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FRONTBURNR | August 28, 2014

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Is Marketing More Important Than Gameplay?

| 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?



  1. Here’s the problem: Journey didn’t sell as well as Lego Batman 2 based on name alone. Lego is a known franchise with a fan base. Batman is a known franchise, again, with a pre-installed fan base. Journey was a new IP, built by a company who had only ever produced two games, both of which were new IP’s. There was a small pre-installed fan base of people who played Fl0w and Flower, but not even on the same hemisphere as those who knew Lego or Batman. On top of those two things, the Lego video games have their own niche following as well, and people who are buying it because Lego Batman 2 is subtitled DC Super Heroes.

    Journey would never have the pure licensed name recognition that Lego Batman 2 had, despite a huge marketing campaign. Comparing them is apples to oranges and a fairly weak example of how marketing budgets matter, because Lego + Batman + DC Heroes sells itself, even with no commercials or advertisements based on iconic following.

    Your comment about “as a gamer I know Lego Batman 2 wasn’t a better game than Journey” is ridiculously flawed, and it’s condescending. As a gamer, I know that I played through Journey one time in an hour and a half and while I loved it, it’s a game I’m never going to touch again because I don’t want to taint my memory of how great it is by spending more time with it so that I can see its flaws. Lego Batman 2 however, is a ton of fun, and it’s a game I can play over and over with my step kids. So, as a gamer, Lego Batman 2 is considerably better at being a game than an art piece like Journey ever could be.

    As for your approach on marketing, it’s a valid thought process, but inherently flawed. Do you know why Dance Central sells big numbers? It sells on Wii by considerably larger amounts than it does on other platforms, because it caters to the Wii Fit market. Again, nothing to do with marketing, so much as being a dance game with popular songs that are heavily rotated on the radio. It sells itself. Even as a guy who’s in marketing, you should see that.

    Dead Island is an anomaly and should be regarded as such. That trailer was 100% meant to draw people in, and it did drive sales, but there was an instant backlash about how the game is nothing like the trailer – and it almost blew up in Deep Silver’s face – until people realized just how good the game really was. Then it stood on its own merits and became Deep Silver’s most storied franchise. Gameplay absolutely matters once the marketing spin wears off, and that’s why a lot of games with heavy marketing don’t see much community once they’re a few weeks old. Looking at you, Medal of Honor: Warfighter.

    • I’m not sure Josiah is saying gameplay is irrelevant or doesn’t matter, just that the marketing “force” behind a game is typically what will make a game sell well. The concept of building a castle in the middle of the desert comes to mind. An effective marketing campaign is beyond important for the success of a title and the budget to support it obviously makes a huge difference, if not the most.

    • As mentioned in the original article, “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.” Company branding. Which in turn is marketing. Batman IS a known franchise, and so is LEGO, that helped drive sales.

      As far as the scenario of Journey having a huge marketing budget, we’ll never know what it could have done. However, I do see where your issue is with the comparison.

      There’s nothing condescending about my comment, at least it wasn’t intended, about Journey being a better game; it is my opinion. You give reasons why LEGO B2 is a better game (replayability, playing with younger people, etc), that has no effect on my gaming experience, but it does for you. So, we see different value in the game. That doesn’t make either of us right or wrong, simply that we both have an opinion.

      Dealing with Dance Central: By that logic, shouldn’t more dance games be in the top 10? They cater to the same crowd and all have popular songs on them. Dance Central has/had branding on there side, and from my experience more commercials and ad space.

      And like Josh said, I didn’t mean to come off like gameplay doesn’t matter, it most certainly does, but it doesn’t change the fact that if you can sink more money into ads and marketing ploys, you will more than likely see better sales results, if not from gamers like you and I, from the casual player (or parent buying games for younger players.)

      • I can agree with that. BTW we both meant Just Dance, not Dance Central. :p

        Also, the bigger problem here is that games that are truly great games SHOULD be getting those big budget marketing campaigns, instead of games that aren’t nearly as good getting tons of money wasted on them. Enslaved and El Shaddai are two games in recent memory that got pretty much zero advertisement, and neither sold much of anything at all. :(

        • D’oh! hahah Fail.

          And yes, completely agreed. And honestly, I have never heard of those games, I will be checking them out now.