when the whole global business community is engulfed in change towards more social responsibility, this particular industry runs the risk of drawing more and more ire from gamers and non-gamers alike, for its glaring indifference and reluctance to grow up.

It is now time that the teenager should get a clean haircut, learn to self-administer mouthwash, and start wearing something that doesn't have skulls and pentagrams on it. Such a thing is far from being unimaginable. It used to be, in fact, a reality.

The humour in the Secret of the Monkey Island was comparable to Terry Pratchett. The haunting riddle of Planescape: Torment was no less profound than any quote from Nietzche. The noir style of Grim Fandango could make Tim Burton jealous. The video games industry used to be that responsible person (and still immensely fun) a long time ago. And it can become that person again.

But how, you ask, will video games prove themselves worthy if they are not even given a chance? My answer is: learn to mow the lawn first before you ask for the car keys. Work your way up from less sensitive subjects and show the world you are ready to take the responsibility of being the dominant medium.

As a good example to that, I recommend looking at how Battlestar Galactica series handled the topic of terrorism, war, and even suicide bombings admirably, without offending its audience. There are lots of similar examples out there, if one wants to find them.

(Note to journalists and researchers: Next time, before you publish an article about storytelling in video games, please do take time to study the matter in depth. When you ignore all those fine examples of storytelling as if video games started off with Grand Theft Auto, you end up misleading your audience and hurting the credibility of your authority in the subject field.)

(Note to my interviewer: No offense meant to you at all! It's still okay to hire me!)

P.S. I have copied the comments from game-devs about my article in a new post, which you can find here. Or you can join the Game Developers group on LinkedIn to see them there.
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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Does innovation really sell?

The word innovation is almost universally revered these days. We organize conferences, seminars, and workshops, we write books, case studies, and even poems about it. Businesses are built around the idea of innovating constantly, or at least so claim the marketing messages. Despite such great enthusiasm, however, we collectively seem to have a knack for ignoring innovation when we are staring squarely at its face.

A chapter of the book "Chaos: Making New Science" is devoted to the nature of scientific revolutions. Quoting Thomas S. Kuhn, a historian of science, the author retells a psychological experiment conducted in the 1940s. In this experiment subjects were given brief glimpses of playing cards and asked to name them. What they were not told was that there were trick cards in the deck, like a red six of spades or a black queen of diamonds.

At high speeds, the subjects identified the cards successfully, without perceiving any anomalies. But when the speed was reduced, and they had more time to look at the card, they began to hesitate. The brain had perceived some irregularity but was unable to name it. When the speed was further slowed down, the subjects started to catch on and make corrections.

Interestingly, though, not all of them. A portion of the subjects reported painful disorientation.
"I can't make that suit out, whatever it is. It didn't even look like a card that time. I don't know what color it is now or whether it's a spade or a heart. I'm not even sure what a spade looks like. My God!"

Kuhn argues that professional scientists are no less likely to suffer from similar disorientation when confronted with a situation that is identified by the current paradigm as an "incongruity." Indeed, one does not need to be a historian of science to recall examples of revolutionary scientists facing harsh resistance, and even hostility from their peers, for having dared to challenge the status quo of scientific progress.

Reading this, I realized that innovation faces the same challenges even outside the realm of cutting edge science. The example I immediately can recall is that of OnLive, or gaming with Cloud Computing in general. Since the first announcement of the concept, there has been quite a significant reaction to it, generally erring on the negative side. Many people have shared their opinions on why such a service is not even technically possible, while some others have argued the financial unfeasibility of the endeavour. Industry people have called it "the end of the golden age" for gaming, and even gamers have been uttering the name in contempt.

In marketing, the risk of rejection is sometimes expressed in terms of consumer behaviour. If a product or service requires "significant change in consumer behaviour," as innovation often does, it carries a high risk for rejection. In my technology entrepreneurship classes, the strategy that was most frequently cited was that of "Crossing the Chasm," to overcome that challenge.

