Interview with Game Marketing Consultant Andrew Pappas
We sat down with Andrew Pappas, Co-Founder & Marketing Consultant at RenGen Marketing, to talk about game marketing, its ever-increasing relevance as well as the key challenges of marketing games successfully on Steam. Discover his tips on how to best position your games on the platform to increase their visibility and discoverability.
Where does the name RenGen come from?
The name RenGen stems from the book Renaissance Generation by Patricia Martin. The term represents the time we currently live in, where many people, creators, and consumers, are coming together to collaborate. This concept of collaboration is what I represent with my company.
Could you explain to our readers why marketing is such an integral part of making successful games?
The reason why I see it as being so important is that in most cases, even if you make a great game, you still require a space in which you can create awareness for that game and engage with its audience and emerging community.
What tends to upsets me is when some studios brag about not having done any marketing for a game, despite it being successful. There was definitely marketing involved in making that great marketable product. Everything down to the communication and the execution of the design contributes to marketing. And that’s why it’s important. And even more so, for teams that share years of industry experience, a lot of marketing processes come second nature to them and they don’t realize that they are doing marketing for their product. That’s why I think it’s so important for those teams and individuals that are not in the same place, i.e. being surrounded by years of industry experience, to learn how to create that awareness for your game and engage with that community within your means. Without that, it basically comes down to a lot of missed opportunities. You’re simply not going to reach your game’s full potential without these processes.
So you can make great games, and even if they’re successful, there is much more potential to be leveraged from properly marketing your game?
Exactly. Just look at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredders Revenge for example. Sure it has a strong IP but if it wasn’t for its effective marketing, I’m sure it wouldn’t have hit the level of success it did.
And again, for those companies that said they didn’t do any marketing: they did. It just doesn’t feel like it for them.
How does the process of great game marketing look like to you?
How I start with all my clients is going back to the very beginning and asking them core foundational questions, including:
- What’s your vision?
- What’s your mission?
- Why are you making games?
And you have to think a little bit beyond that because just the desire of making games that one loved as a kid won’t be enough. There needs to be a strong foundation in place because it helps define the direction you are going in. That direction will ultimately dictate everything else that you do. A lot of people might not realize this or they have an idea but nothing concrete, and that is where a lot of issues can come up. Not having a path to follow, knowing what to do, or always second-guessing yourself can lead teams astray, making it difficult to reach their goals. That’s why having this foundation is important.
The second step is to know exactly who you are making this game for. It is crucial to really understand your audience and the process goes deeper than defining whether they like a certain game style or genre. Interests and behaviors can be vastly different or greatly overlap with each other. Understanding your audience as a whole is going to be much more effective than targeting interests. Sure it’s more helpful than targeting demographic information about your audience, but it still doesn’t offer much insight into player behavior.
From there, it’s a matter of identifying the right channels to communicate with your audience and how to engage with them. Spending time on these channels will give you an idea of how to best engage, so when you communicate with your audience it resonates with them. Once you’ve done that, try to go for consistency and develop processes to make sure your approaches are hitting on the right mark. As you go through that process, it is crucial to review and optimize it, so you’re able to identify how to best engage with different segments of your audience. Eventually, through engagement and optimization, this process will become sustainable and allow you to explore other opportunities.
So the interplay of social media channels, events, Steam community hub activity, and influencer communication is how you define a game’s audience?
Yes, that’s definitely a good way of looking at it.
When you’re starting it, what it really comes down to is taking the best guess, in terms of where the audience is and how to communicate with them, which, in a lot of cases, starts out through trial and error.
To give an example, one client I have been working with had some playtester feedback as well as posts on Reddit we were able to gather lots of information about their pain points, behaviors, and other interests. They were fortunate enough that their playtesters provided a lot of information. But these were people extremely excited about the game and were a small data set, so we needed to get a better sense of what the general public felt. So with Reddit, I was able to go into some of their past posts that had a lot of comments and see where else those Redditors posted or commented, which started to paint a picture of one type of audience. We continued that process using other channels to determine that their ideal player base is competitive, less casual players and implemented that understanding into the game’s marketing communication strategy.
Another way to understand your audience is to look at similar games and analyze how users are commenting to identify pain points that your game could easily address. If you go through these processes you will be able to paint a clear picture of and generate valuable insights into your audience.
What I also like to do that tends to be overlooked is analyzing your audience’s intent. By searching your game on Google (or even popular games that are similar to yours), you can review other related search queries in the knowledge bar. From there you can identify other similar titles to incorporate into your marketing research process. This can be pretty revealing as you may find titles you wouldn’t have originally suspected when doing initial market research.
