Archive for the ‘marketing’ Category

Indie, Indie, Indie (Games)

Sunday, September 28th, 2014

We live in a weird time for video games. They’re becoming (and some might say, have already become) mainstream entertainment, and as they grow and mature, and grow, and then grow some more, we start to see some interesting things happen. The barriers to enter the video game market are as low as they’ve ever been, anyone with a computer, programming reference materials, time and passion, can make a game and get it to market, but budgets for so-called “AAA” games are bigger than they’ve ever been, and are getting bigger all the time. Bigger budgets mean that there’s more of a needs to recoup any costs, and doing that means playing it safe. Do what worked in the past, tweak it a little bit, increment the version counter, and then sell it again.

The downside to this is that there is less risk-taking, less variety, and more homogenization. This is good, if you like the current blockbustery flavor-of-the-month game, which I usually don’t. If you’re anything like me, and I’m starting to think that very few of you are, then you want something new once in a while. Something with new characters, new settings, new gameplay ideas, and new concepts.

This is where ‘indie’ games have started to step up their game. Apparently, the only real qualification to be an idie game is that it is developed without backing from a publisher. In the traditional model, a game company would either have an idea, get it to a prototype stage, and search for a publisher to fund the remaining development of the game, or they would be approached by a publisher about making something and then they would get funding to make it. This is weird, since a big-name developer can develop a game and technically it would still be ‘indie’, even though the idea of ‘indie’ seems to be a small team slaving away in a tiny studio somewhere, that’s not always the case.

*I feel like I should note at this point that indie game developers have been around since removable media was invented. You might remember something called ‘shareware‘.

So, what all this means is that, if you want to look for them, there are lots of games being released outside the traditional channels. They won’t necessarily show up in stores or on your favorite video game “news” site. But they’re out there. In fact, there are so many indie games out in the wild now that it’s quickly becoming impossible to even attempt to play them all. And, if you want to develop and release something into the Indie World(tm) you’re going to almost immediately get lost in the shuffle. Unless, of course, you generate buzz.

How do you generate buzz? Word of mouth works, if your game is truly amazing, and you can get a critical mass of people playing about it in the first place, and those people actually tell other people about it, and those people actually download the game and like it, and then continue the cycle (which is much harder than it sounds). Or you can try to get some coverage on one of the millions of game blogs out there. Or you can try to get your game into one of the dozens of ‘indie bundles‘ floating around the internet. Or, etc., etc. All while combating piracy, providing technical support, and maybe trying to work on whatever’s next, all while trying to put food on the table and make sure bills are getting paid.

This means that for every Minecraft or World of Goo or <insert_favorite_indie_game_here> there are dozens of games like Kairo, Goat Simulator, or Dungeon Hearts that just aren’t very good (if you liked them, fine, I’m not here to start an argument), and finding the gems in the firehose of mediocrity is extremely difficult.

So, where does all of this leave us? On one hand, we have formulaic games coming out at a rapid clip with high production values, high cost, and high marketing budgets, and on the other we have games that come out and absolutely insane pace, have production values all over the place, cost a bit less (usually), and have marketing budgets so small that you couldn’t use it to buy a Big Mac. The signal to noise ratio is about the same, but “news” about blockbuster games falls into my lap, and I have to work to find an indie game I might like.

I don’t really know what the solution to all of this is. Maybe there is none. But I do know that the video game landscape is changing faster than the media covering it has been. Weren’t blogs supposed to be faster, and more agile than print media, without the physical limitations? Weren’t they supposed to be able to react and adapt to change, while still covering what’s important?

I’ll tackle that can of worms next time.

Gamers are generally okay people.

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

I want to talk about some topics that I normally don’t discuss on this site, but before I do, I do want to make a few things perfectly clear:

  • Sexism is a real problem, not just in video games, but in every facet of life.
  • Racism, likewise, is a real-life problem.
  • Gender and sexual identity are deeply personal issues, and can be extremely complicated.
  • Neither I, nor anyone else, has any right or ability to tell you what should and should not offend you. All I can do is offer an opinion from my point of view, and it’s up to you to agree or disagree.

Please, refer to that list up there frequently as we go through the discussion today. I’m going to try and touch on a lot of topics that are a lot heavier than what I usually go over here, and I’m going to do it as objectively as I can, but the main point that I want to make today is: gamers are generally OK people.

If you go to Google right now and check, there are millions of pages out there that will tell you that gamers are horrible people.

Google Search that shows 70 million results for gamers are terrible people

70 million articles can’t be wrong!

