7 Questions to Ask a Video Game Marketing Agency or Publisher
A video game marketing professional, I get asked these questions. A LOT. When to work with a marketing agency? What about full-service shop – all things video game publishing? Especially by indie game developers. Both by actual paying clients, and by prospects. To someone new to making video games, these topics are easily misunderstood. Esoteric.
To tell the truth, I have lost count. A former brand director with an AAA video game developer-publisher and head of marketing for an early social game developer, I have been pitched a LOT. As in dozens of times each year.
Developing and marketing a video game? AND to have it become a chart-topping hit on the App Store, Steam Store, or Google Play Store?
It is a lot like being in the boxing ring with a Manny Pacquiao, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, or Muhammed Ali…in his prime. The odds are against you. No ifs, ands, and buts about it. Do not forget that for one single second. But if you ask a strapping young lad named Cassius Clay in 1964? At least you are going into the ring with a shot at immortality.
Two possible outcomes really.
Get them right? And your game has the rightful chance at GREATNESS. Be the next Super Mario, Angry Birds, Halo, or Assasins Creed.
Get them wrong? And your game will die on the vine. Like a concept aircraft, that never ever lifts off the runway.
Platform Powerplay – Epic vs Apple. Industry First or Deja Vu?
Unless you have been living under a rock, the all-out war between Epic Games and Apple (and Google) IS the talk of the industry. And its flagship, you ask? Fortnite was said to have made $1.8 billion in 2019. Additionally boasting over 350 million players. 250 million players from the Apple App Store alone.
Epic Games’s “Nineteen Eighty Fortnite” campaign is, quite simply…. clever. Extremely controversial. Nevertheless very clever and bold. Boldly mocking Apple. And daringly appropriating Apple’s famous 1984 commercial during the Super Bowl. Yes, those many many moons ago. When Apple was the metaphorical underdog. And IBM was the Big Blue, the Behemoth, the old and stodgy. In short, Big Brother.
That being said, who doesn’t love a Biblical David versus Goliath story? By offering its players the option to buy in-app purchases on the Epic Store, Epic Games got its flagship Fornite disinvited from the Apple App Store party. And from Google. But is Apple unjustified in enforcing its developer terms and conditions?
A greater question is, is Epic Games really the innocent and bullied David of a developer?
If you ask EA, or Tencent, or Riot? Far from it. A developer-publisher does not build a $1.8 billion a year franchise (make that battle royale empire) by thinking or acting small. Nor by playing by the rules all the time. If Apple “Frees” Fortnite, then why not FreePUBG? And FreeBumble? If the New York Times gets an affiliate revenue cut for every single book sold from its New York Times bestsellers list, then is this that different?
At launch, Fortnite for Android was available exclusively on the Epic website.
When it comes to video game publishing, certain decisions are not ever taken lightly. Take for example, the platform(s) on which a game launches. What about exclusivity on the Apple App Store? Or Google Play? And what about Nintendo Switch for that matter? Or available on all platforms, all at the same time? For a period of time? Or for perpetuity? You get the idea.
At launch, Fortnite for Android was available exclusively on the Epic website. And purchases made in-app on Android? FREE from the standard 30% revenue share, uniformly extracted by Google and Apple from every other developer on their platform.
All This Hoopla over a $2 Price Differential? What!?
That’s right, you read that correctly. A measly $2 difference! Trivial? Not to the players. Pocket change? Not when you run the math. Epic Games created a mechanism for its players on Apple and Google to buy Fortnite’s V-Bucks directly on the Epic store. Instead of paying $9.99 inside the App Store or Google Play Store, Epic is being very very deliberate and smart. Rather its players are monetarily encouraged to pay $7.99 on the Epic Store.
So Epic gets its players to buy virtual currency from Epic directly for $2 less than the same bundle on the App Store? But why? Because this trains players to buy in-app purchases from Epic directly. For every 1000 V-buck bundle sold, Epic nets $7.99. Rather than having gamers buy as an in-app purchase directly inside the Apple or Google Fortnite app. In which case, Epic would have netted $9.99 less 30%, which nets out to just under $7 per bundle.