It is interesting to observe a similar strategy from scientists who have been trying to let the world know of their revolutionary findings. Stories are abundant, of scientists "dumbing down" their own papers to get them published, or changing the style to make them appeal to their peers, or even choosing obscure journals to publish on, out of desperation. In other terms, disruptive innovation has a way of sneaking in through the back door, like a sketchy, shameful acquaintance that we do not want to be publicly associated with.

This makes me wonder about the wisdom of mass-marketing anything as a "truly revolutionary product" when there is actually truth to the claim. Thinking about the OnLive example again, it seems to me that the buzz has focused too much about the technology, and too little about the value that the consumers will derive, the latter almost dangerously assumed to be self-evident.

The same could be said about Project Natal from Microsoft. The applicability of the technology to consumer experience is still vague at best, outside a narrow range of genres and styles displayed in the E3 presentation.

The dead end on innovation street has a sign pointing to it; "Admiration of novelty for its own sake," it reads, and is very tempting to the innovator him/herself for the pride in having put it together. What we see, though, is that relevance is the key (to the backdoor even as it might be) to gain acceptance. Beautiful as they may be, the guts of your innovation do not necessarily matter much to your audience if they cannot discern how all of that relates to themselves. Even among the brilliant minds of the scientific community, it seems difficult to get people to read anything if they cannot see what the knowledge helps them to understand.

On the other hand a more personal lesson to be derived, whether you are a consumer, investor or entrepreneur, is to keep an open mind and not let great opportunities slip by blindly favouring probability over possibility. When innovation becomes the master of the house, it will reward those that let it in through the front door.

To end the post with a positive note:

If it really sounds too good to be true, it possibly is... true.

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Secret of Marketing with Games Explained with Motivational Forces and Neuroplasticity

In order to understand how marketing with games can be effective, it is very important to understand why people play games -and not just video games- in the first place.

Let's start with a little quiz. Can you tell what the following strings of characters symbolize?

AK47 - MP5 - M1A1 - M16 - UMP (I'll stop here before my blog shows up on national security queries)

If you are a gamer, chances are very good that you will correctly answer the question: they are all firearms. If you have played enough First Person Shooter games (like I have), you can go even further and tell me an amazing amount of detail about each weapon: ammo type, effective range, handling, accuracy, where and when to use each, and more.

I am a peaceful, anti-war individual who has never even touched a firearm in his entire life, let alone fire one. I advocate a gun-free society and do not plan to own any sort of gun any time at all. In short, I am nowhere near being in the market for guns. Yet why does my brain retain such intimate knowledge of the products in question?

Let's look at a less inflammatory example: I have never been in the market for a Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini or some other similar car either. Yet there was a time I could almost write up a factsheet about each one from memory. Why did I care?

While you think about that, let me turn back to the original question of why people play games. Playing and playtime are not limited to just humans. Many mammals, particularly those of the predatory kind, make use of games and playtime as an integral component of development of the individual. At its core, playtime is an opportunity for the mind to learn about risky situations, and to master the skills of dealing with them, without taking any actual risk of getting seriously hurt or wounded. This strong association of playtime with learning of skills that are crucial to survival, has shaped our brains into being incredibly receptive to new knowledge and information that we are exposed to within the activity of playing.

It is even more so when the knowledge and information is directly related to winning. Millions of years of evolution has sharpened one trait the most, common in all organisms alive today: competitiveness. Often times there has not been enough room on this planet for everyone. When that is the case, the one that survives is the one that wins over the competition. This is why the need to win (whether as an individual or as a group) is the mother of all motivational systems that our brains rely on. Any skill, knowledge or information linked to that primary motivation is sure to get the utmost focus of our perception and cognition. Playtime, particularly the structured sort, takes advantage of this fact by offering rewards to be won, and defining the set of rules, skills and knowledge to be used in reaching that goal. If the reward is enticing enough, the brain puts a flashing neon MUST-LEARN tag on all relevant information. Let us call this The Relevancy Factor.

