Why success in a crowded game market relies on building community (VB Live)
Presented by Xsolla
The biggest challenge for a smaller game studio is consistently standing out from the crowd. Join GamesBeat’s Dean Takahashi and other industry pros in this VB Live event to learn about the latest and greatest best practices for increasing a game’s visibility from the start.
Register here for free.
With the business of game development democratized, a growing number of new content creators have been able to bring their games to market alongside the bigger studios. But now developers are facing an incredibly crowded space where getting noticed has become a tremendous challenge — particularly for studios without the deep pockets necessary to buy their way into public consciousness with marketing, advertising and acquisition.
The race to the bottom in pricing makes that even harder — the average price of an indie game on Steam is $7.8, making it tough to generate the profit needed for effective marketing. And though established platforms, such as the app stores, can be a boon for distribution, they also make it very difficult, if not impossible, to develop a direct relationship with your players and understand who they are. But that connection is the foundation of every successful game marketing strategy, says Chris Hewish, president of Xsolla.
“I’m a firm believer that building that direct relationship allows you to start to build up your core player base and establish your niche within that ecosystem and stand out,” Hewish says. “That’s where you gain an understanding of who your users are, what your value proposition is, and where to share it.”
Here’s a look at some of the most effective marketing strategies even if your marketing budget isn’t as big as you’d like.
Developing player relationships
It sounds pretty easy — just talk to your players, listen to them, and build relationships. But the reality is that too many studios don’t put in the time necessary to develop a robust strategy to actually connect with their user base.
“The same way you would build a business plan or a game design, spec out your game mechanics and your core loop, you need to put time into figuring out how you will communicate to your players,” Hewish says. “That means understanding who your players are. Understanding what the value proposition is that your game or app or experience is providing them. And then creating the proper messaging that connects that value proposition with that particular audience, in the channels where they actually spend time.”
It’s central to the user acquisition strategy — you can’t acquire users if you don’t know who they are, why they want to come to you, and where they are, he adds. That’s where diversity, equity and inclusion come in, when identifying player cohorts. It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming your audience is homogenous, when there’s a broad ecosystem of players waiting to be tapped into. From physical to cultural differences to marginalized identities, you need to understand there’s no single-size-fits-all user experience.
The ideal user acquisition strategy
An optimized user acquisition strategy is central to a game’s success. Again, it starts with defining your target audience, creating effective messaging and targeting the right channels. From there, it’s making sure that you’re able to track the effectiveness of your efforts, lean into what’s working and optimize from there. An increasing number of tools can be plucked off the shelf — Google Analytics, for instance.
And then an often-overlooked piece is localization: Make sure the assets you create can easily be localized to the markets you’re targeting. Just that small change can lift conversion by almost 25%.
On the paid media side, take time to focus on search engines and search engine optimization, staying on top of the most effective keywords for your user acquisition campaign — they change constantly as the market evolves. Focus also on platform optimization — tracking which platforms are getting a better return. Hewish also urges developers to leverage social media and influencer marketing to the fullest, as well as email marketing.
On the earned side, there are many strategies that are free or low-cost, such as simply asking for reviews, running referral programs to encourage word of mouth, giveaways and so on — all old-school marketing strategies, but effective as ever. Digital press kits are essential here, to make it as simple as possible to access all the assets a reporter or blogger needs to write up a piece about your game — game synopsis, testimonials, screenshots, etc.
From the start you should be thinking about building hooks into your game to make it easier for users to share their experience, whether that’s players connecting with their friends, or influencers looking for ways to create compelling content for their followers.
Start your engines early
If you’re working on a tight budget, the most effective low-cost type of marketing and acquisition is building up a community as soon as possible.
“If you’re not going to have a big marketing budget, start inviting people inside the tent early, and get those conversations going,” Hewish says. “Start leaning into that earned media side of it where you can convert these people into advocates. And it’s not just talking with them. It’s giving them exclusive materials and assets, and the ability to go out and promote your game. That’s really, to this day, a powerful thing. You see a lot of games succeed through that.”
But in the end, having a clear understanding of your value proposition, who your audience is, how you’re going to effectively communicate all of that to the audience remains the most central piece of advice.
“You can dump a ton of money into user acquisition, but if you don’t have the proper messaging or the proper audience that you’re deploying that against, it’s just throwing money out the window.”
To learn more about the most cost-effective, bang-for-your-buck strategies to launch your game successfully, don’t miss this VB Live event!
Registration is free here.
- How to get your game noticed in a crowded marketplace
- How an effective UA strategy can make or break a game
- Where and how to spread the word about your latest release
- and more!
- Jon Radoff, CEO, Beamable
- Chris Hewish, President, Xsolla
- Dean Takahashi,Lead Writer, GamesBeat (moderator)