The gaming industry is growing - and shows no signs of slowing down. Between 2011 and 2021, only the US gaming market rose from 38.62 billion $ to 83.6 in value. Now, with a forecasted CAGR of 7.31% and predicted growth for 2022-26 equaling 74.93 billion $, it’s certainly an exciting time to work in the industry.
Not convinced? Does it sound too vague? We’ve got you covered. If your company started now and gained 100,000$ every year, it would take a modest 750,000 years to save such an amount.
But before you start fantasizing what you are going to spend your profits on, remember that your competition is not slowing down either. The market is crowded and it’s hard to break through. You risk that the game you put so much heart into will be welcomed with indifference.
In order to avoid losing your money, it’s necessary to do marketing campaigns - and make them as good as possible. With the examples we gathered, you can save time on research and use it to make marketing your game easier and more cost-effective.
So let’s look at the most successful campaigns in gamedev - and see what we can learn along the way.
Table of contents:
PART ONE - How to communicate with my audience?
PART TWO - Where to distribute my content?
PART ONE - CLEAR COMMUNICATION
Successfully selling your game… requires showing clearly what it’s about. It might sound like a no-brainer to you, but don’t close this page just yet! If your audience receives a different game than what you promised, they will certainly make their voices heard.
Bad reviews on Steam, angry Tweets and low sales are just the tip of the iceberg.
In the worst case, you could get sued for false advertising - just like the developer of Aliens: Colonial Marines did. The publisher created impressive previews, showcasing the quality of their game and gathering a lot of attention. But when people started to play it after the launch, they found out that none of the demo footage was actually in the game.
It’s like expecting Cyberpunk… and getting Cyberpunk before the patches.
1. UNDERSTAND YOUR AUDIENCE
The first step to avoiding a fiasco is researching your audience. Gamers are a hugely diverse group, so narrowing it down can help you find people who will love your game. Even bread is not for everybody. A smaller group may mean there is less competition, making it easier to stand out.
Here’s a quick guide on how to begin researching Chinese audiences for your games:
- Start by checking the comment section on Steam - change the language to find out if Chinese gamers are talking about it.
- Go to BiliBili to check for the existing videos of your game - you can see here that there are new popular videos about Factorio, as well as from 2014.
- Check the comments section for valuable insights.
💡 Don’t worry if it looks daunting at first - Google Lens is here to help you!
- Check HeyBox, Zhihu (website for answering questions) and Tieba (Chinese online forum) for similar titles.
This should be enough data to get you started. What do we know about Factorio’s Chinese audience by now?
First of all, the game has been popular for quite some time now, judging by the span of BiliBili videos. It requires a lot of time to focus, so it won’t be fitting for casual players. It has a small, but dedicated audience. Their main concerns and needs are shown on Tieba - they like discussing particular mechanics, customizations to the game (it allows mods) and of course sharing their gameplay. They also often laugh at the lack of discounts.
Their communication compares the game to torture; they describe it as very hard, but fun and addicting. This will come in handy when creating content - you can take inspiration from their language, address any concerns and show you are actively listening to their voices.
2011 - Visceral Games/EA - Your Mum Hates Dead Space 2
Create a persona, the more detailed the better. Go beyond the simple demographic information. Ask:
- What is their typical day? What are their interests?
- What is the goal they wish to achieve? What is stopping them?
- What values are important to them?
Dead Space 2 campaign is a great example of knowing your audience well - and using it to your advantage. They published a series of videos showing how mothers react to the game, combining it with a promoted hashtag and creating a contest to show your mom’s reaction.
The premise behind this campaign is simple. My mum doesn’t like it - so I should play it.
It’s short, honestly too stereotypical even for 2011, but it is also very smart. The campaign shows that the people behind it knew exactly who their target audience was and used that knowledge to reach them with tailor-made content. Instead of saying “hey teenagers, this is a game for you!”, VG showed it in action and utilised social media to spread their message.
It quickly went viral, gathering a lot of attention.
💡 If creating a persona seems too abstract at first, start looking at what you have.
Your game is a great starting point!
