Sales in a self-publishing world

Sales in a self-publishing world

By Nicholas Lovell

August 16th 2010 at 3:38PM

In this week's column, Lovell look's at how the role of sales has changed in the self-publishing world

Traditional role

In the world of boxed products where giant chains dominate the games retail landscape, sales is a very traditional job. Salesmen (and women) in shiny suits tour the country in their company cars, schmoozing buyers at retail giants such as GAME, Best Buy and Electronics Boutique. They have substantial expense accounts to take buyers for boozy lunches or to ply them with alcohol at awards ceremonies and publisher events. They also have substantial budgets for ìtrade marketingî, the practice of paying for premium locations in store, such as gondola ends, freestanding displays or window posters. Some reports have even suggested that a significant proportion of the profits of a games retail chain come from selling ìlocationsî such as window posters or positions in the in-store charts, rather than from selling games.

Note: this may not be an accurate description of the life of a publisher sales executive, but I suspect it is what many developers think.

New role 1: Billing: In the online world, the sales role of a publisher is not to persuade a retail chain to purchase 100,000 copies of the latest blockbuster; it is to have the technology and expertise to take money from 100,000 consumers. This is not as simple a process as it sounds. There are a variety of options but they include:

  • Relying on the billing mechanisms of your distribution partners (such as Steam, Metaboli, Direct2Drive, the AppStore, Xbox Live Arcade or PlayStation Network)
  • Using a single payment partner such as PayPal or Facebook Credits
  • Getting your own merchant account from a clearing bank and processing credit cards yourself
  • Using every single third-party payment method you can identify.

These options are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to pick and choose which options make sense for you. For example, a developer focused exclusively on PSN and XBLA can rely 100% on Sony and Microsoft to collect the money. At the other extreme, a developer creating a browser-based MMO will need to make it as easy as possible for a player to pay for a subscription or in-game items, which is likely to mean that they need to offer multiple payment providers.

Habbo Hotel, for example, an early community aimed at teens and younger, has 160 payment options across its 32 countries and 11 languages. (Although Habbo said that they *had* to create the payment options, because there were few alternatives back then.Now you can reach much of your audience through third-party billing providers such as Facebook Credits, fatfoogoo and PlaySpan..

New role 2: Ad sales: If you aim to fund your business through advertising, then Iím afraid you are going to have become a snake oil salesman. OK, itís not really as bad as that, but selling online ads is a very traditional sales job. You are not selling anything unique. There are dozens, hundreds, millions of rival sites or games out there. Worse than that, the big ones have already sewn up trading agreements with the major media buyers and get the lionís share of media budgets as a matter of course.

You will need to get in front of the agencies. Make friends with the buyers. Give them a reason to remember you. Youíll need to be visiting their offices every day to show them what you are up to, why it is exciting and why they should recommend that their clients place some of the media budget with you.

Sound tough? It is. You wonít necessarily have to do all of it, because there is much that you can (and, in my view, should) outsource. But you will need to learn more about the world of advertising than you ever wanted to if you want to fund your business with ad dollars.

The most basic lesson is that you are no longer selling games. You are now selling audiences. You will need to be able to talk about impressions and CPMs, about unique users and eCPMs. Even if you plan to outsource the actual selling of the ads (and for most companies, I recommend that you do), youíll need to get familiar with the jargon.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of partners who will help you make money from ads on the web. These range from Google Adsense (unlikely to make you any money unless you are massive and very focused on creating search traffic) to game-specific ad sales services like Intergi and Ad4Game to in game advertising providers like IGA.

There are many more options from premium representation to remnant networks, from affiliate networks to CPI agencies and I donít have time to enumerate them all here. But you need to either understand this market well enough to play in it - or know that yo u donít and partner with experts who do.

Sales conclusion

For game developers, the sales function is about to go through a radical transformation. It is no longer about business development to secure a multi-million dollar contract from one of the score or so companies in the world who can afford to pay that.

It has transmuted to billing and to ad sales. My recommendation is that you learn enough about this market to outsource it effectively, whether to an agency or to an automated provider. The alternative is to build systems that replicate the payment technology and advertising networks of well-funded businesses.

I think it would be fun to stick to making games myself.