Evolution of a mobile game: Marketing and promotion

Evolution of a mobile game: Marketing and promotion

By Oli Christie

December 3rd 2012 at 11:30AM

Neon Play CEO Oli Christie on making the world notice your new creation

In the third of a three part series, Oli Christie, founder and CEO of Neon Play, discusses how to effectively market and promote a mobile game

You can read part one of the series, which looks at the formation of the core idea, here, and part two – an analysis of the process of making that idea in to a game – here.

“Puts the latest Burnout series release to shame.” It’s the kind of review you love to see as an independent developer (and we didn’t write it ourselves...). Traffic Panic London, the third instalment of Neon Play’s Traffic Panic series, was packed with exciting new features and winning plaudits from reviewers who were suggesting that our simple, casual game was better than the latest release from the long-established Criterion/EA Burnout franchise.

Happy does not even begin to cover it.

But how did we get to this point? The mark of a great mobile games studio is, of course, the ability to develop good quality games. It will be the effectiveness of your marketing and promotion efforts, however, that will have a big impact on determining whether those games are a hit with consumers.

Marketing and promotion begins from the very moment you have completed the game.

Designing an aesthetically appealing app icon and selecting the best screen shots will help grab the attention of customers as they casually peruse app stores. It is important that the images are illustrative of the game contents otherwise you are at risk of undermining the relationship between the studio and consumer. Throughout the Traffic Panic Series, our app icons have changed from a very simplistic, comic-style crash through to the more dynamic and provocative image of a red double-decker bus crashing into a black cab. By using similar patterns and iconography the new game is identifiable to fans of the Traffic Panic series while simultaneously charting the evolutionary gameplay of the three games.

As part of the app submission process, you are able to provide a short description of your game which is a chance to sell the concept. Descriptions should be punchy and succinct; highlighting the game’s unique elements and enabling players to gain an understanding of the game objective from the briefest of word counts. If you want people to download your game – and especially if you want them to pay for it – you will need to convince people that it is worth the investment both in terms of time and money. As you release updates to your game, you can revise the accompanying description to include some of the positive reviews that you will hopefully have received in the weeks or months since the initial launch.

One of the most effective promotional tools available, and one which we think is a must in mobile game marketing, is a gameplay trailer. It is a medium which is ideal for action- orientated games but you really have free reign to make a creative and dynamic calling card for your forthcoming game whatever genre you are working in. One of the advantages of the Google Play Store is the ability to incorporate these video trailers into the app page which undoubtedly provides the player with a better idea of what they are buying into.

These videos are prime content for a designated studio YouTube channel and can be used to promote the game via other social media feeds – primarily Twitter and Facebook – in the lead-up to launch day and beyond. We have found that our videos have often been repurposed into reviews or at the very least linked to and it does make a difference. The trailer for Traffic Panic London has gained over 1 million views on our YouTube channel and has had positive feedback. It’s another avenue that is well worth exploring as you search for success.

Getting noticed

The ultimate test of the potential success of a game is if Apple or Google pick up on it during the app submission and approval stage and choose to feature it on the front page of their app stores. Editorial coverage like this is hugely important in helping your game get noticed amongst the hundreds of games that are released each day and can play a big part in determining its success.

As I wrote in the first part of this series, the main motivation in bringing Traffic Panic to the streets of London was to riff on the fact that the eyes of the world would be on London during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics. This thinking obviously struck a chord with both the App Store and the Google Play Store and we were lucky enough to receive some fantastic editorial coverage which helped us launch the game.

As a small, independent developer it is important for us to investigate all marketing avenues that are available to us and we are always open to trying new approaches. To help with the launch of Traffic Panic London, we decided to create a companion iOS mini-game called Carpark Carnage and cross promoted each game within the other.

Carpark Carnage’s development process was very basic as the game was built using the same assets that we had used for Traffic Panic London. The tactic worked as the games pushed each other up into the Top 10 games on the App Store and goes to show that if you remain nimble and employ new marketing strategies, you may well be rewarded.

Integrating social media

It goes without saying, as alluded to above, that social media plays a big part in marketing for a studio such as Neon Play. Since the studio’s inception we have had a very active Twitter feed to communicate with fans, offer technical support and to promote the studio and its successes in business and the games industry. We have backed this up by establishing consumer-friendly Facebook pages for individual games. These channels of communication are now an incredibly important part of our marketing activities as we attempt to compete against large global publishers with huge marketing budgets.

For the most part we use the social media channels in a very straightforward manner, hoping to build anticipation for a game release by sharing our trailers, retweeting reviews and top-scores or releasing download figures and facts about our games. But, again, wishing to try something different for Traffic Panic London, we wanted to integrate social media more fully into the game experience.

There were two ways in which we went about this. Firstly, as in many other mobile and social games, we gave people the option of sharing their top scores or mission completions with their friends on Twitter and Facebook by tapping the respective icons at the end of their turn. The hope is that numerous friends will be compelled to download the game and compete with their friends and social circles.

The second way in which we integrated social media into Traffic Panic London was to offer players free cars in return for interacting with Neon Play on social media. For instance, if players want to unlock the famous 3-wheeler Robin Reliant from Only Fools and Horses they follow us on Twitter and the car will then be introduced to the game. Likewise, if they were to ‘Like’ us on Facebook, they unlock the double-decker bus. This incentivised social media marketing is an interesting development for us and one which we are keen to build on. As demonstrated by our social following statistics, it provided a significant boost to our audience of followers and we have maintained them in subsequent months.

It sets us up with a captive social media audience, who are proven fans of one of our most popular games, and will enable us to communicate with them more directly and effectively in the future. Interestingly, it is with this model of social media and freemium content that we have scored our biggest hit to date on Android; a platform that is notoriously difficult to monetise.

Promotion pays

Success in the app marketplace is never guaranteed but there are ways to maximise the effectiveness of your marketing activities. What is most important is that if people search for your game online, they find multiple avenues to explore. Be it a link to a page about the game on your website, the gameplay trailer on your YouTube channel, mentions on social media – including your own feeds – or reviews, all will play a part in convincing a consumer that your game and studio is worth a punt. As with most things, if people like it, they will share it. Word of mouth is a marvel of marketing and with social media, everyone’s voice is now that little bit louder.

In Traffic Panic London, we had a good quality and timely game that was deemed to warrant editorial coverage from the app stores. Combined with over 5 million downloads on iOS and Android, 1 million views on YouTube for our gameplay trailer, 50,000 new followers on Twitter and an additional 200,000 fans across our Facebook pages, we consider Traffic Panic London a great success.

With games such as Flick Football, Paper Glider and Traffic Panic London, Neon Play has consistently proved that a small, independent studio can be successful even when competing against global giants. It’s not easy – it’s never easy – but it is important that indies stay in the fight.