A most beautiful advantage of playtime is that it allows for practice of skills and use of knowledge out-of-context. A cat does not need to wait for mice to show up, to hone her skills. In other words, you can simulate a particular experience as many times as you want, without having to rely on external conditions. Neuroplasticity studies have recently shown us that it is a highly competitive environment inside our brains, where the skills and knowledge that we do not frequently use tend to wane, and the ones we frequently use grow to occupy larger space. It is known as the use-it-or-lose-it principle. In this way, playtime allows for much more frequent use of skills and knowledge. Each round of playing reinforces the importance of the subject in question. After enough rounds played, the brain now puts a flashing MUST-RETAIN sign on all relevant information. Let us name this The Stickiness Factor.

Now we have the context for transitioning from Reach x Frequency, to a measure that is more appropriate to marketing with games; Relevance x Stickiness.

Reach vs Relevance
John Nelson Wanamaker, the father of modern advertising as they say, is often quoted in saying: "I know half of my advertising is wasted. I just don't know which half." Over time it has become one of the main struggles of marketing to reduce that ineffective half to smaller percentages by careful media buying, segmentation, geo-targeting, etc. Yet still when one airs an ad on any media, they are still paying for the eyeballs of a good number of people who are not even remotely in the market for the advertised product.

The limitation is that people pay attention to only what they deem is relevant to their lives. I am sure I will purchase a car in the next five years, but I have no pressing need right now to pay close attention to auto commercials. I may think about buying a house in the next ten years, but for all those real estate ads on the newspaper I am quite out of reach right now. And yet they pay for my eyeballs nonetheless.

But what if, as a marketer, you did not need to catch people at that perfect time in their lives to get their attention? What if you could seed the information now and reap the purchase interest later?

This is one advantage of marketing with games: you can make the information relevant by presenting it within an appropriate motivational context. I may not care for a muscle car, but if I am playing a racing game, I need to learn which one is the best, which one can turn the tightest corners, etc, because I want to win. Once the relevancy is established, the message is not going to waste anymore.

Compared to mass media advertising, your marketing does not need to be divided into Effective and Waste portions. Instead of that, it creates Effective and Collateral segments, the latter of which has a higher chance of triggering interest (compared to Waste) at later stages of the consumer's life.

Since relevancy means superior engagement of the consumer, we can also use the term Engagement Factor.

Frequency vs Stickiness
Frequency relies on mere repetition to cement the information in the minds of the audience. It is a passive method of "learning," requires constant upkeep, gives diminishing returns, and is also hard to manage. In short, it is grossly inefficient.

Stickiness, on the other hand, relies on the use-it-or-lose-it principle of neuroplasticity. When marketing with games, it occurs from constant self-exposure of the consumer to the marketing message while having fun. The fun factor engages the individual and keeps them coming back for more, allowing for many more instances of direct experience where they can actively use the information. When the use of information is directly relevant to the structure of the game, this allows for the brain to retain high volumes of information with an unusual level of detail about the product that is marketed. This is also how people learn more about European history, from games like Europa Universalis, than they do in many years of history classes in school. Compared to mere repetition, this retained knowledge also lasts much longer in the brain before it starts to wane due to lack of use.

A hybrid: Reach x Engagement x Stickiness
In order to have a succesful marketing campaign with games, you need three components:
  1. The game must get in the hands of the audience. If it's a commercial game, it needs to sell. You can distribute it for free to get the highest degree of reach.
  2. It needs to engage the user with your message. Your message needs to be relevant to the game at its core. Absorbing the information should be as closely tied to the game goals as possible.
  3. The game needs to be fun. This might make you say "Duh!" but it is surprising how even some commercial games miss that simple target. If it's not fun enough to keep the user coming back for more, it will hurt the duration of exposure to the message. The brain will not retain the information.
Hopefully this article will help people to start thinking beyond getting the eyeballs with in-game advertising, and start using the games medium in a fashion more suited to its true competency: engagement and interactivity.