To anyone who thinks a $2 discount is not significant, think again. If this creates precisely the monetization and purchase behavior Epic wants, what gives? It doesn’t take years of consumer insights or market research, on video game pricing to predict the revenue mix by sales channel, fast-forward 4 weeks. Who stands to lose? Simply Apple. And Google.
Thirty percent of $1.8 billion is a lot of money. $540 million to be exact – paid to Apple and Google, last year.
FreeFortnite! FreeFortnite! Shots fired. Missiles launched. War declared. But CAN Epic win the war against Apple and Google? If Fortnite’s banning on the App Store and Google Play Store is any indication, most likely NO.
Was this fallout between a powerful video game developer and the publishing platform, an industry first?
But let us rewind the clock ten years. The year was 2010. Another high-flying video game developer and publisher. Different platform.
On the brink of filing for IPO, Zynga did the unthinkable. Zynga launched its own social network to compete against Facebook. The motivation? You guessed it. To protest Facebook’s anti-competitive practices. And to resist the Facebook policy of charging developers an ungodly sum of 30 %, to market and publish on the Facebook platform.
What’s at stake? In the case of Zynga in 2010? Zynga had a $597 million year in 2010, net of platform fees and revenue share. Assuming this was $597 million after giving Facebook a 30% cut, Zynga COULD have had a $853 million year! Clearly a $250 million sum is worth going to war over for Zynga in 2010.
Fallout from Facebook’s new policies banning auto-notifications and negotiating for better revenue share, Zynga launched its own website and game discovery platform.
And what about Facebook? Just testing its Facebook Credits, a universal currency across all of Facebook’s 500 thousand+ developers. The revenue share? You guessed it. Thirty percent.
When Facebook changed its developer policy and banned Facebook developers from auto-posting on user newsfeeds, who cared? For one, consumers cared. Who in their right mind, liked seeing their newsfeeds stuffed with meaningless “help a friend on FarmVille” requests?
From Zynga’s angle? This one obscure change hindered Zynga’s viral marketing. Think of it as limiting Zynga player’s user-generated content. Except the content was really developer-auto generated. Check out the following video, amongst 1000s, that cropped up. To address one need. Quite simply, to turn off auto newsfeed postings. All the joys of social media marketing 1.0.
Facebook was responding to user feedback, and defending its share of revenue from all Facebook developers.
Wait, so Facebook was addressing the experience of real users? Yes. Shouldn’t Facebook get compensated for helping Zynga acquire hundreds of millions of players? And in so doing, making Zynga very cash-rich and IPO darling in 2010? Seems reasonable.
Since Zynga derived a majority of its revenue on the Facebook platform in 2010, it benefited from the discoverability afforded by the platform.
$540 million is worth going to war over for Epic in 2020. As $250 million was worth going to war over for Zynga in 2010.
Fast forward to 2020. By the same token, it was estimated Epic got over 250 million downloads from the Apple App Store alone. To those of us coming from mobile marketing, we appreciate the media value of those users ranged in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The many millions of users Epic acquired on the App Store weren’t free. So should Epic be granted FreeFortnite? Or abide by Apple and Google’s developer policies? You know, like every other policy-compliant game and app developer?
FreeFortnite? Does that also mean FreeSupercell? Or FreeTinder? So SHOULD Epic Games pay a princely sum for the discoverability of its app, without which arguably Epic would not have had a $4 billion+ franchise on its hands.
In case you are wondering, Zynga and Facebook made up. Zynga agreed to an undisclosed set of terms of payment and revenue share from Facebook. Guess it’s only fair.
