by Bob Reinhard
From an outside perspective, I can only imagine the amount of game developers and publishers that wish to have their game sell less, get played less, and generally be less known is pretty close to zero. So what can they do to broaden the reach of their product?
For the sake of this particular point, I will not be discussing the topic of adding actual game content to extend the player appeal. Things like RPG elements in a shooter, things like that. That is an entirely different discussion for another day. Today, however, I’ll be talking about some things I’ve noticed in terms of how a game is marketed. I’ll be talking about Perception and Presentation.
Introducing Presentation And Perception
For starters, what are these terms? What does this mean in terms of video game marketing?
Presentation: How and what is showcased to draw in attention to your game?
Perception: What will consumers think based on what is presented and what is known?
On the surface, these are very basic definitions. They’re mostly a common knowledge sort of thing when it comes to marketing a product. But when you scratch away the “well, duh” aspect of these, there is a lot of depth to be discovered. And this is where the important points of this article lie. What kinds of presentation can lead to what kinds of perception, and how does this help expand the reach of your product?
The Types Of Presentation
When I speak of “types of presentation”, I am not simply talking about what methods of marketing you use. For instance, I don’t mean types as in “billboards” and “television commercials”. While those are obvious factors in this discussion, I’m speaking more to how the presentation is given and what key elements they contain to help shift how a product is viewed.
For starters, I will break presentation down into two core types as well as some basic examples of how they’re done.
External Presentation: Tangible, low-thought, quick. Standard marketing such as cover art, commercials, or quick trailers of the game.This establishes a core understanding of the basic nature of the game, however, it does not give full understanding of the game as a whole.
Internal Presentation: Detailing the intention of the game in order to broaden the reach. This includes developer interviews, showcasing detailed core mechanics of the game, and even reviews.
Each of these presentation types is geared towards a different audience. I’ll refer to this as the “scope” of the presentation. The scope for each is different, targeting two key consumer bases: the “Blind” Consumer and the Informed Consumer.
Blind Consumer: Someone that only sees the External Presentation. These are people who buy games from commercials and in-store sight only. They may be casual gamers or family members buying for someone else.
Informed Consumer: These are gamers who spend more time involved with internal presentation. They read articles and learn more about the game to see if it will be interesting to them. They do not usually focus on the extrenal presentation.
“Blind” consumer is a misleading term on the surface. A blind consumer is actually more inclined to make their decisions based on visual methods of presentation. These are gamers who mostly buy games based on commercials or word-of-mouth, even go so far as to buy a game simply because the cover art appeals to a basic interest they may have. These consumers generally don’t spend much time reading articles or listening to developer interviews. Most of their understanding of the product comes from these external presentation techniques.
“Blind” consumers may also be parents or other family members who are not purchasing the game for themselves.
Internal presentation’s scope is the “core” gamer or informed consumer. Someone who buys a game because they know it’s in a genre or style that they like, by a developer that makes games they enjoy, or simply has read and watched enough detailed information to come to a conclusion that they’ll enjoy the product. They like to know as much as they can about the game, and usually do not pay too much attention to simple marketing techniques like commercials or cover art nearly as much.
So, with that knowledge, we can deduct a simple conclusion that shifting external presentation changes the perception of the “Blind” consumer while shifting internal presentation changes the perception of the informed consumer. The first step in widening the reach of a product’s potential is to recognize and work with both forms of presentation and focus on both kinds of consumers as much as possible.
Perception Based On External Presentation
First, we’ll look at simple ways to gear a “Blind” consumer towards or away from your product. While they are not as focused as other consumers, they still have certain likes and dislikes that can easily be worked towards through simple tweaks to the external presentation.
To introduce this concept, we’ll look at box art. Many focus groups have been used to determine a game’s box art. This is because developers and publishers know that this is one of the main things a lot of “Blind” consumers will see. And by picking up on feedback from general consumers, they can find ways to tweak the cover art to appeal to a broader casual audience. However, much like “core” gamers, there is also a division of casual consumers in terms of what genres or thematic elements they like. While making a product look “cool” may seem like a way to gain more sales from the casual side, you also have to consider how well the external presentation can adhere to different people’s core likes.
Allow me to use an example. Let’s assume we’re making a war game of some kind. Let’s call it “Call Of War”. The game is a Real-Time Strategy game heavily focused on formations and resource management. Now let’s say I place this game on the shelf next to Call of Duty.
This is Call of Duty’s basic box art format:
A soldier holding a gun in war-torn location. This gives you a very general idea of what kind of game Call of Duty is. However, we could easily use this same cover art for our game. Our game does indeed involve soldiers shooting guns and war torn lands. It is indeed based on the same general concept as Call of Duty. However, Call of War is very much so different from Call of Duty. So how can we tweak our cover art to give people a sense that this game is not just a Call of Duty rip-off?