It is also easy to see through such thinking, that people who have a deep understanding of both worlds (marketing and digital entertainment) will be in high demand in the future, as the video games sector continues on its path to becoming the dominant media.

If you are interested in learning more about neuroplasticity, I highly recommend reading The Brain That Changes Itself.

I should also note, the Engagement x Stickiness may also be worth thinking about if you are in education.

As always, for questions and comments, please feel free to use the comments section here, or email me at taykad-at-hotmail-dot-com.

(Addendum: JP Sherman has written a nice expansion to this post, applying the same principles to video game marketing itself. Check it out.)
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Thursday, July 23, 2009

What to learn from Battlefield 1943

In case you haven't been following the performance of Battlefield 1943 from DICE (published by EA), the download-only game seems to have been a huge success in terms of sales.

It is very rare that I applaud EA on this blog for anything, but this time they've done good. I've told numerous times in my writings that a game does not need to follow the "all bells and whistles for $60+" approach in order to be commercially successful. Kudos to DICE for figuring out all the value added components of their game that matter to their customers, and stripping everything else away, including retail units. The result is a no-frills game for $15, which happens to sell faster than hot cakes.

Strangely, being sold on Live Arcade at that price point makes it a quite frill-full game. Instead of a lackluster game trying to compete with the likes of Call of Duty (much like BF: Bad Company tried to do at the regular price point), being a great game for the $15 price point is a much better differentiation strategy.

The question is, though; can it be repeated? It is important to understand that such low price might not have been possible if the developers had to design the maps from scratch, or if they had to develop the Frostbite engine for the first time, or if they didn't have a pretty familiar set of game mechanics refined many times in the previous iterations of their franchise. Speaking of the franchise, it is also worth considering what the outcome would be if they did not have the Battlefield brand behind the game. Would it still perform well? Would the brand name of DICE be enough?

All in all, I am pleased to see EA trying different approaches for a game's value offering, and I'm hoping their success with this title will encourage them to experiment more and perhaps answer some of the questions above in doing so.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How to Sell a Better World

For once, this has nothing to do with gaming. Thanks to Communicopia for inspiring me to write this post, in their rather unique way.

In previous posts, recent and old, I argued that the future of marketing and business in general will be about giving a better world to the customer. With the philosophy change from Push Marketing to Pull Marketing, it is inevitable that we will find ourselves thinking more and more at the individual customer level, studying their needs and desires.

Such deep drilling may eventually cause every business out there to converge at the market of meeting the most common needs of everyone on the planet: a world with more social responsibility, more environmental conscience, more transparent institutions, more human rights, more accountability, more justice and freedom, better education, healthier children, happier people - a better world, for short. That has been the focal point of my arguments before.

This time I am going to elaborate on why this did not happen before, why we need it, and why businesses should care.