- gameplay motivations - you could check Bartle’s player types or other options to determine what drives your targeted audience
- other games they might be playing - and what they are missing in these existing games
- needs and expectations for new games
This will help you put a face on your ideal player and will come in useful when creating a cohesive marketing narrative.
Be careful! This step is not just for show. Many indie developers make a crucial mistake of posting only devlogs and work in progress videos, forgetting that their target audience should be players - and not other devs.
2. Create a unique strategy
Taking the knowledge from your research, now it’s the time to ask yourself - how can I leverage it to connect with gamers? If you create a unique strategy for your audience, you will have bigger chances of achieving a higher ROI.
If we were to create a campaign for teenagers in 2022, the obvious choice for the platform would be TikTok (or, of course, its Chinese counterpart, Douyin!). Dead Space went with a “common enemy” approach. Their campaign showed an opposition between their targeted demographic and their parents, creating a community with a shared value of being cool.
💡 What would be a good strategy to appeal to Gen Z in 2022?
- Stay on top of current trends - it would be hard to recommend one in particular, they change almost every week! Search for trending audios in the Creative Center (it will allow you to check a particular country) or just type “viral sounds” into the search bar. Later also has a list of trends, updated weekly.
- Reach the subcultures - there are many communities on TikTok, catering to different interests - not only gaming. While at the first glance they might seem disconnected, they often overlap and could be a great chance to attract new audiences. Roblox and makeup artists? Why not. Booktok creators love cozy vibes, so maybe a puzzle game in this mood would appeal to them?
- Pay attention to challenges… or create your own - if your game has a strong visual identity or some unique characters, creating a #dtiys (draw this in your style) challenge on arttok could put it in the spotlight!
- TikTok uses a very light ToV, but its users are no strangers to a nihilistic sense of humor and sarcasm. Don’t be afraid to be absurd - after all, humor is what this generation is using to cope with their daily challenges.
At last, be relatable - no better way to attract emotional responses than show something that resonates with your audience. “Ew you’re too old for this game” - this is a phrase Roblox users might have been hearing too often, so the account used it as the topic of one of their videos. The comments are heartwarming, with users mentioning their mums playing the game.
While thinking about connecting with prospective players, do not limit yourself to one market. If you think this might be too much work… we have a surprise for you! Sometimes, the only thing you need to boost your sales in China is localizing your content to make it accessible.
We can easily do that for you! And if you are interested in a more detailed approach, let us introduce you to our All Things-China package. We will cover it in more depth at the end of this article, so stay tuned!
Of course, there’s more to preparing a game for a different market than just localisation. Chinese regulations can be quite strict; lack of knowledge can put a dent in an otherwise crystal-clear image of your studio.
- Some of the main concerns are connected to political topics. Any content showing China in an unflattering light should be avoided. Games shouldn’t contain anything that could be judged as endangering the country.
- Mentioning some historical events and territories is equally off the line.
- Promoting immoral behaviors like violence, erotics, narcotics, organized crime is prohibited.
But these are just the main points! The real cultural impact goes deeper than that. For example, if you were to make Douyin videos, showing off wealth could get you banned! Xuanfu (炫富) is just one of the many things that could get you in trouble.
A good example to see this in action is Frostpunk. 11Bit Studio’s game attracted lots of attention. It had a strong release and sold a third of its copies just on the Chinese market. It took advantage of having good localisation and the results showed that.
But at the same time, it was met with critique and review-bombed. What was the reason? There were two parts to achieving victory in the game. One was straightforward and based on surviving to the end - and the other less emphasized during the game, concerning players' moral choices. At the end, if you took too many questionable actions, the game asked: “Was it worth it?”
The Chinese players didn’t appreciate the ending. It was described as “condescending” and widely frowned upon. Questioning their decisions was judged as ‘white left’ (baizuo白左) moral judgment, dictating western ideologies rather than encouraging reflection.
This case highlights the importance of cultural support while entering a new market.
3. Match the contents of your game
You can show your audience that you understand their needs by being clear in your communication.
