It’s finally done! Your game has taken shape, and you’re about to release it on the store!
Now all you have to do is sit back, relax, and watch as it goes viral and becomes the next Minecraft or Flappy Bird.
If only it were that easy. Too many game developers don’t put in as much time to think about their marketing or monetization as they should. Success in the markets is not something that just happens to you. It’s an art form, just like any other skill.
Why marketing is important
Marketing isn’t just something for “bad” games, or games that “wouldn’t be popular otherwise”. Marketing is something that all apps need. The better the app, all the more so even. It doesn’t matter if your game is the best game of all time; if you don’t have any marketing, than nobody will know about it.
But, what about
Yes, there are some games that are successful and didn’t do any marketing themselves, but there is a subtle difference there.
Marketing doesn’t just mean you paid money to some company to show banner ads. Marketing means getting in the trenches, talking to reviewers, talking directly to players. Often, a lot of the marketing work happens before the game is released. You have to make the game itself something fun, compelling, and frankly; something interesting for people to talk about.
Flappy Bird had marketing, even if the creator didn’t use any traditional methods, or even do any of it himself. Other people did his marketing for him, the perfect “viral” effect. Speaking of which…
“Going Viral” isn’t the only option
It seems that it’s every game developer’s goal to “go viral”. Worse, far too often it is their only marketing plan. Yet, all the work they do to make it happen is say “Well, I hope this goes viral” without putting in any more effort.
There are many reasons to like viral marketing. It’s cheap, first off. By definition; other people are doing your marketing for you. It also increases exponentially as you get new users, letting you go from small to large quickly.
I am not saying you shouldn’t try your hardest to go viral. What I am saying is that - you - should actually try. Don’t make “going viral” your only marketing plan. Other marketing methods could be even more effective if used correctly. Don’t just ignore them in favor of one method. Look at all your options.
Or at the very least, plan on putting a lot of effect into your viral campaigns. If you optimize your game for say, install based banner ads. You will have fewer friction points, a better “stickiness”, and oh hey look; suddenly you might actually get some type of viral effect because your game is straight up better than it was before.
Just because you don’t directly control a viral campaign, doesn’t mean you should plan on viral marketing being any “less” work or cost than other methods.
Not all ads are the same
Let’s talk about the different kinds of ads. Ads can (and do) appear everywhere. There is product placement in TV shows, people handing out flyers in major cities, paid writers making articles in major publications (online and offline) that promote a product. There are an infinite number of ways to advertise a product.
For the scope of this blog post, let’s talk about the most common methods of ads within mobile apps. They are; banner, interstitial, integrated/native, and video.
Those are the ways you’ll commonly use when purchasing ad buys, and are also the ways most developers use to put ads in their games and generate revenue.
Note that these categories are mostly mobile based. Mobile to mobile ads are much more effective than say, web to mobile or other real world to mobile advertisements. The amount of effort it takes a player to go from their computer, to a website, to their phone; often makes those ads cost a lot more per user than clicking a link on a device to go to an app store on that same device.
Not all users are the same
When thinking about User Acquisition, the cheapest cost per user isn’t the best.
What do I mean by this? Let me give you an example.
You’re a game developer and you run a video ad, you calculate that it costs you about $2 a user/download from that campaign alone. When you run banner ads, however, you calculate it costs you just $1 per user.
You might say to yourself, well clearly the banner ads are the better option! But, that might not actually be the case, you are missing a critical piece of information: What kind of user are you obtaining?
Those banners ads mostly appear in free games. Players who pay money often don’t see ads, so the player looking at those banners are less likely to buy anything. On top of that, players who just see a banner ad might get the wrong idea about the game. Maybe they thought it was an endless runner, when it’s a level based adventure? Or a fast paced action game vs. a slow-paced puzzle game? Some percentage of the users who download the game will find out, “Oh, this isn’t what I thought it was” and decide to stop playing/uninstall it.
Now compare that to the video ads. You will get fewer people who watch your whole video, and fewer people who install your game, but those people will have seen 30 seconds of game play. They’ll know exactly what your game is about. The number of “mistaken” downloads will be far less. Players who go out of their way to watch video ads, and even click them, are players generating revenue for game developers much more so than normal banner ads.
The metric you need to compare is not “Cost Per User”, but “Consumer Lifetime Value (CLV) divided by Cost Per User”.
Using the CLV metric, our previous example shows a much different story. Let’s say you end up making less money per player than cost to acquire that user when using the banner ads, and more money from the user than it cost you with the video ads. Suddenly, the answer is clear. If you earn .80 per $1 spent on banner ads, and $2.01 per $2 spent on video ads, you would run as many video ads as possible. Even if they cost twice as much, according to these made up numbers, you’re making that money back and more. You’d be losing money if you ran banner ads, although there may still be some reasons for you to run them such as boosting number of downloads and player base, etc.
The point of this example isn’t “Video ads are more effective than banner ads”. These numbers are made up, and could be the exact opposite in your game. The point is, these are the kinds of metrics you need to measure to come to a conclusion on what type of marketing you should use.
Consider who the user is, and what they do within your game and not just if you got another download or not.
What about Monetization?
I get it, a lot of you have not made games before. You’ve (hopefully) bought them before, or you’ve seen ads in them, so you have a vague idea that they’re making money. I’ve heard a lot of developers say that they want to focus on making a “good game” at first, and then they will worry about how they’ll make money from it once it’s finished.
Good games have good monetization
A good game has good monetization mechanics built-in from the beginning. Nothing ruins an awesome game more than slapping in some bad last-minute monetization that detracts from the experience. Not only will bad monetization turn a “good game” into a “bad game”, but you won’t even make money.
This is especially true in free to play games, or premium games that ought to be free to play. Throwing in some last second store purchases will at best be ignored by players and a minor distraction to them, and at worst upset players so much they will uninstall your otherwise fun game.
The time to start thinking about monetization is immediately. Not after you’ve made the game.
It has to be designed into the beginning to make sense. If you designed the game to be free and then try to charge for it later, or more often the opposite, your game will have a lot harder time succeeding.
“Free” does not mean you won’t make money.
Check out my blog post earlier this week as I explain some of the mechanics of free to play game design, and give my thoughts and advice on how not to do it wrong.
Thinking about making money does not mean you can’t, or shouldn’t put quality first when making your game.
Making money and/or being successful isn’t a zero sum game with being the most fun to players.
The goal is to create a game that is fun, that players want to engage in, and that players enjoy to play. If you don’t have that, nothing else matter.
But then, as you’re focusing on that, also think about how you will sustain yourself in the long-term. How will you pay for continual updates to the game? A game that makes money is a game that gets more content, more updates, and becomes bigger and better than any unprofitable-but-fun prototype.
Hopefully I’ve helped explain why you need to think about your marketing and monetization strategies as early as possible.
Quality first, but monetization is a great second.
Now you know a bit more about marketing and monetization, and hopefully will be thinking about them more as you create your games. This post is part of 3 week series giving current and aspiring game devs the tools, resources, and advice they need to get started building for Windows. If you haven’t already, you can read my earlier post “Free to Play game design: How not to do it wrong” where I discussed best practices for creating free to play games. In the meantime, for more resources to build your app check out AppBuilder.