What does that mean for Epic and Apple and Google? Only time can tell. But platforms serve a distinct purpose. And derive a lot of power. And Yes. Apple explicitly stated. No links or side-stepping in-app purchases. Nobody forced Epic to publish on iOS. Since it chose to, Epic explicitly agreed to the iOS developer’s business terms. Building a link for players to make in-app purchases on the Epic Store? A legal breach.
Platform powerplay. Deja Vu. Well played. But nice try, FreeFortnite.
Reviewing Manticore Game’s CORE Engine: Sandbox platform for making video games UGC and video game publishing
More and more young gamers dream about following their passion and working in the video game industry.
The traditional path to making video games? Extremely hard. It is a career with unclear, complex career paths. Convoluted at best. Manticore realizes the difficulty of making video games. Its response? A sandbox environment that makes making video games and publishing video games intuitive and user-friendly. Like others, it has designed a game engine that simplifies the creation process. More importantly Manticore provides a digital playground where you can publish your own games made on the CORE engine. Your concept, your user-generated content or UGC, published when YOU are ready to get player feedback. Think of it as UGC and content creation plus video game publishing in ONE platform.
Core is a game engine built on top of the Unreal Engine.
The premise is to make an all-in-one platform where one can create, publish, and play their games and UGC in the simplest way possible.
Manticore wants to take away the intricacies of game development and let everyone focus on the design elements of the development, rather than having to deal with complex configuration problems.
Engine design and Game creation: Core offers a simple drag-and-drop interface, and also richer coding via Lua.
On top of being built on the Unreal Engine Core also uses Lua for scripting. Lua lets users dig deep and manipulate the source code of their games. Other than that, the creation process is quite straightforward.
Users can just drag and drop objects from Core’s stock library or design their own unique world on top of the frameworks provided by Manticore in the game engine. Like Roblox, this strategy of letting players create UGC to test and engage other gamers is not new. But to revolutionize video game creation and publishing as a category? Ambitious. And amazing.
There DO exist some limitations. For example you can’t import your models or customized materials that you made somewhere else to CORE. Rather you are stuck with the building blocks Manticore gives you in the game engine. Not to despair however. To counter limitations of this self-contained environment, CORE gives you many tools out of the box. These include a huge selection of in-game content that creators can easily take advantage of.
The end results? One can start his or her journey making video games, minus a steep learning curve.
The Core here provides the users with all the barebones stuff with more than just a few gimmicks.
Anything and everything that you can do in a game engine can easily be done here visually
The creation process is intuitive. And provides a positive experience especially for the newbie game developer.What about documentation? Or help getting started? Manticore has provided a comprehensive manual. You can easily access the documentation on Manticore’s website through the Core engine. They have covered everything from Basic Tutorials to the Core API in detail.
They literally give you anything that you need to know about—especially if this is someone’s first time making a game. Consider it an easy transition. One can be a working Joe by day. And a game creator by night. On CORE.
Publishing Games: Built-in Discovery and Publishing in the CORE Engine
You can publish the games created in Core on their platform. Here other players on the engine can hop on in your game and try it out. Think of it as simple quick-and-dirty beta. Including multiplayer on their platform.
Automatic Multiplayer Support
Out of the box, any game published on Core is multiplayer compatible. Why does this matter? A LOT if you are making a battle royale stage or just an FPS shootout Arena. Even without the technical knowledge about backend mechanics, having multiplayer support shortcuts design and testing.
Any player can just easily enter that game. Or you can just invite your friends for a private Showdown. Think built-in discoverability. And limited closed beta. Rather than investing time and energy in traditional market research and consumer insights, Core lets creators TEST the concept for fun, playability and gather feedback with real players. The only question is how many, how broadly, based on the readiness of the game.
Like Game Central Station in Wreck It Ralph, Core lets you play your characters in different games on the Engine
What happens if you get bored with one game? Take a deep breath. The portal devices in the published games lets you play your character from one game and keep playing inside another game. It’s like your own personal avatar and character. One that you can continue playing through different creations with your friends or teammates.
