Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Games Are Experiences

When you get down to it, a board or card game is just a bunch of cardboard, wood, plastic, paper, paint, and metal assembled in a box. Rules and information are printed and designed. There’s some sort of art and graphic representation on many of the components.

When you are talking about games to others, many of us will often talk about how you are playing the game. Mechanisms are used  often; worker placement, card drafting, dice rolling, area control. We use mechanisms because hey, they work. It’s a common way to communicate that many of us understand, and through that communication, can draw a conclusion or idea around what it would be like to play that game. What the experience would be like. Aha!

Experience.

What if you could get right to the experience part of the game in your marketing?

Experiences are definitely more difficult to describe, because they are often very unique and emotional. They’re dependent on things that may not have much to do with the game at all. Things like the people you play with, the mood you’re in, what food/drinks you are consuming during play, what time of day/night it is.

But when it comes down to it, a game is a bunch of pieces assembled to create an experience. A great way to talk about your game would be to get right to the experience people have when playing your game. Or, the experience you are trying to create.

Experiences may seem similar on the surface, but they are moments in time that matter to people. I still remember many of game experiences. If you can create and then talk briefly about those experiences for your game, you will have something special to offer gamers. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Stay on target.... the importance of a target market

The other day a paid ad showed up on my Facebook news feed.

It was from McDonald's, and it showed a big picture of a burger. The ad was a 2 for 1 quarter pounder promotion.

I chuckled, shook my head, and typed a comment:

"That &$^% is poison. Have fun with that."

And what's funnier is that my post was one of the NICER ones. There were over 1,500 comments. Not sure how many were positive vs negative, but a quick scroll revealed several with a similar message as mine.

Ahem.

On my Facebook profile I have photos of myself and my wife running obstacle course races, jumping over fire, sweating, and having a great time. I 'like' and follow crossfit gyms and competitions, fitness companies, and check out nutrition and workout ideas.

I can't remember the last time I ate fast food of any sort. I am betting it hasn't happened more than once this decade. No lie.

So obviously, someone in charge of their advertising didn't really target very well, did they?

My point is not to pontificate on the merits and joys of fitness and eating right - although it's tempting - my point is that any Facebook or marketing newb should have had no problems realizing I wasn't in their target market.

McDonald's is actually not alone. How often do you hear stuff like this:

This product is for EVERYONE
This product is for ANYONE who likes sci-fi
If you like ice cream, you'll love this

And to make it more personal:

This game is for FAMILIES
This game is for EUROGAMERS
This game is for people who LOVE ZOMBIES

What's wrong with those examples?

They're too broad. That would be like McDonald's targeting an ad and saying, "we want to target people who eat meat." Okay, well, that's a start, but just this little example proves that this type of logic just doesn't work. I eat meat, quite a bit of it, actually. But I have no interest in fast food, and this isn't secret information, either.

Why? What's the big deal?

In the grand scheme, I could care less if McDonald's throws its money away.

However:

1. My Facebook news feed had an inappropriate ad in it. We all know how annoying that type of thing is. Compare this to getting spam, watching a TV ad, or just any other type of marketing noise we deal with on a daily basis. Creating more noise doesn't help anyone, it just makes all consumers angry and irritated. Give me something valuable.

2. McDonald's generated tons of bad comments. I'm pretty sure that didn't make them happy.

3. I have worked with and worked for large, global companies with millions of dollars to throw at marketing. Trust me, it doesn't matter how much money you have - you always have to spend it wisely. Big or small - setting a thousand dollars on fire every day isn't going to provide a positive return on investment. There's no such thing as too big to fail.

How do you target?

Targeting is complicated but easy if you're really listening and take some time to know the market.

You need to know the real reasons people buy and use your product. (And please don't say "because it's the cheapest").

You need to know how they buy and their decision criteria.

And then you have to know what makes these people tick, and be ready to categorize them and put them into buckets of people.

Then you have to make sweeping generalizations about each group, test these generalizations, and hone them down as much as you can.

This method will definitely get you started on the right track.

Now, a couple of things to keep in mind when performing this type of research:

1. People often don't know really why they buy things. It sounds funny, but consumers have been trained by marketing messages their whole lives, and will rattle off the first feature that comes to mind.