They’re racist, they’re sexist (usually misogynist), they’re manchildren living in their parents’ basements (or college dorm rooms). They’re slovenly behemoths shoveling Cheetos into their gaping maws with their permanently-stained orange hands, washing it down their throats with a cocktail of Red Bull and Mountain Dew, and only pausing long enough to screech crumb-filled epithets into their headsets at the poor schlub on the other end of the match. That schlub is frequently a games-blogger. A no nonsense professionalgames journalist‘ who plays games, not necessarily for fun, but because it’s part of their job. A person waist-deep in the gaming culture who occasionally takes time of their day to remind the community, the very community that makes up their audience, the very community that the author depends on to make a living, that they’re terrible people.

That does sound like a problem, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong: death threats, rape threats, threats of bodily harm, and the like are never okay.

But before we go much further, I want to look at a few numbers:

There are currently about 318 million people in the United States, and of those, roughly 58% of them play video games, and 45% of those are female. That means that right now, today, of the 184,440,000 people who admit to playing video games: about 82,998,000 are female gamers and about 101,442,000 are male, of all ages. That’s an incredibly important set of figures.

That means that something like Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3, one of the poster children for video games that spawn abhorrent behavior, which sold 26.5 Million copies… only captured about 14% of the market.

Or something like Mass Effect 3, which had an ending that was so poorly received, that it had gamers up in arms with torches and pitchforks, ready to descend on Bioware headquarters and do horrible things, sold 1.85 million copies, which is less than one percent of the total game players in the US.

So, what am I getting at? Where is all of this leading?


No, really.

Most of the blogs, magazines, web series, and etc. that cover video games are profit-seeking entities. The primary goal of a profit-seeking entity is to, you guessed it, maximize profit. Sure, they may provide a good or a service that you want, and those plums can be very nice, but those are all means to an end: revenue (usually ad revenue). With the staggering amount of websites now on the Internet and the absolutely insane amount of content generated every minute of every day, it’s increasingly difficult to get your voice heard by shouting into the void. So, you rely on one of the oldest axioms in media: “If it bleeds, it leads“.

The media loves a good firestorm, and is not above stoking the coals or stirring the pot, or just glorifying being a jackass to get the most potential clicks/views out of any story they can. The media is not stupid. It knows that controversy, fear-mongering, and sensationalism get viewers/listeners/clicks/whatever. More whatever means more ad revenue, and more ad revenue means that the media outlet can pay its bills, hire content creators to ply their trade full time.

I get that.

And it’s no great secret that ad revenue for virtually every media outlet is vanishingly small. But that’s how practically all of these megablogs on the Internet work: The sites exist only to deliver ads. The content is secondary, and only exists to show you more ads and generate more revenue. Anyone that tries to tell you otherwise is either delusional or works full-time for an ad-supported entity. *By the way, I’m much more likely to put up with some nonintrusive ads if you provide me with something that I find useful and you ask nicely, but trying to guilt me into doing it won’t happen.

So, where does that leave us?

The takeaway I want everyone reading this article (both of you) is that:

  1. It would be very nice if the media stopped equating the abhorrent behavior of 14% of the video gamer community as representative of all of us (we also mustn’t lose sight of the fact that a small percentage of a large number, can still be an objectively large number). I realize that’s not likely to happen, but can we at least stop feeding the trolls? Once we do that, we might actually discover that most gamers are actually okay people, and once that happens, we might actually be able to have a real discussion.
  2. Sexism, misogyny, rape, racism, and gender identity are real issues that deserve real attention and thoughtful discussion. They shouldn’t be trivialized and used as a way to boost pageviews/clicks/ad revenue on a slow news day (or any other news day) or to build a personal brand. And they certainly shouldn’t be used as talking points to try and sell you something. These issues are more complicated than can be dissected in an occasional blog entry/video/podcast
  3. Your favorite ad-supported website exists solely to show you ads to generate ad revenue. If something even mildly controversial pops up on your favorite site and contains language that entices you to click (“…and you won’t believe what happens next!”), it’s probably there to try and generate a spike in pageviews (which equals ad dollars), and you can bet that it will continue showing up every so often to boost views/revenues. Controversy creates cash, after all.

These are all important issues, and I can’t tell you what to make of them. Use your own brain, come to your own conclusions. Consider opposing viewpoints and learn more about the issue whenever and wherever you can and be flexible enough to change your stance if you find you had some misconceptions. Don’t let the vocal minority color your perceptions of the whole community, don’t feed the trolls. Always, always, be mindful of articles trying to sensationalize something to get a rise out of you, they’re primarily concerned with clicks, ads, and eyeballs (as long as you clicked on it and looked at an ad, they don’t care about you, personally, any more). And, above all, don’t be a passive observer. Take action, participate in communities, champion ideas you feel strongly about, and help make the world a better place.


Friday, December 15th, 2006

It’s the Holy Grail of advertisers everywhere, a hype machine that can be started with a pittance and then will run itself, generating an enormous amount of what is known in the industry as ‘mind-share’. What could I possibly be talking about? Why, the latest way devised by marketeers to separate you from your dollars: viral marketing.

