Is Marketing More Important Than Gameplay?
Josiah Motley | On 11, Apr 2013
Coming from a marketing background, I sometimes forget to enjoy the little things in life. I don’t see the new iPad Mini, I see the marketing ploy behind it. I can’t appreciate MOGA giving out controllers at PAX because I’m trying to estimate their return on investment. And most of all, I can’t watch trailers or look at advertisements for video games without thinking about things like production budgets, social reach, color schemes…the list goes on and on.
This being said, is marketing more important than gameplay?
Obviously marketing is very important. Can marketing be the difference between a game being successful and a game falling flat on its figurative face? Can gameplay and word of mouth drive sales in this current market or do companies, big and small, need a large marketing budget to push their sales into the upper echelon of video game sales?
Warning: Mature Content. One can easily remember the impact this trailer had on the gaming world and subsequent sales success for Dead Island despite mixed reviews.
Gamers are a peculiar group of people. Many of the hardcore and old-school gamers can be subjective and skeptical to typical marketing ploys but the term “gamer” is not what it was five or ten years ago. There is now a much wider group of people that consider themselves gamers. You have people that dedicate 40 hours a week to video games, AAA titles and indie games alike, associated with the term “gamer.” Then you also have men and women that really only play what is currently “cool” and mainstream.
They are playing whatever is shoved down their throats the most.
There is nothing wrong with that, at all, and as cost of living goes up, gamers of all calls and creeds have to decide more carefully what to spend their money on. So for casual gamers to assume that the most publicized games are also the best is completely understandable.
As this market expands and casual gaming becomes more a part of people’s daily lives, how important is a big marketing budget and how do smaller companies without the huge budgets counteract the impact companies like Activision and EA have on the market? Is it even possible?
Your guess is as good as mine.
Not quite the answer you were expecting, huh? Right now, all we can do is look at past scenarios and try to assess what happened.
Look at the top selling games of 2012, then think about the marketing campaigns for each of those. The top ten grossing games from 2012 all had huge marketing budgets and/or big names attached to them (LEGO and Just Dance, for example.) Now, I have a question for you: were these the best games of 2012?
From a marketing perspective, I would give a resounding “Yes” and say these were the best games of the year. They sold the most and therefore were the best. Right? Can we honestly make that correlation? Is that how we should judge gaming now and in the future? By number of sales?
Journey, on the other hand, was an amazing game and experience but it’s not even on the radar as a top selling game.
Why is that? Critics praised the game while gamers everywhere rejoiced and told their friends and all of Twitter about their experience. Yet it STILL wasn’t enough to push it into the top selling games of 2012. LEGO Batman 2 made the top 10 and beat Journey in sales. Just let that sink in for a minute. LEGO Batman 2. It wasn’t a bad game but as a gamer I can honestly say it wasn’t a better game than Journey.
So how did LEGO Batman 2 produce more sales and make more money than Journey? The only logical explaination is marketing budget and company branding. As more casual groups of gamers grow larger and are more accepted, we might notice a gravitation toward the games that are most actively marketed, the games that are pushed into their daily lives the most. These games will have larger audiences and they will sell more more copies. It’s that simple.
Then again, isn’t that the point of an effective marketing campaign?
As gaming becomes more mainstream, developers will have to start looking at changing their marketing strategies. Marketing will have to play a more important role in the budget. Sending out review copies is no longer enough to drive major sales of a game. What does that mean for smaller studios and titles? How will they compete? How will major developers look at unique titles that may not be as marketable as the next Madden or Call of Duty? One would have to think creativity will continue to be stifled in exchange for the “sure bet.”
As the target demographic, what do you think? Are marketing campaigns that important? In the age of far-reaching social media, can word of mouth and reviews alone propel sales to weekly, monthly and yearly Top 10 Lists?