Train2Game recently caught up with founder of Gamesbrief and industry consultant Nicholas Lovell. In a wide ranging interview he discussed subjects including the different types of game development studios, advice for small independent developers, social gaming and the business side of the industry.
In part two of this three part interview, Nicholas Lovell tells Train2Game about how an independent developer can go about successfully distributing and marketing their games.
Train2Game: How would an independent developer actually go about distributing their game be it online, through social media, or mobile phones?
Nicholas Lovell: In my definition – what I use in the book – distribution involves getting code into people’s hands. But marketing and distribution start blurring because there’s a large sense that distribution is about the channels by which you encourage people to know about your product and want to buy it.
On the distribution side – the literal process of getting code from your hands into your customers’ hands – if you’re publishing on Apple, Xbox Live, PSN, Android… they handle it. You upload your game to Apple, Apple takes the money and delivers the code so you don’t have to worry about that. You still have to worry about discoverability so we’ll move onto marketing in a second.
If you’re doing something on Facebook or the broader web you have to handle it. So I strongly recommend you would use a scalable cloud backend like Amazon Web Services – something like that – which will cost you money and if you don’t have a business model, it will cost you more money which will be more expensive. You need to make sure that the more successful you get it isn’t the case you lose more money. I’ve had one client who the more successful they got the more money they lost. We fixed that now but that was the case.
If you’re looking at Flash development – I think it’s much harder to make money from Flash development – but if you’re looking at Flash development then there are sites like Kongregate, like Newgrounds.
Let’s move onto the marketing side, because distribution and marketing are often very tightly linked. In my mind, distribution is simply ‘can they get it?’ Marketing is ‘do they want to get it? And there are a bunch of ways in which you can market your content, and they don’t have to be that expensive.
My view is that the primary objective of most of the marketing you do is to be able to talk to people again. It’s not to sell them a product, because it takes longer to sell a product than just the first time seeing your banner ad. [The customer going] ‘Oh I’m going to see that ad, click on it and buy immediately’ …that’s pretty unusual.
What your marketing activity should be about is to try and get people to allow you to talk to them again. So that’s about Twitter feeds, that’s about blogs. Your social media strategy should be about being open, honest and clear, and about building a persona. There’s a lot of talk about building a story; if you’re three struggling students, ask for help from the community, ask for people who read your blogs to tell you how to do stuff, start engaging in that kind of dialogue and build that over time. So that’s one aspect.
The second aspect of it is virality. Virality is much, much harder than it used to be, march harder and particularly on Facebook. There are two different types of virality. There’s mechanical virality, that’s the kind of stuff where you get spammed on your Facebook feed. And there’s the ‘this is really cool’ kind of virality where word of mouth is key.
Certainly I’ve discovered games like Words With Friends, like Angry Birds, like Flight Control, because everyone was talking about them. Personally I think that’s tough to rely on because it’s really, really hard to build a game that gets that level of success. Better is to have some way of encouraging people to want to play with their friends. However, I think virality is falling in terms of its level of importance.
Where I tend to focus – and why I’m not really a big fan of a business model which involves you just selling the product for a one off fee – is less on the how do you acquire customers, but more on how do you keep them, and how do you make money from them.
So let me give you a reason why: On the iPhone, only 1.3% of apps have in-app purchases. Most people’s business model is free plus premium at 99 cents or so. But 33% of the top 100 grossing titles have in-app purchases. So in other words, we’re getting to the stage where it is really, really hard – you can do it, Angry Birds has made over $10 million from a 99 cent purchase – but that’s very hard.
The guys who are making more money are allowing people – if they like the game – to keep upgrading. And instead of the maximum amount of that money you can make from customer being 99c you can make $5, in some cases $30.
There’s a game called Pocket Frogs which has in app purchases of values of 99 cent, $4.99 & £29.99. Only 8% of people by the $29.99, but in revenue terms, more than half their revenue comes from those bigger packs. And most businesses stop at the 99c level, they would make a tenth of the revenue of Pocket Frogs. [For a full run down on the success of Pocket Frogs, check out this article on Gamesbrief]
Part one of the Train2Game interview with Nicholas Lovell can be seen here. The third and final part is available here. His book, How to Publish a Game, is available for half price until December 7th.
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