At what stage in an indie game’s development process do you usually come in?
Once a client has a full concept of the game and development has already begun they’re in a good position to start marketing their game. , Unfortunately, lots of devs wait until they’re pretty close to release before they start thinking about marketing. I typically get involved during the development phase but would like to be involved even before that. A lot of developers tend to not have that mindset of “before”. I do think this mindset is imperative to properly market your game as it gives you more time to understand and test things out. I often come across the perception that there is a lack of material to market the game in the development stage. In most cases, there is already enough material or means of creating material that doesn’t require a lot of effort to start putting themselves out there. Generally speaking, I like to be involved six months before release or earlier with a complete demo to help them with their game marketing. That gives you enough time to really go through the whole process we discussed and to refine it.
Great insights. Let’s jump to the concept of marketing games on Steam. Steam has been a black box for the better part of 20 years. How do you approach marketing on Steam to find out what works and what doesn’t?
Regarding marketing games on Steam, I feel that the one important underlying premise should always be clarity. By being clear and focused you can make your games stand out a lot more. When people do searches and the key art comes up, the art needs to be clearly defined, and align with the game’s experience. I understand that that’s a hard concept to understand but it’s essential. If your key art has an art style that is vastly different from the art style of your game then the expectations of players will not align with the in-game experience. Users doing searches should be able to easily make out what your game is about based on its art.
I’ve seen one case where the game’s name was written in an almost glyphic font on a majority of the capsule making it very difficult to read. This made it a challenge to identify what game it was, which should never be the case.
What tips do you have for our readers in terms of designing a good, visitor-converting store page?
Let’s start with the short description. When explaining how to write a good description, I always like to draw on the example of Hades. Their description includes story elements, the genre as well as an objective, all within one sentence. By defining these core elements, you get a clear understanding of what the game is about in a very short amount of time. It takes probably less than four seconds to read that line. As with the other elements, clarity is what makes a good short description.
Now screenshots are probably the most pivotal element of your store page. To make good screenshots it is important to understand the concept of visual context. Many times, developers will put up images that they have a clear understanding of, but they are not being mindful of whether these images allow first-time viewers to get a good understanding of what is happening in the gameplay or even give them a reason to get excited about it. Again, being clear is key. A good approach is staging images in a way that, even though typically a player may never experience the depicted scene in the game, it is successful in conveying what the experience of playing it will feel like.
A great example of this is when I was trying to make screenshots for a client which depicted a certain level that came out looking pretty boring. So instead of using the screenshot from typical gameplay, we staged a scene where the player ran back and forth, creating a sort of mayhem, and used this as a screenshot because it was a better representation of what the game felt like to play.
So the screenshots need to be able to communicate how the game will feel for the player, even if they don’t show realistic scenes of a game?
Correct, as long as the screenshots properly convey what the experience will be like.
And what about trailers?
Another very important asset. I know people generally don’t spend too much time watching trailers when viewing Steam pages, especially if they’re too long. Therefore, clarity and being concise are very important. The trailer should generally not be much longer than a minute. One thing I like about trailers is that they have a narrative element to them, and I’m not talking about a voice-over. It comes down to how it is visually represented and whether it is able to create that narrative visually. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the narrative of the actual story of the game, but rather a narrative structure, so creating a hook, a build-up, a climax, and an ending. Doing this while incorporating in-game footage is a great way to showcase the experience and may even offer the opportunity to share a game’s features too.
What about the remaining elements of the store page?
When writing a good description, the underlying premise remains to keep it clear. If people want to learn more, it is wise to include a link to the game’s discord or website, depending on their goals and objectives. Another form of optimization for discoverability is keeping consistent updates to your store page. Not just creating an update for the sake of creating one, but rather to create another opportunity for engagement.
Arriving at tags, a lot of people tend to neglect the research process and chose those that they feel best fit their game. It is very important to get a clear understanding of what tags represent, not only to drive discoverability but to also make sure that expectations are met when people arrive at your store page.
A good strategy is to look at other games and identify what each tag is about, and what the intent of users that are searching for a specific tag is. This brings us back to the concept of clarity: Your tags need to be able to accurately and clearly convey what your game is about. A good example of a common practice that ignores this strategy is applying the overused indie or action tags to your game. Applying these tags will throw your game into the inhomogeneous pool of countless other games that use it, which not only will make it harder to stand out but also harder to be discovered.