2. Just like with anything else, never get stuck in your echo chamber. People who know you and like you may not give you the real scoop because they don't want to give you the wrong answer. Or hurt your feelings. Or, they don't want to look like they don't know the answer.

3. Keep an open mind. One of the biggest drawbacks with someone who has been in an industry for several years is that they often already "know the answer". These folks have a wealth of knowledge, but be careful - these folks are also the first to jump to conclusions and will be skeptical of anything that challenges their "world view". Doing research and learning is shut down quickly by someone who already thinks they have all the answers. We live in a world of change. What you knew 3 years ago is probably obsolete by now, or it will be soon.

Market research is amorphous and involves speculation, guesswork, industry and product knowledge, and intuition.

As you can see, market segmentation and targeting is a big thing. But it's actually one of the things about marketing I enjoy quite a bit, and if done well, it will make the rest of your marketing a lot easier.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Reviewapalooza!

By Erik A. Dewey

It should come as no surprise I love game reviews, both doing them and reading/watching/listening to them. I wrote my first paid review back in 1997 and have been doing a steady stream of it ever since. There are few things more satisfying than discovering a really great game and telling others about it. Occasionally, I get an email from someone who bought a game based on one of my reviews and they thank me for bringing it to their attention. That is a fun email to read.

                When it comes to submitting a game for review, there are definitely some things to be aware of. Each copy of your game costs you money to produce and then shipping it out to someone for review probably will cost more than the game itself. If you are a smaller company, these costs add up quickly, so you want to make sure that first, the reviews happen, and second that they drive customers to purchase your game.

                Here are some recommendations I would make to companies sending out copies of their game for review.

Know the reviewer

                Every reviewer has their preferences, especially about what kind of games they enjoy. This is typically easy to discover, you just need to listen to some of their reviews to get a feel for what they like. Donald Dennis isn’t a huge fan of deck building games. Tom Vasel doesn’t play a lot of wargames. Cyrus from Father Geek isn’t going to review Cards Against Humanity on his website. It costs money to send out review copies, so make sure they go to the people that would enjoy them the most, not just the people with the broadest reach.

                Donald and I can always tell when we are part of a mass mailing looking for interest in reviewing a game. The email reads like they entered in “Board Game Reviewers” in Google and our name came up fourth or fifth on the list. The company has never listened to our show and there is no personalization in their communication with us at all. When we receive those emails, we often decline, after all, if the manufacturer doesn’t want to take the time to know us, should we do the same?

If you have a deadline, let the reviewer know

                When I’m asked to review a game, I always point out that it is neither a guarantee that I will review the game nor a promise as to when it will be reviewed. The main reason for this is there are times when I’m swamped and a to-be reviewed game will sit on the pile for a while as others got there first. That being said, if a company has a timeline for when they would like a review to come out, I can usually accommodate that.

                This is especially true for reviews of games that are about to be Kickstarted. If I know ahead of time that you’d like the episode with the game review to drop while your Kickstarter is running, be sure to let me know.

Make sure your game is ready

                Once you mail that game off for review, you open yourself up to an internet full of criticism. Therefore, you want to make as certain as possible that your game is ready for it. If your rulebook is terrible, the component quality is off, the art is poor, or the game box is lackluster, you better have a great game in there, because these things will all be brought out in the review.

                It will require being honest with yourself and your game. If there is a nagging in the back of your head that your rulebook layout could use some work, think twice about shipping it out without at least a revised PDF version ready.

Don’t argue with a review, but do correct

                Sometimes the reviews don’t go your way. For whatever reason, the reviewer didn’t like the game. When that happens it is painful, but you have to take it as a learning experience. The last thing you want to do is get into an argument, especially a public one, with them about how they’ve missed the merits of the game. All this does is upset everyone.

                That being said, sometimes reviewers miss something or get something wrong. If that is the case, a polite email or comment about what was missed can easily change a bad review into a good one. Truthfully, this isn’t too big of a problem in the board game industry, but it does happen on occasion.

