Thanks to the fantastic team over at FTI, Perth was lucky enough to have Travis Plane, a Director at Surprise Attack Consulting, fly over to run a masterclass and workshop with a group of our up-and-coming local developers.
The Perth development scene is continuing to expand with each year, but one of the biggest problems that we and many independent developers face, is the marketing process. The purpose of this class was to outline the process called positioning, which we learned is actually one of the most critical components in game creation/marketing.
Positioning is basically the process of creating an identity for your game, and the first step to consider when looking to market your product. Differentiation is important now more than ever as the indie marketplace is continuing to grow more saturated with each new day, and this leaves many smaller games starting to feel similar in the public’s eye – even if they’re not similar at all. Travis further addressed this problem by referencing the metaphor of the “purple cow”, which is best known in the book “Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable” by Seth Godin.
For those unfamiliar with the “purple cow” metaphor, it basically gets the listener to imagine driving along a road with lots of cows on the side passing you by. At first it might seem exciting to see so many cows: black, brown, white, etc. However, after awhile they all start to blur together and appear the same. What if at this point you saw a purple cow? Immediately, it would catch your attention, and you would surely be inclined to tell lots of other people about it too. Essentially, in this case, you should want your game to be that purple cow if it’s going to stand out from the crowd.
“Where is the real value and fun in your game?” Travis asked the group, to which he went onto clarify with: “You really need to be able to tell someone in one sentence what your game is about and why they should care.” This statement is what is often referred to as the “Elevator Pitch,” which is a short summary used to define a product as well as its value proposition. Apparently, it’s very common for a development team not to be on the same page with what they each feel are the standout qualities of their game. That’s where consulting groups such as Surprise Attack come in, to help these teams develop their positioning. Travis also showed us some quotes from various media outlets for games they’d been involved with, as an example of what the press see, and how it’s not simply a rehashed list of features.
The first process of positioning we learned about was the “Is/Isn’t” method, which is where you take your game and make a list clearly defining what it is or isn’t. It sounds really simple as a concept, but seeing it applied to an actual game definitely helped us to see the value in this exercise. In order to be competitive, you must first know what other games in the market you’re going to go up against, and then plan how you can position your game to stand out from others in that genre. In turn, the second process we learned about was “competitive variance”, where we would look at that game again, and then try to highlight what it did more of, less than, differently and entirely new, compared to those other games we had narrowed down as the primary competition. It also proved to be a very effective method!
The final method of the positioning process we learned about was “Emotional Rewards”; basically, examining your game to determine what emotions you intend to draw from the player. Travis went on to ask the group, “If your game was a person, what personality would it have?” Silent Hill was an example that was brought up, suggesting that you would not market a horror game as if it were a happy experience. Another example of this method was through an association board, where traits of the game had been represented with various TV shows, cars, foods, etc., and put together like a collage to provide the developers a visual representation of the game’s personality. We weren’t entirely sure what game the example was representing, but it was quite fascinating trying to guess what it might have been.
We concluded the theory side of things with an interesting example of unfortunate positioning, which was based on the cult-hit Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64. Apparently, a very similar game was released in Japan just prior to the version we all know and love, but it failed to do well commercially. The difference between the two games was that the Japanese version was marketed with the angle that players got to play as James Bond, whereas the western version we still talk about to this very day was advertised mostly for its gameplay. It was an unusual comparison, in my opinion, as our two cultures are very different when it comes to games, so I’m not convinced the western campaign would have done better in Japan. However, the difference in approach still highlighted the importance of positioning.
What I appreciated most about this class, was that instead of preparing a full example based on popular well known game, Travis instead conducted a live workshop based on a local game currently in-development. The game that was selected for the workshop is called Paradigm, which some of you may have seen during an interview on the site earlier this month. At the time of the event, the game had just begun what appeared to be a successful Kickstarter (now funded!), so it was an interesting game to deconstruct as it’s further along than most that go through this process. That said, It was still a good opportunity for creator, Jacob Janerka to interact with a live crowd, as well as for us to see the process in motion. Even though the direction was mostly realised, there were still a few things learned from it.
From the feedback I gathered afterwards, it seemed that everyone felt as if they were able to take something away from the class. There were quite a few questions at the end about the different ways an indie developer might take a game to market, and that seemed to be quite helpful for several attendees too. For me personally, it provided a deeper understanding for the promotional material I receive at GameCloud on a daily basis. It was also fascinating to see how much thought is put into the press perspective, so I was happy I could also take away something relevant to my side of the industry too. Travis demonstrated a great general knowledge of the games industry, and his methods appeared to work well in practise. If you were unable to attend the class, I’d recommend looking into it further.