Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What social media marketing can do for you

As I was perusing the LinkedIn discussions this morning, I came across a post referring to this blog article by Peter Kim. The small article (articlette?) discusses how the principles of game design may apply in creating engaging social media networks.

Bryan Elliott on LinkedIn was reversing the argument and asking the question what game marketing can learn from other brands in this field. As it happens, I have another suggestion: let's look at what big game marketing can learn from the indies.

Mount & Blade is a video game for the PC, developed by Taleworlds (an independent developer). The original design team consisted of Arma─čan Yavuz and Ipek Yavuz, husband and wife, with a shoestring dev budget and no advertising. The route they took was to cultivate an active player community and rely on word of mouth advertising. They managed to achieve sales of over 40,000 units and dozens on player created mods for the game before the game came out of beta testing. Recently it has been picked up by the publisher Paradox Interactive.

I think this example leads back to the distinction in the original blog post from Peter Kim. It is questionable how good social media networks are at advertising, particularly in gaming. After all, most of the participants are fans who had already bought your content and I am not sure how much brand loyalty counts for unless you are going for a franchise like Sims. Even considering Mount & Blade, although it is pretty impressive to get that many sales with one's first ever game, I doubt it could generate results impressive enough for blockbuster titles with sales figures measured in million units.

It is, however, an undeniably strong marketing tool.

If you check out the forums on Taleworlds website (and I encourage you to do that) what you would see is not just masses of fans telling how much they love the game. What you see there is a dialogue, where the users are providing constant input into the design process, where the developer actively participates in the discussion (as opposed to PR mediation), and where the new ideas and additions to the game get immediate feedback.

Add to that the brilliant sales model where users can pay for the modest beta price and get all the future updates (including the final version) for free, and you end up with a fanatical following that tells you exactly what they want to see in the game, and exactly what other people like themselves will pay for.

End result = future sales forecast of half a million units under the Paradox banner. For scale, take a look at the top selling PC games. Imagine the dollars went into production, support, and advertising for, let's say, Neverwinter Nights. Now compare that to Mount and Blade, and contemplate the words Return On Investment.

If this is not marketing in its fullest, finest, shiniest glory, I don't know what is.

Just like Peter Kim says, social media marketing is great as long as you remember why you are doing it. Creating buzz for your brand is the least you can do with it, compared to how much you can learn from it.

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