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When you have no PR / marketing budget, the Product MUST be right…

September 24, 2010

I spent a little part of the day getting the shit kicked out of me by media / marketing bods on Twitter.

Not that I’m remotely bothered by that. I actively encourage it. I always say you can learn more in half an hour of heated debate than in years of head nodding and agreement.

Although it turned out that Twitter wasn’t the place to have this conversation.

In fact, it started as my usual bile about over self-promotion on Twitter, and morphed (I think) into a discussion about whether Twitter could actually do anything for people who have zero marketing budget, an affliction which dogs most indies.

I wanted to make this post so I can clarify my actual views, and invite everyone to convince me otherwise.

Firstly, I want to just put this statement down, so it’s crystal clear.

  • I FULLY agree that marketing and PR, in all its forms, is an important part of any development, and the closer that can be woven into the product, be symbiotic with it, the better.

Lots of developers, particularly indies, hate this fact. But why? Developers certainly aren’t stupid, they’re on the whole a very bright bunch.

Bill hicks, also not a fan of marketing

Here are some of the points I was trying to argue which I don’t think were quite agreed on…

  • You can only shovel a shit product to people if you have lots of money behind it.
  • Critical acclaim does not equal sales.
  • Where you have no marketing budget, the product is all you have, so it needs to be the right product for the platform and audience.

Starting with the first point, it makes it sound as if without money, you’re doomed to fail before you start. Nobody wants to believe that to be true, but it is, and there’s plenty of evidence to back it up. People who can afford a £15 million marketing budget, TV spots etc… they’re going to be at an advantage, and perhaps this is the reason so many devs refuse to accept it. EA spend 60% + of every games budget on marketing (That’s not me saying that they make shit games, but they do have a fairly high success rate in terms of profitability). I don’t believe you can use Twitter and magazine exposure to sell a dud (or maybe not a dud, but an ‘out there’ game), but you can with a big budget, so for small devs, the PRODUCT becomes the most important marketing tool you have. I hope most people would agree.

The second point, I also hope most people would agree with. Critical acclaim does not equal sales. There is reams and reams of evidence to back this up, and I won’t patronise you by citing examples, but again, you may find exceptions. Again, this is a bitter pill for developers to follow, and it’s very tempting to lash out at gamers, or the marketing bods who say “I told you so”.

The third point is more of a solution to the above two points than an argument in itself. I do believe you need to have the right product. You can’t FORCE your audience to like your bizarre genome based RTS which takes place inside the human body, or a terrifying Lovecraftian horror game, no matter how much you adore it, unless you’ve got the capital to really shove it down peoples throats. Most startups don’t have that, so they may find they have to compromise their vision in order to make the right product for the market. Once again, this goes against every bone in my creative body, but I have to believe it’s true, because it’s naïve not to.

This was perhaps the biggest disagreement we had. That you can make a success of a unmarketable game with no money. You just can’t. But a product with mass appeal can take off with a single tweet…

Joe Danger

But it’s not all bad. If you’ve got a good creative team, you may be able make even the most mundane or unmarketable product into something which will sell, without compromising your creative vision that much. That’s a skill we should all learn (unless we’re happy eating bread and water for seven days a week).

And thank you to everyone who joined in the fun.I look forward to reading your “Wtf?!? that wasn’t what we were talking about at all” based comments!

Stu xxx


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