Game marketers pull back the curtain

PAX 2011: Insiders including Bethesda's VP of marketing explain how companies sell to gamers from three different perspectives.

Who Was There: AKQA gaming account lead Ed Davis, Bethesda Softworks vice president of marketing and PR Pete Hines, and CBS Interactive/GameSpot regional sales manager Paul Caparotta.

Marketing to gamers is a little different from marketing to the mainstream.

What They Talked About: Each of the panelists had something unique to offer when it comes to marketing to gamers. Davis kicked off the panel by talking about segmentation of the audience and moving forward from that data. This approach differs from that of Hines, who believes that a good game can sell itself from intrigue and appeal at an early stage and that no marketing plan can force the buyer to buy a game. Meanwhile, GameSpot's Caparotta talked about how he creates marketing plans for the website, coming up with content that is relevant and appealing to the target audience.

At AKQA, Davis takes a more traditional approach by looking at segmentation, which is when the audience is divided into groups based on various factors. He talked about how there are many ways to approach marketing and planning, but segmentation helps explain who marketers should be talking to and why. In recent years, marketers have acknowledged that the audience has expanded beyond the 18-to-24-year-old male audience and that it is also more diverse.

Caparotta described the needs of the audience as a canvas that is constantly changing and evolving. According to the sales manager, now that mobile is becoming a "big deal," it is the audience that ultimately drives what's on the site from a marketing standpoint. He looks at what people are doing when visiting GameSpot and tries to determine whether people spend more time on video, screenshots, or something else.

Hines explained that he has been with Bethesda for 12 years and said that he likely doesn't approach marketing the same way other companies do because he insists that things be done his way. He doesn't take the time to break down the audience and figure out the demographic that he should be targeting. Instead, the philosophy behind Bethesda's marketing is, "We make games we would want to play. That's it," Hines said. "There's no great science to it."

He went on to explain that he doesn't understand why some marketing campaigns try to narrow their approach and appeal to males between the ages of 35 and 42 when he believes that, "gamers are gamers. It's a fool's errand." Instead, his approach is to engage through social media or asset blasts that include well-planned trailers and screenshots. While he may spend time tailoring those things to the audience, he doesn't spend a lot of time drilling down.

"I find it annoying and stupid," he said. "People who like games are people who like games." Hines understands that there are people who buy two games a year and those who buy 15 games, but he wouldn't necessarily use a different ad for each of them. He said that he didn't want to be a slave to that kind of thinking and instead wants to work on something that is appropriate for the audience.

The popularity of Lord of the Rings has made fantasy more marketable to mainstream audiences.

Davis touched upon the fact that many people who go into video game marketing have their roots in the entertainment industry when it used to be primarily driven by consumer packaged goods. That line of conversation led to the fact that there are marketing people who don't know anything about games.

"I've met marketing guys that make my skin crawl," Hines stated. He pointed out that while the three panelists may be hardcore gamers, that is not necessarily a requirement. But Caparotta emphasized that knowing the difference between a Japanese role-playing game and a Western one would help tremendously.

The next topic had to do with the fact that the first time people experience a game isn't when the game is put into the console, but when those people consume media surrounding the game. This could be five days or five months in advance; what Bethesda tries to do is to get people excited about it. For Hines, the success of that depends on whether or not his team is excited about it.

"Cool is cool; you don't have to be a hardcore gamer to say, 'Yeah that's some s*** right there,'" he said.

While prerelease coverage is important to companies looking to promote their games during the course of development, Hines went on to criticize the media when it comes to labeling games. He described it as "lazy" when outlets generalize a game by comparing it to one or several others, and he says that it's a disservice to the game.

Hines went on to talk about one of Bethesda's commercials that was targeted at a different audience. During Rage's prerelease marketing plan, Bethesda put together a video with NBA star Blake Griffin that wasn't necessarily targeted at gamers (as hardly anyone in the room had seen it), but it was a funny video that put Rage in people's minds. Of all their trailers, Hines said that it was the most successful one with the most positive feedback. He pointed out that gamers were a "picky lot," and that he would never run something like that ad on a gaming website.

