There is a tradeoff every developer is making when it comes to spending money. You either spend it on the product, or marketing and promoting the product.
Now the romantically inclined might suggest that the best thing to do is just make the best possible game you can (100% product) and then the product will ‘sell itself’. Word of mouth news of your awesome game will do the work of the ad-men, and you will sell games by the bucketload.
The cynically inclined might suggest that the best thing to do is to market the hell out of your game. It doesn’t matter if the product istelf is a bit rough, because if 20,000,000 people get to hear about it, then you are bound to find enough of them who are bored enough to hand over the cash.
Obviously sanity lies somewhere in the middle. Finding out exactly where it lies, is not easy. To make a rational decision requires you to be able to measure the difference each dollar you spend actually makes. Clearly that is not easy.
With improvements to a games quality, you can sometimes tell that (for example) version 1.23 has a 22% higher conversion rate from the demo than version 1.22. This is assuming you have a clever enough order process to track that, are sure people aren’t trying an old, mirrored demo download and so on. Even then, this is completely useless, because it only works on the demo. Maybe version 1.23 full version is so awesome it encourages 18.34% more of your buyers to refer a friend to the game? Maybe screenshots from version 1.23 got featured on a website whereas 1.22 would not have, thus pulling in more eyeballs etc…
You might assume that it’s an easier thing to measure how effective marketing and promotion are. To a point this is true. I can tell you the CPC, CTR CPM and other boring acronyms for all my ads. I can plot very accurately the curve of CPC rising as total ad spend also climbs, and the sales/ad spend is also very easily measured. Google Analytics even shows you the ROI for each individual site where your banner was shown. However, this leaves out an absolute ton of variables. Maybe someone saw an ad on their work PC, then bought it later on theirs (not tracked). Maybe someone saw an ad, told a friend, and the friend bought it (not tracked) and so on…
And that’s only for directly net-connected stuff like ad buys. I ran a competition where I gave away a hideously expensive plastic spaceship model. Did that get me any PR? any sales? any good word-of-mouth? VERY hard to tell. I spend quite a bit of time replying to emails from journalists, and seeking out websites to promote the game. Is the return on investment there better than coding? Who can tell…
For me, spending money on ads is quite an easy decision, because there is only one of me. Doubling my ad spend doesn’t require any more of my (overstretched) time at all. So I’m not having to do a weigh-up of time on marketing vs time on the game. it’s much harder to weigh up anything that takes actual time away from coding. There is still the decision as to weighing up money spent on contractors (art, web design, sound) vs money spent on ads. And then of course there is the tradeoff between employing an artist (product) vs employing a PR guy (marketing).
Personally, I’m wary of actually employing PR people. I’m a one man company. The ‘brand’ ‘story’ and ‘image’ of Positech games is just me. It would feel silly to have someone try and ‘re-brand’ me. That’s a level of corporateness which I don’t want to get into.
…of course, if I’m really good at PR, then I already employ a person to do all this, and he is the one typing this blog post. Cliff’s busy coding, as always
..or is he?