Instead of placing a soldier with a gun as the main focus of our cover art, let’s instead build it with a general or strategist of some kind. Instead of walking on the battle field, let’s place them over a large table with a map or a console. Instead of holding a gun, let’s have them using some kind of indicators to make it look like they’re doing some kind of strategic planning. The cover art may not be as flashy and “cool”, but it gives a much better sense of what kind of game we’re making. Call of War is geared towards war-based RTS fans, and our cover art will draw them in as “different” than just a basic war shooter. With this simple change, we’ve changed the perception of the game in our casual “Blind” consumer group.
This is altering the Understanding of the game. There is one other thing we can change the perception of through external presentation, and that’s the Psychological Appeal of the game. What feelings or “vibes” does the game give off. If I were to give you a game with a creepy looking man with a bloody knife and skulls lying around, you would get the general feeling that this game is graphic and violent and more for a “mature” audience. You get the psychological appeal of horror through visual cues. The same goes for presenting a game with bright colors as opposed to dark colors. Vibrant shades of blue and pink give a more friendly psychological appeal, one that is usually reserved for less mature audiences.
These basic external presentation tactics can help focus the reach of your game to the correct audiences. However, there is an easy way to get this wrong.
I’ll give one example of how changing external cues to attempt to broaden an audience ended up not working. A long-standing joke among gamers is Nintendo of America’s bizarre changes to the artwork on the cover of many of the games in the Kirby franchise when bringing them over from Japan to America. They removed Kirby’s light-hearted smile and carefree facial expressions and replaced them with a more stern, angry looking face. This was supposed to shed the kid-friendly image and attract a wider audience. However, it’s too simple of a change to “fool” most consumers. He is still a little pink ball surrounded by very cute, child-friendly things. This simple change was a poor external presentation that didn’t give a good representation in terms of psychological appeal or understanding.
Perception Based On Internal Presentation
To talk about how internal presentation affects perception of a game, I will continue in discussing Nintendo’s mishandling of presentation of the Kirby franchise.
When I bring up the Kirby franchise to most gamers, the first thing that comes to mind is “Easy”. Kirby games are known for being child-friendly, non-threatening, and basically incredibly easy to complete. Anyone can play them. And on the surface, this is very much true. The series was intended to be playable by anyone. But it was also meant to be enjoyable by anyone. And this is where things get sticky.
The perception of the games being “really easy” and “child-friendly” gives a lot of gamers a sense that they simply won’t enjoy the games because they lack challenge or any form of skill test. However, anyone that has played most of the Kirby games can tell you that underneath the accessibility, most of the games have a more core gamer focused portion. Like Hard Mode in Dream Land, or the time trials and challenge levels in Epic Yarn. These are not nearly as easy or casual. They do require you to get very good at utilizing the game’s mechanics and test your ability to learn the game and use the tool sets to achieve tasks. They can even be quite challenging.
But this is rarely every mentioned when it comes to presenting the Kirby franchise. Kirby is marketed almost entirely with external presentation. It’s cute, it looks easy, and it’s very appealing to kids and parents. Because of a lack of good internal presentation, the game is losing potential reach among the informed consumer base.
By simply using techniques such as developer interviews or showcasing some of the other aspects of the game, you can present these more deep aspects to informed consumers and potentially introduce people to the series who would otherwise reject it as too easy or not challenging enough for them to enjoy.
So how do we do good internal presentation? You make sure to give each aspect of your game fair representation. Nintendo doesn’t spend any time discussing the other aspects of Kirby games, they simply showcase it’s natural external appeal. If they were to talk with the developers more and allow them to talk about the skill challenges and extra content, they may be able to extend the reach of the franchise. Now, there may be some internal presentation in the form of a few previews or reviews that do discuss these other aspects, but the general perception of the game remains mostly stuck on “easy”.
So how do we change the internal presentation to help boost informed consumer perception? Simple: Ease of Access.
Ease Of Access
The last thing to discuss is ease of access. Putting it simply: how easy is it for either the “Blind” consumer or the informed consumer to access the presentation style they are programmed for.
For external presentation, this can be as simple as running commercials, having large posters and displays in stores, or even advertising on junk food wrappers. This makes the external presentation more visible and expands the blind consumer audience. For internal presentation, you have to turn to the developers themselves. People who have an intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the game can give you a better sense of the variety and reach of the product. Something as simple as having a ten minute segment on a Nintendo Direct with the developer showing off the challenge levels of a Kirby game can help boost informed consumer reach.
While marketing can easily make or break a game’s sales and attention, it’s not the only thing we have to consider. How we market, and how well we market, play a huge part in the success of a game. Taking into mind external and internal presentation and their scope can help when it comes to choosing how to market a game. If you use these tools well, you can extend the reach of the product and potentially net in buyers you wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
Just some food for thought.