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NZGDC14: roll up, roll up

The final session addressed visibility and marketing. Outsmart’s Shaveer Mirpuri, Runaway’s Tim Nixon and PikPok’s Mario Wynands weighed in on whether, how and where to direct precious marketing spend when launching a game.

Panel wrangler Cerebral Fix’s Jeremy Cadillac kicked off with a two-part question. Part one: Who’s spent money on user acquisition? was met with nods and raised hands from the panel. Part two: Who was happy with the results? Returned a far less enthusiastic response.

PikPok has plenty of experience of launching games, although Wynands declined to call it ‘expertise’. He noted, reasonably enough, “We don’t like spending money on User Acquisition (UA). We don’t know enough about it to know how to spend.”

If one of the country’s longest-surviving and more prolific game releasers didn’t understand, what hope was there for everyone else.

“It’s an enormous thing to learn about,” agreed Nixon.

Last year’s NZGDC also devoted a panel session to the business of doing business (also featuring speakers from Runaway and PikPok, as it happened), for which the MC was Chartboost’s Christine Lee. During that session she shared that UA was then costing NZ$1.80 per head.

For games targeting player numbers in the millions, such UA costs are not the sort of dollar amounts most developers have lying around come launch time. So, in the absence of that, what can work?

“We rely on the quality of our games. We build relationships with Apple, Google, Amazon,” said Wynands. Again it was a fair statement, if little help to someone without a track record with which to get noticed by the major stores. Wynands also noted that when PikPok took advantage of new features on offer, those were the games that made the app stores take notice and promote the game.

Nixon claimed, “Ultimately the iTunes store is a marketing tool for Apple not an income stream.”

That might be hard to believe, given the numbers touted as earnings for successful games, since Apple takes a 30% cut, but – even if iTunes is “not only an income stream” – then it makes sense, where it fits with your game, to make it as Apple-friendly as possible in the hope of getting some free exposure.

“Get the information early,” recommended Mirpuri, “so you don’t make more game and less money than you could.”

“We also maintain relationships with existing players,” said Wynands, “and do cross-promotion with other companies. All of which are free.”

Earlier in the month, US social media whizz Sheri Candler spoke in Auckland at the Tropfest Roughcut event, about building and retaining audience and user-bases. Much of her advice was in line with PikPok’s practice of maintaining a strong relationship between a creator’s brand (not individual product) and the creator’s community of friends/users/audience.

Cadillac noted that some companies were using TV spots to promote games. Did the panel have opinions on that approach?

Mirpuri said, “We spent $50,000 on an ad for a game, plus spot costs and looked at the traffic spikes around the spots.”

The result? “A complete waste of money.”

Wynands suggested a lot of TV advertising was not necessarily about making new sales, but was also about re-engagement, bringing players back to a game they’d played and moved on from. Wynands also said that PikPok had done work with companies where the company had run a TV campaign and seen nothing from it. However, “when we switched on our own community”, that delivered a lot more users.

FB was getting harder as an effective marketing tool, Wynands noted. “Twitter is good, especially if you put the game’s hash tag on the loading screen.”

Wynands also noted that PikPok didn’t see great conversion from YouTuber reviews, although he admitted that other people’s games had. Hopefully those “other games” will include EyeMobi’s Kiwi Game Starter winner Phanatsmal, which picked up a PewDiePie review at the beginning of its Kickstarter campaign (which closes 9 October).

“We get approached by people who’ll do reviews for a fee,” said Wynands.

“Say I’ve got $10,000 to spend on UA,” posed Cadillac. “How do I spend it?”

“You need a lot more money,” said Wynands and Nixon.

“If you are going to spend money,” suggested Mirpuri, “do it in beta or soft launch, because then there is opportunity to learn and adapt based on the responses.”

Was it worth spending the money? Maybe it was in some cases but, reckoned Wynands, “It’s better to spend money on making a better game.”

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