Marketing is more important than quality

I came across a pretty interesting article today.  The quick summary is that marketing was found to have three times more effect on revenue than high review scores.  They don’t cite any numbers, but to be honest the result doesn’t surprise me.  I’ve been thinking about making a for-pay game for a while now, so I’ve contemplated that side of things quite a bit.  Spending as much 50% of my time on self-promotion is something that makes quite a bit of sense.  Things are not too different on the freeware side of the fence, by the way.  Where you get linked from is what determines your download count, much less than how good your game is.

The sad truth is that for most games spending one hour on implementing more features or polishing the game quickly becomes sub-optimal when compared to spending an hour on talking about your game.  If you pay attention to the indie game scene, then you’ll find that all of the latest “big” hits were by people who are masters of self-promotion.  Jonathan Blow, Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler all handled the PR for their games very deftly.  I doubt that they would be as successful as they are if they didn’t.

So what are we to do, as people who love playing and making games?  One answer is to just ignore the marketing side and focus on making great games.  This is the answer a lot of developers pick, mostly because they either don’t realise the importance of PR or can’t be bothered.  As a result, a lot fewer people see their work and they can’t fund their next game.  What’s the point of making an amazing game if nobody sees it?

Another possibility is to play the marketing game and scream your lungs out about your work.  Once you get over your aversion to talking about how great you are, it’s surprisingly easy, actually.  All you need to do is have an unshakable confidence that your game is friggin great and to view the whole thing as a matter of survivial.  Unfortunately, you’re still spending the time on marketing when you could be making something cool.

The third answer, and the one I like the most, is community building.  If you can build a group of people who are consistently interested in your work, then you have an audience that’s already paying attention to what you have to say.  Of course, this is not a magic bullet.  For one thing, building a community takes time and hard work.  You won’t neccesarily spend any less time on community building than on marketing.  Secondly, you actually have to care about your audience when you do this.  This is not something that you can outsource to a PR company.  Lastly, and this is the one that concerns me most, is that niche communities tend to have extreme tastes.  This will probably restrict what you can do as a designer.  Do you think that Tarn Adams could quit making Dwarf Fortress and work on a horse petting sim, while still getting donations from his fans?  I think not (of course, the great thing about Dwarf Fortress is that he could probably include a horse petting sim somewhere in there).

Maybe indie games developers should form some sort of promotion group for cool work.  There’s already some of this, informally, but it could be juiced up a bit.  For example, if Jonathan Blow is making something neat, I could direct people who pay attention to my work to his site.  That way audiences get to find interesting new things and developers get a sort of co-op marketing.

What do you guys think?  How can an indie game developer balance making cool games simultaneously with details like eating and having a place to live?  What part do game players have in all of this?

14 Responses to “Marketing is more important than quality”

  1. pwn monkey Says:

    I think that if your games are good enough your community will do your PR for you. For example ill start posting about your site.

  2. dimwit Says:

    Quality implies longevity. A really good game will usually continue to sell copies long-term, which is a Rather Good Thing, and it will also keep the door open for warm receptions of sequels and expansions. On the other hand, a well-marketed game will sell a lot of copies right away. Borderlands is a prime recent example; despite serious launch issues and a poor PC port, it sold a lot of copies on all platforms due to a slick marketing spree that made appeals to hardcore and indie audiences (amateurish-looking Youtube vids that mentioned common gripes with mainstream titles) as well as the wider audience (the usual TV advertisements). A bird in the hand may just beat two in the bush. NOT marketing is a bad idea, that’s a certainty.

  3. Jonathan Mercier Says:

    We have made a great game called Aztaka! It’s (almost) perfect and we are very proud of what we have achieved! Try it and support us :)

    Just kidding. Seriously,the co-op marketing seems a good idea; I’m sure we can all win by putting money, time and resources in one good place than experiencing (and often failing) in all our little corner of this huge industry…

  4. Aaron (EgoAnt) Clifford Says:

    The other thing that is touched on here is that if you spend a bit of time on market research before you build your game it can go a long way towards promoting sales.

    This can be as simple as going to a games portal and skimming through the categories to see which genres are lacking. Or you could take the other tactic and find a game that is rising in popularity and put your own spin on it.

  5. X0ut Says:

    I have been on both sides being an indie developer with a couple of titles.
    Marketing is indeed very important. But having said that, sometimes you can scream your lungs out and nobody listens.
    It doesnt seem to matter what you do, sometimes people just arent interested.

  6. Alex Vostrov Says:

    X0ut, what would you attribute that to? Was it a game that people weren’t used to, or just a general difficulty in getting the word out there?

  7. X0ut Says:

    Mostly getting the word out. I guess knowing the right people can make a big difference.

  8. Crapwich Says:

    The zombie game looks great, I’d buy it in a snap.

  9. Alex Vostrov Says:

    Ha! You can’t, becuase you don’t have any way to pay me. I don’t even have a donation jar!

    Seriously though, thanks for the comment. I don’t feel that my games are good enough to ask money for yet. When I’m ready to make a paid game, I’ll talk about it on the blog. It has to be awesome enough first.

  10. pwn monkey Says:

    Ya i would pay for zombie game, and Swarm if you ported it to IPhone

  11. Crapwich Says:

    You know you could make some advertisements like the ones for Evony, with babes in bikinis. Totally misleading btw, but just think, for the zombie game you could have a zombie babe.(that was a joke, zombie babes would creep a lot of people out.)

  12. Alex Vostrov Says:

    Yes, I can see it now: “Come play my Lo…BRAAAAAAINSSSS!!!”

  13. Lord Iglio Says:

    Huh. Facebook marketing might not be a bad idea to consider, though! Never done it, but you can make your own ads for free, can’t you? Or are there some kind of restrictions? The ads and a Facebook support group and a fan page… not sure what it’s called. But i think that would be a big way to raise awareness. It’s free and probably wouldn’t take much time to set up… though it would take work perhaps to maintain… Hmm.


  14. Tony Says:

    I agree with pwn monkey when he says if you make good games, the community will do PR for you.
    That said the markets are pretty flooded these days. On Iphone, Xbox Indie etc.
    Co-op marketing is a good idea. People sort of do that already with their friends on the blogosphere. I think facebook/twitter marketing is a good start as is getting a strong fanbase to promote for you.

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