Griffin (pictured on the cover of NCAA Basketball 10) wouldn't be used to selling Rage on gaming sites.

The panel brought up fantasy franchises like The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones because they have helped popularize fantasy. With The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim nearing release in November, the popularity of those other fantasy genres have made it easier to market games to a wider audience.

The panel also discussed psychographics, a technique where certain consumer behaviors are analyzed, such as how and why people play the games that they do. This doesn't necessarily change what marketers do, but it gives them ideas for a particular plan or a story for broader appeal. Netflix was brought up an example, in that it tracks what people have watched and recommend other movie titles based on what they like.

In terms of Bethesda's approach to PAX, Hines indicated that the event's crowd is a "specific kind of nerdy." The VP said that Bethesda would do things at PAX that it wouldn't do anywhere else, such as have hands-on time for its games to the public. He also talked about the thought that goes into the displays and how they should mean something rather than just exist as a big space with art painted on the side. Bethesda set up an elaborate display for Fallout 3 in 2008, and Hines noticed that since then, other publishers have increased the size of their booths as well. He admitted that he likes to think he had something to do with how much PAX has grown as far as booth sizes go.

Quote: "…[Peter Jackson] slipped nerdiness into everybody's household while they weren't paying attention." --Pete Hines commenting on how fantasy is more acceptable, thanks to The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.

Takeaway: Marketing is trying to catch up to the rapidly changing landscape of the video game industry. It is becoming more important for those who are interested in marketing to know their product inside and out. Hines expressed that it is unfortunate when a good game doesn't sell but a mediocre sequel does sell because of a huge marketing push. While marketing can never force someone to buy a game, it is crucial for marketers to plan far ahead of their release to get the game in people's minds.

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Discussion

30 comments
yxw
yxw

This is obviously a big marketing ploy..... and we all read it .... LOL

Born_Lucky
Born_Lucky

Marketing works on young people who haven't been exposed to it for 20 years, and are relatively new to buying products. People in their 40s and over, aren't affected by marketing. They've seen it all before. They know what they want, and no amount of hype is going to sway them one way or the other.

kintama88
kintama88

am i missing something? Hine said he would never run the Rage ad with Blake Griffin on a gaming website, the same ad that was littered across gamespot a few weeks ago?

the_requiem
the_requiem

@valdarez: You're twisting my words to make your point now d: You say he is fortunate to have quality product which is an easy sell. Am saying quality product has nothing to do with his naivety when it comes to marketing or luck. Yeah, I guess he is aware he sucks at marketing, but maybe that is why he puts all effort into make quality game, unless others who put more effort into going for marketing.

scribeman
scribeman

I'm not certain why, but developers in the game industry seem to have zero polish or concept of appropriate behavior. There's a difference between being cringe-worthy and grough. Hines would do well to learn that line.

valdarez
valdarez

@beuneus12 Unfortunately that's not always the case. There are plenty of examples of games that were considered quality games, with high review rates, that didn't sell well. Take for example Shadows of the Damned. It only sold 24,000 units the first month of release, yet it's one of the higher rated games out there. Better marketing definitely would have pushed those sell through units up.

valdarez
valdarez

@the_requiem Trying to remember when marketing, whose responsibility is projecting a message outwards to prospects, ever contributed to a quality game.... Oh yeah. Never. Whether intentional or not, you basically reiterated my point. He's fortunate to have a quality product that basically sells itself, as it seems he's fairly naive when it comes to even basic marketing practices. To make matter worse, he's claiming the product's success as his own marketing genius (i.e done 'his way'), which is completely foolish.

Scottisme
Scottisme

bethesda- most simple marketing plan,we like it you like it! simple usually is best

pidow
pidow

Their are a lot of us over 42 who play games...we like games that we can install and play without going through anyone. We want to play the game when we want, not when someone lets us. DRM, Steam, Orgin, etc. do not sell with us. Put in load and play, just that simple....In the early days, this was so, one got the enjoyment of playing in that year, not after waiting three hours for downloading to a server, after loading to your hard drive, just do not get it....bottom line...drop the hassle, you get the cash.