So, what exactly is viral marketing? As always, the Wikipedia has a decent writeup, but it can be pretty well summed up like this: a marketing campaign designed to take advantage of such powerful forces as word-of-mouth advertising (or other social networks), which will in turn generate ‘buzz’ and ultimately sales.

To illustrate, let’s think back to any Ron Popiel infomercial. (Incidentally, infomercials are just about the most entertaining form of television there is.) Ron will spend the majority of the show detailing what amazing things his new product can do. Toward the end of the show, Ron starts knocking down the price of the item from whatever crazy level it started out at to something that, by comparison, is ridiculously cheap. Right before he gives out the ‘final’ price, he asks the consumer (that’s you!) to do him a favor: if you promise to tell a couple of friends about the amazing deal you just got, he’ll take even more off the price.

Now, what just happened?

First, you watched the half-hour (or more) advertisement. An advertisement that probably showed some product doing something that was genuinely amazing, or that simplified some mind-numbing or labor-intensive task. That likely stuck in your mind, and even if you don’t buy the product odds are good that you’ll remember about the knife that could cut through the head of a hammer and still slice a tomato with ease. When the commercial comes on again you might even get a friend to watch it.

Next is the matter of price. Let’s be honest with ourselves here, Ron went into that studio knowing full well what the price of his Amaze-o-product was going to be. He started ridiculously high and worked his way down through all the prices that ‘you aren’t going to pay today’ until he got to his ‘final’ price to make it sound like he was giving you the deal of a lifetime. Then he makes you the deal: tell two people about the product and he’ll take off some more dollars. Ron has created the perception that he is giving you a discount in exchange for you advertising his product for him.

There are two key ideas at work here: the commercial itself, and you telling two of your friends.

The commercial itself, is not viral. It’s just a half-hour message about the product delivered directly to you. This is known as ‘Direct Response Marketing’. If, however, you tell friends that they have to watch this commercial because of some super-amazing thing that the product can do, that begins to be viral and is closely related to ‘telling two friends’.

When you agree to ‘tell two friends’, you’re using your personal social network to increase awareness of the product. If you buy the product and tell two friends, and they tell two friends, and they tell two friends, you can see how quickly the information can spread, almost like a virus, and in short order you have throngs of people that are clamoring to buy the product who may have never even seen the original ad.

So, what does this have to do with anything?

Social networking on the Internet has exploded on the Internet in recent years. Sites like Myspace, YouTube, Orkut, Friendster, and the entire Internet itself are all places where potential consumers get together and pass links, videos, games, and pretty much anything they find interesting around. This can result in some Internet phenomena becoming wildly popular and pervasive through nothing more than electronic word-of-mouth advertising.

Marketers want to harness this power.

Marketers can be a sneaky bunch when they want to be. They’ll slip in an ad when you least expect it in their attempt to part you from your dollars. They will create ads that don’t immediately look like ads. The tricky part of making something viral is making something that people are going to want to pass around. What’s likely to be passed around? Given the nature of the Internet, it’s almost impossible to know. That doesn’t mean that you can’t try and get the word of mouth started yourself.

This can be successful (see Subservient Chicken) if done well. If done poorly, however, it could actually be damaging.

Which brings me to Sony’s latest attempt at viral marketing, All I Want For Christmas is a PSP(the site has been deleted as of today). Before the site vanished, it portrayed itself as ‘your own personal psp hype machine, here to help you wage a holiday assault on ur parents, girl, granny, boss – whoever – so they know what you really want.’ The site hosted ridiculous videos, ads to print out, PSP-oriented blog entries, and the whole bit to make it seem like there were two guys who created a website just to help you tell people that you wanted a PSP for the holidays. They even had people go to the forums of popular gaming sites and plant links back to the ridiculous videos and the site. There were no indicators on the site that it was backed by a corporate entity, but suspicions abounded. It was quickly discovered that the site was indeed faked. The site has now vanished and the FTC beginning to investigate these techniques.

Which makes sense to me, really. I like knowing that what I’m seeing or hearing is an ad. In fact, I think that you and I both deserve to know what’s real and what’s manufactured. If someone tells me that Vess Black Cherry soda is delicious I need to know if they’re telling me this because they actually believe it’s delicious (which it is), or if they’re getting paid to tell me that it tastes like Carbonated Happiness (which I’m not).

I understand that advertising is integral to the longevity of many businesses in the world. No advertising would lead to decreased awareness, decreased awareness would lead to less sales, less sales would lead to less profits, less profits would lead to less development of new products or technologies, and if profits dipped low enough companies might cease to exist. I just don’t have to like how it is attempting to saturate every experience of my life.