A FPS fan will look for action in a new game. The medium is the message - lengthy Facebook posts with background lore will not appeal to them. Short ads showing shooting soldiers in motion may be more fitting.
In “Soldier in All of Us”, Activision took a direct approach in their communication. They granted a literal answer to the question: who can play our game? Showing a real life example of a CoD match, they put players straight into the setting of the game. It appeals to both the current fans of the franchise - and allows the new viewers to see themselves as the player.
They also used this opportunity to highlight the game’s best features. The emotions you feel watching are the same you would experience while playing the game - it’s exciting, fun and full of action.
Get to know your audience, then use this knowledge to convey: this is a game for you!
💡 Here’s a quick checklist for you:
- Am I speaking to my target audience? Crusader Kings 2 and Clash of Clans are both strategies, but differ wildly in the target and style of communication. Epic (and lengthy) descriptions of medieval power balance are ill-fitted to a fast-paced mobile game.
- Does the mood of my communication match the mood of my game? Dramatic and dark Tweets won’t work if you are selling a cute puzzle game to children.
You don’t have to be so over the top in your communication, but matching your social media content to your game is key. It’s a chance to connect with prospective gamers while showing “this is just like those other things you like!”
4. Know your Unique Selling Point
While in our previous point, we were catering to the expectations of your audience. Now, we need to distinguish what sets you apart from your competition. Good knowledge of the market will be critical.
The basis of setting a USP is simple: “THIS is the reason why you should pick my game.”
One sentence should communicate how it stands out.
💡 USP is not just a catchy phrase or a specific aesthetic.
You should already know what problems your audience is facing. Maybe they love roguelike games, but there is none on the market which offers character customization? Or they always wanted to build models, but didn’t have a place in their flat?
This is your hook. It shows value to your customers. It’s created right at the beginning, while finding the ideas for your new game and it should accompany your marketing campaign.
Super Meat Boy is an example of a game with a strong USP. The creators brought the 80s/90s platformer genre to modern players. They used the classic retro aesthetic, appealing to players’ nostalgia, but adjusted the difficulty and gameplay to make it more appealing. This approach, spiced up with a crazy atmosphere of their game, achieved a huge commercial success and won critical acclaim.
Two people created a small indie game that sold 1 million copies from October 2010 to January 2012.
5. Be consistent
Our first four tips covered gathering knowledge about your audience and game, then using it to create personalized campaigns. Now, it’s time to tie them together.
After all, what use is having knowledge if you don’t apply it consistently? Create a marketing roadmap and spread your communication across different channels with our advice in mind. Having a plan will lower the risk of messing it up.
Ways of communicating with your audience are not limited; it is not only what you share on social media, but how you describe your game on Steam, Instagram ads, briefs for influencers.
As the Capcom - Resident Evil 5 (2009) campaign has shown, they can also be real life events.
What is the mood of my game? Capcom’s answer would be: it’s gory, keeps you on your toes and delivers a lot of action. It’s also full of zombies. But they didn’t restrict themselves just to sharing a demo or social media. In a creative (and controversial) approach, they have decided to host a body part treasure hunt right in the middle of London.
Fortunately, they weren’t human, but were described as “realistic”.
Apparently, some of them went missing.
It’s a great example of marketing a survival horror series. Resident Evil 5 was Capcom’s best selling game up to 2017, when it was finally beaten by Monster Hunter World.
💡 If you are making a small indie game about countryside living, share some idyllic screenshots on Pinterest and Instagram. Find reliable streamers to make content on Huya in a cottagecore aesthetic. Mention escaping from daily life in your campaign, focus on how relaxing and cozy the atmosphere is, and you will attract teens and young adults that are looking for an escape from their daily lives.
Consistent messaging in different media not only lets the gamers find appeal in your game. It also makes you look more reliable. Strange, misleading or chaotic communication may cast doubts on the development of your game. Coherency between advertising, Steam page presentation and different social media channels will lower the amount of complaints from misguided players.
Remember to stay true to what you are marketing.
After all, it can be a difference between receiving a lukewarm response… and releasing your own Witcher 3.