Think of it as an interconnected multiverse of video games. You can just hop into different worlds through these portals and just have a fun gaming experience. JUST like Game Central Station in Wreck It Ralph!
Solo game design:
Or, if you just want to make a narrative-driven game experience, you can also make that on Core.
Manticore has added a whole lot of diversity to its game engine and even more so to its publishing platform. You basically have everything that you might ever want as a game developer. Even after you have designed and published a game, there is replay and repurpose value. In short you can make any design changes that you want quickly and without destroying the game balance.
Learning a new game engine usually takes weeks or months. With its simple drag and drop, Core gives you an Express ticket. To make the game development experience simpler and a whole lot less painful. Not to mention quickly beta testing and monetizing an entire game of your own creation. Your UGC, developed and published your way.
Final Thoughts: Great promise and potential, even in Alpha
Core is a great game engine for video game development and making and publishing UGC. It does have a few drawbacks. Video games developed on Core, for now, can only be published in the Core’s own game library. You cannot take them out, or publish them on any game store for now.
Manticore did said on their website that they are working on making these games available on mobile and steam. But right now, you are committing to developing and publishing exclusively on CORE.
The other big limitation is that, you can’t import any foreign object in the engine that you made somewhere else. So, you are basically stuck within their toolbox and only limited by the tools they provide you with. But overall, for an Alpha version, Manticore has really outdone themselves. And delivered on making a great engine with a surprisingly huge selection of built-in content.
Even the programming model is extremely polished. Some people may be challenged getting used to the built-in code editor. For now, Core is an excellent platform for first-tie game developers. Especially those who just want to create a good game and have fun later on playing on it with their friends.
Platforms for Young People to Start Making Video Games and Monetizing within 30 Days
Traditional video game development and publishing is big business. Expensive big money business.
According to Newzoo, the gaming industry is estimated to be over $152 billion a year, Check out the State of the Video Game Industry and research. Gaming is bigger than music AND movies, combined! And making video games is expensive business. Let us not forget video game marketing and publishing. Especially if you consider the AAA video game development budgets for large game developers like EA Sports, Lucas Arts, and more. Video game development cycles spanning 24 months or more, with 100+ people full-time staff dedicated to a given studio are not unheard of.
Does that mean only the AAA developers and publishers can create fun games that players love? Of course not.
Must you go through years and years of formal game production school and hope for a lucky break? Just to get a chance to create console-quality game content and get PAID? Absolutely not. Not anymore.
Now more than ever before, young game developers and CONTENT creators can make playable games and make money in as little as 30 to 90 days
AND make good money for their creations. As well as make the game discoverability easy and built in!
At the Fortune Brainstorm Tech 2019 Conference, Roblox’s CEO David Baszucki, said it perfectly. Its category summed in 2 words. Human Coexistence.
He seems to be onto something really really big. As of July 2019, Roblox drew over 2 million creators of 3D virtual experiences. And translated into 100 million+ active people – primarily boys and girls aged 8 to 13 – playing Roblox games every single month.
There is currently an Roblox exchange rate of $.0035/R$. You DO have to be a member of Roblox Premium and over 13, as well as have a minimum balance of Robux. But if you ARE, you can cash out your Robux for real money.
Roblox’s creator community ranged widely. Its 2 million creators spans from young creators getting their start in game design and coding, to teams of ten or twenty people forming studios.
I had the pleasure of meeting Roblox’s CEO David about ten years ago. He is about as smart and genuine as game CEO’s get. Ten years ago, Roblox was the mainstay of boys 7-11. Today it attracts a loyal following over 100 million players – both young boys AND girls. Trust me. If you love having fun, exploring and socializing in Roblox, you MUST check out Roblox Studio.
Manticore Games: Like Youtube did with video creation, Manticore is on a mission. Mission to disrupt creativity and game making. Period.
Currently in a 100-spots Creator Payouts Pilot Program, Manticore is testing a simple model based on an easy premise. The more people play your game, the more you should get paid.