A Better World for Everyone
This approach simply does not work, and I will argue that it might very well be the root of many evils we face today on this planet. In the old days, businesses rarely attempted to provide a better world for everyone. The reasons of this are not hard to understand.
  • People have always had a hard time agreeing on a vision of what makes for a better anything. For the purposes of market segmentation, it was nigh impossible to find a better world vision that appealed to a large enough customer base.
  • Especially when customers did not have the means to express that vision. In a world without social networking, social media, tweets of fame, and bestseller blogs of the ordinary people, it was the will of the collective that ruled over the individuality of persons.
  • Collectives of any kind have the tendency of diluting human values as they grow bigger: the size of the group is inversely related to centralization of responsibility and accountability, while directly proportional to the power it commands. In other words, the bigger the collective, the more power it has, and the more distributed and diluted the responsibility. This means the definition of a better world is often dramatically different at individual and collective levels: i.e. you may be against torture, but your government will do it anyhow.
  • Governments are the best case for this. I am not going to argue over the virtues of democracy and representation. I will merely make a factual statement that they do not always seem to work as intended. The latest financial crisis, or the state of the health care system in the US are just a couple examples. Even in healthy functioning democracies (where lobbying is not just another word for legalized bribe) the spirit of politics is compromise; which means a slightly better world for some, and a slightly worse one for some others alternatingly. From a business perspective, it means unsatisfied customers are a part of the business model by design.
  • Governments also seemed to have a perfect monopoly for the market of "providing a better world for everyone". After all, this has been their purpose of existence all along. So as a business owner you thought: "I don't know what a better world for my customers mean. I don't know how to ask about it. I don't know how to provide it. Even if I did, isn't that what the government is for?"
  • Except governments are locked to the mentality of "providing a better world for everyone on this side of the fence only." Whereas the biggest problems plaguing the humankind today are of a global nature. Governments are limited by their localized approach to meet the need for a better world. The European Union is the best effort to date, of governments to overcome this limitation. Even then, it is a very slow moving effort when you realize how far away we are from the final version: a global government that can address global problems effectively. Multi-national corporations have a much better market positioning in that regard to serve the customers in need of a better world. This might be the final mantle to be assumed by the corporation, the dominant institution of our day, in order to truly ascend to the throne.
But if you cannot provide that mythical better world for everyone, does that mean all hope is lost?

Far from it.

A Better World for You
Forget about everyone. All our problems have stemmed from trying to please the collective at the expense of the individual. This is why there always has been someone wronged, someone hurt, someone disenfranchised, someone unhappy. While unsatisfied customers may be acceptable for government monopolies, a private sector enterprise cannot afford that. What, then, the entrepreneur needs to do is to start from the individual level and work their way up.

By focusing on the individual's definition of a better world, the need for compromise is largely reduced. Technology - particularly the internet - makes it possible to drill down to the level of the individual in order to extract that definition. Two issues need to be addressed at this point: how to create and deliver the actual value, and what incentive there is at all for doing all this. I will start with the latter.

The incentive is that because advertising is broken, and showmanship is no longer enough to engage people. A dialogue is what brands need to engage customers, and there is no dialogue if you do not have anything meaningful to say. The elephant in the room is the brands' thinly veiled apathy to the human condition that their customers so keenly feel in their lives. It is no longer enough to say that you care. Now, people demand that you prove it.

Another incentive is that it actually sells. I have tried explaining above what an underserved market that is, the market for a better world, for various reasons. Tapping into that market has proved to be profitable for many brands in different industries.

And finally: how to create and deliver the value.
  • You cannot make everything right for every single individual. That is the same as a better world for everyone, which obviously does not work.
  • What you can do, however, is to empower the individual, so they may create their own better worlds. The rise of the individual's power has been observed and mentioned many times as one of the main trends of our time. You do not want to be at the wrong side of that trend.
  • Do not try to just spoonfeed a better world, allow people to collaborate with your brand. As I said in my previous post, coffee brands helping farmer communities is no longer enough. It is time they let their customers help directly. Apply the same idea to your own industry and your own CSR/marketing initiatives.
  • Reward your customers for doing the right thing. Reduce the barriers, give incentives, make it easier for them to do the right thing.
  • Enough with the Swiss approach. Drop the apathy. Take a side. Be a brand that openly supports gay marriage. Be a brand that speaks against capital punishment. Lobby for the interests of your customers, not just your own. Why not segment your market based on political views? Why not build a brand image around doing the right thing, championing the right values?
  • Think global. Taking ownership of global problems is not a burden, it is an opportunity. In fact, grab them while you can! Differentiate yourself with how you make the world a better place.
In this way, it may be possible for brands to escape the downward spiral of traditional advertising, and to have messages that are fundamentally relevant to their customers.

This is my vision for a better world, and I am very interested in hearing what you think of it. Please share your comments here, or email me at "taykad-at-hotmail-dot-com"

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