As any game developer knows, a game launch is the one of the most opportune moments in your game’s marketing lifecycle. It’s your best chance to get proper store placement, the best time for reviewers to review your game, and more. But a launch only comes once.
Or does it? At Sweden Games Conference this week, Crows Crows Crows marketing director Mike Cox took the stage to discuss the notion of launching your game twice, explaining marketing concepts that can help developers use available game data to make the most out of their game launches.
Cox’s first technique for launching games multiple times is to first redefine the definition. In his words, “a launch is anytime you have a spike of attention and that produces sales.”
According to Cox, launching does not require developers to have just come out or released major new content. Even on Steam, if a game launches to a million users, Cox says there’s still opportunity to reach the other 89 million users on Steam.
First, Cox says developers need to pay attention to placements. As many developers know, placements are opportune locations on any of the various game stores. Placements are both a way to draw views and a method to earn more placements.
“As your game gets more views and you go higher and higher, your game has the opportunity to earn better placement in the Steam store,” Cox explained. Onstage, he popped open the the Steam documentation, and explained how the “new on Steam” section is an example of a placement foundation that developers can build on.
While in the new on Steam queue, Steam offers games a certain number of views. If those views convert into sales, the game catapults into the next carousel, and so on and so forth. Cox referenced the game Brigador as an example. The game was launched in Early Access, had a spike in users, and then fell into the “pit of despair” for several months.
That is, until they posted a blog about their struggles, dropped the price to $20, and suddenly became news, spiking their views, spiking conversions, and earning them higher places in the Steam carousel.
From this example, Cox tried to draw contrast between typical indie launch patterns and more successful launch patterns. Cox pointed out that most indies first begin actively talking about their game on Twitter and social media, build up a press influencer list, release a trailer, set up a wishlist, visit some events, and then launching with a discount.
This method, though foundational, “blows,” per Cox. He says this method is based around immediate relevance and other individuals determining worth for visibility. Even the attention of game press can have a muted influence, since they do little to support the spike of attention that Steam cares about.
“Indies have been reliant on Steam and other storefronts to carry them through the launch process,” Cox said.
Of the typical indie launch pattern, Cox explained he’s a fan of visiting events (though it’s expensive), and putting up a launch week discount. To improve the process overall, Cox suggests the following:
First, developers should try to maximize the chance of a successful launch through progress tracking and data.
Second, developers can reduce the “swingy” variation in placements by focusing on updates, sales, and availability. Repeatedly targeting storefront update and sales carousels can keep attention up for your game.
Third, developers should take hands in their views through purchasing advertising. It’s an expensive part of the process, but if developers need views to build engagement, those views can be earned by plainly buying them through advertising networks.
Cox urged developers to learn the marketing formula called CVECV — cost, views, engagement, conversions, and value. To help you understand how these numbers interact, here’s a look at a couple of Cox’s slides showing how these numbers can be calculated.
And here’s a formula Cox uses to help Crows Crows Crows calculate sales (with a couple online calculators you can use to run the math yourself).
After an initial launch, Cox then says the above logic can be used to create more “launches” for your game. Developers can participate in major sales, add new languages to gain access to new markets, add and announce new platforms, build around condensed updates (not necessarily large ones), and beyond. Cox said developers’ goals should be to just line up as many placements possible during these opportunities for attention spikes.
If this seems like a lot of work for an indie developer to pick up, Cox admitted it is. He pointed out that at larger companies, marketing budgets can run up to 50 percent of a game’s budget or higher.
But he urged smaller developers, even if they didn’t have a dedicated marketing staff, to look at these placement and view-conversion methods as better than just “throwing a knife in the dark,” and giving their game its best chance in the storefront.
Gamasutra is a media partner of Sweden Games Conference, who provided travel and lodging to cover this event