Sometimes no review is kinder than a bad one

                I’ve gotten some games in the mail that were truly awful. They had little to offer, were not fun, or just plain badly done. When this happens, I find I have a choice to make. I could review it on the podcast and have a rare Red Light review to give, or I can just ignore it and say nothing. Many times if the game comes from a small company I just don’t do the review. Instead, I email the company and let them know the issues I had with the game and why I won’t be reviewing it. I do this firstly to make sure I didn’t miss something in the game, but also to give them a chance to fix the game and try again before it becomes branded as a bad game.

                It takes multiple impressions (typically 6 to 7) for something to attract a consumer’s attention. Reviews are one of the best ways to make an impression to a wide audience and should be integral to your game’s marketing plan. Just make sure to give yourself the best chance you can when you send your box of fun out into the wilds.

Erik Dewey is an author, game reviewer, and co-presenter on the popular podcast On Board Games. One of Erik's driving goals is to see families strengthened and have a sense of identity. He is a big proponent of game play to help in these goals. You can visit his piece of the internet at erikdewey.com.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

How do you "win"? The importance of goals

Vision. Mission. Objective. Goal. End-game.

There's a lot of ways to classify these things, but the idea is to figure out what you are trying to accomplish, and how you'll know it when you do.

There's also a lot of tools, tricks, instructions, and procedures on how to craft them, what they mean, and how to use them.

Here's one from Entrepreneur, for example.

I think it's important to capture your vision - write it down somewhere - and then refer to it periodically as you work. This is especially handy when you are doing a side-project, for reasons I'll get into momentarily.

Terminology Note:

For purposes of this post, I'm going to say "Goal", which will encapsulate objective, vision, and mission statement into one broad concept. In actual "business" terms, these are different things but I like to keep things simple and practical. (Not that those definitions aren't useful, but, there's no need to complicate matters).

What is a goal?

I think we all know what a goal is. I just want to add that I think a good goal is something that is:

1. challenging yet still realistic
2. measureable
3. timed

You can have goals for all kinds of things. I think it's a good idea to have a goal for each game design you are working on, for example. I also think it's a must for any organizational or business planning activity. It's absolutely something you need to have completely figured out before asking anyone for any type of start-up capital or launching a crowdfunding project.

You can have several goals; one for each design project, and one for your "overall goal", each having a different level of specificity. You can have broad goals that you define over time. Do whatever works for you, just have something captured that you can refer to.

 Examples:

A goal could be "to publish a game with a publisher in 3 years", "to design a game and crowdfund it in 3 years", or even just something like "to design the perfect dungeon crawl game for my friends in 3 years".

Even with just those 3 examples, I hope you can see how stating the goal can drastically change your approach, behavior, and even willingness to invest resources (your time and money).

What's so important about a goal?

1. it will help focus your time and resources
2. it will help you make decisions
3. it will help you finish tasks

We're all time-constrained. Especially when working on side-projects. And for you game designers out there, unfortunately you are designing games, planning crowdfunding projects, launching publishing companies, etc in addition to having a full time job.

Coming up with a goal and posting it in your workspace will help you focus your valuable free time. Ignore things that aren't substiantially related to accomplishing that goal. It will also help you make financial decisions. Sometimes spending money to make a slick prototype will help attract playtesters, which in turn will help you make your deadline to demo it at your local game convention, for example.

When you come up with ideas, activities, or are presented with challenges to your project, think about them in terms of how they will help you complete this goal - or not.

If they help, or are directly related to accomplishing your goal, then those are your priorities for the project.

If not, write them down in a notebook or "idea document", and leave them there for now. They're a distraction.

Do the same thing with your decisions. Approach your project decisions within the context of how they will help you accomplish your goal or not.

Finally, having a tangible goal will help you stay disciplined. If you're results-oriented, like me, seeing regular progress (checking things off a to-do list, for example) has an amazingly positive impact on any project, and boosts your motivation.

And for all of us creative types, where getting past that "creative/motivational/depressionist" rut is huge, having a goal hanging on your wall, and a sheet of checked-off items, is very powerful. Try it sometime.

Brain power - or, if you can dream it, you can do it

You've probably heard that if you want to accomplish something, just "set your mind to it". I think that deciding upon a goal, keeping it in your mind, and acting upon it, is a much more powerful tool than most of us may realize.

Many people create just for the fun of creating. Others create for fun, then decide to take it more seriously. At a certain point having a defined goal matters. Try it. I think you'll like it.