Darkkend
Darkkend

Crap CBS owns everything.

ninn1000
ninn1000

This is why I love Bethesda; they're probably one of the few gaming companies working on making a good game -- not a marketable one.

AnkitaMishra
AnkitaMishra

I wanted to buy Rage, but now I realised steam DRM. So, my money will stay in my pocket. Thanks for reading and do not buy DRM games. I will wait for NOsteam version :-) and noDRM version.

xSlider257
xSlider257

I liked Hines. I know some people feel he's out of his element, but I like his no-nonsense approach. The other guys seemed very stiff and rigid in their opinions.

ezjohny
ezjohny

I think marketers should know about the game even tho it does not sell the game it will help the game to sell. I think people are starting to realize that if a game is 60 dollars that it better be good quality of a game and that's where the review comes in! Game Developers should start making quality games with less flaws to them, personally i think the review sells the game maybe i'm wrong but that's my opinion!

timh17
timh17

Interesting to see age segmentation still being used by some, have to say i'm much fonder of the psychographic approach.

the_requiem
the_requiem

@valdarez: I don't think fortune has anything to do with it, in fact his comments show it is nothing to do with being lucky. His focus is simple: Make a good game, it will creates its own buzz, it will sell. Its like when we were kids grandma next door didn't go door to door to sell cookies. She used to keep the window open we all the kids would line up outside her house to lap em up.

RockoW
RockoW

In the end, marketing can only take you so far. Review scores are just as important and out of control of the publisher. Well at least it should be...

alert0
alert0

Pete Hines evidently doesn't want to deal with focus groups, statistical results, or points of view that may differ from his team's. Good for him.

jstowers
jstowers

Nerd is cooler than ever it seems.

ZRavN
ZRavN

This might be cynical but I think the role of a game marketer is to try and relate the game to violence, power fantasy, female, and celebrities in any way that almost makes sense. This also works well with virtually every product ever made that is not specifically targeting the elderly.

zpluffy
zpluffy

'indians**- are indians but' will never be :: indians">,. my message is encrypted, decrypt to show your true problem solving gaming intellect">,.

bramterris
bramterris

Hines is boss, especially if he mentioned GAME. OF. THRONES!!! GAME OF THRONES, GAME OF THRONES, GAME OF THRONES! Yeah, that show is awesome.

egres122
egres122

It is true though that with the right wording and marketing a bad game can sell well. But doesn't that just mean that good games should make sure that they an excellent marketing campaign in order to sell really well. A good game with a good marketing pitch will not only do well because as a bad game with good marketing, but even better because good games will have their names spread. And as word spreads that means more potential buyers. Bad games also get bad publicity. I do not even think of how many people I had to tell "do not buy Duke Nukem."

Toplinkar
Toplinkar

@StanleyL Don't forget about vanquish, the greatest game nobody played last year.. :)

aaronm90
aaronm90

Well said, beuneus12. I really like what the speaker said about how such things do a disservice to the game. It's just frustrating when the publisher takes control of the marketing, and then pressures the developer to live up to incomparable standards due to excessive hype. I really hope EA doesn't turn the talented team at DICE into a bunch of sheep...

pyroman93
pyroman93

This article seems to focus much more on Peter Hines than any of the other panelists.

StanleyL
StanleyL

@beuneus12 A good marketing campaign is important to the success of any product. There have been plenty of great games met with critical acclaim that were failed in the marketplace. (Psychonauts)

beuneus12
beuneus12

make quality games and 'THEY' will come. Much better then the average game with $millions in marketing campaign behind it, which then have to be paid for by gamers with online passes, overpriced dlc and other crap.

valdarez
valdarez

Sounds like Hines doesn't really know what he's doing. He's fortunate to have quality products that basically sell themselves.