Yes, but what about the learning curve? Say to create a multiplayer game? 24 months? Nope. 12 months? Nope. 6 months? Not even that. Take a look at the following screenshot. The Core engine lets you create and customize gameplay, social as well as scenery inside of its user interface. You can create multiplayer or single-player games. WITHOUT writing code. Should you like to learn step-by-step game development, check out Manticore’s Core Game Dev Bootcamp.
Manticore’s Core Game Dev Bootcamp is all of four weeks.
Age requirements to join the Creator Payout Program? You DO have to be legally considered an adult in your country. IF you get an invite from Manticore. So in the United States, anyone aged 13 to 17 can participate, with parental permission.
PER month, a creator gets paid $3 for every Averaged Daily User. Fairly simple math. What does it mean, for those of us familiar with free-to-play and subscription models?
Manticore’s creator payout model already accounts for 2 key metrics: Scale and Retention.
If you have 1000 players on the 1st of the month, steadily bleed users through Day 3, but manage to retain only 100 players who stick around until the 30th? Well then, you get paid only for the averaged Daily user player count. In this case, in month 1, getting a total of $1432 for the 477 Daily Averaged Users.
If you have 1000 players on the 1st of the month and retain the same 1000 players on the 30th, you are paid for the 1000 Averaged Daily User. Or in the scenario below, in month 2, getting a total of $4425 for the 1475 Daily Averaged Users.
MONTH 1 – January
MONTH 2 – February
Month-averaged Daily Users
Of course, even breakout hits and the big money-makers on Roblox and Manticore Games are not accidental surprises. Solid consumer research, player testing and fun, engaging gameplay are all expected table stakes. But for young people who are looking to get started making video games, built-in mechanics for video game marketing? Definitely check out Roblox and Manticore Games.
NBA 2K21: New Gen Console Video Game Marketing Pricing Justified or Gouging
Pre-orders for Take Two Interactive’s NBA 2K21 is here. Kotaku staff writer Ash Parrish‘s NBA 2K21 Will Cost $70 on PS5 and Xbox Series X has opened up Pandora’s box. An age-old debate, the question basically boils down to this. About something seemingly sacred – about video game marketing and pricing.
Is a $10 price premium justified to get the exact SAME game on next-gen consoles? Or is this a reckless assault on the $60 price tag we’ve all come to accept for AAA games?
If the thread of 170 comments posted in the last 48 hours is any indication, there is no easy answer.
One thing I know for sure. No matter what the publisher marketing and PR team says, there can be no pleasing everyone. Without addressing the right from wrong, or getting into the details of making video games and publishing economics. Allow me to distill the factors, and the types of consumer research and insights, that video game marketing and video game publishers, take into consideration.
Video Game Pricing
Video game marketers have multiple tools for consumer insights and market research at their disposal. To answer questions about “willingness to pay” and “ability to pay” marketers can conduct one or more of:
Discoverability is hard and needs to be thought-out and designed-in, from the start.
Consumers have choices. In fact, lots of choices. The world has come a looooooooooooooooooong way since the days of single-player FPS games like Duke Nukem, even if that IS still the Video Game Greatest of All Time. Although my mind is permanently numb from visions of kicking ass and chewing bubble gum.
In his blog, Simon mentioned the 4 keys to “Memetic Shareability.” What are they exactly? These are: Quirky Hook, Stunning Art, Gif/Replay Exports and Genre-Like Signifiers. A few examples quickly come to mind.
GAME-CHARACTER COLORATION: In Heroes of Dragon Age, the Twitter-featured character tier progression for Saboteur Hawke
Visually contrasting and storytelling. The clear Character Tier Progression (headware from None to stylized Hood; Armor from leather to iron to steel to gold-trimmed steel; matching weapon evolution) were classic RPG attributes, where color and fabric connotes Rank, Defense, Damage and more, not to mention visual appeal. What does this mean? Simply encouraging player “Peacocking” and sharing on Twitter, Pinterest, and more.