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The Lesson of XNA

Sean Sands | 6 Apr 2009 13:00
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It may be spurious to draw a direct line of causality here, but isn't it at least interesting that the authors who have spent time getting visibility, even if just through Twitter or Facebook or a personal website, have seen far more success?

I realize the knee-jerk reaction from developers and individuals that invested days or months into the XNA project may be to bemoan its lack of exposure, poor conversion rates and disappointing sales. I'm sure I'd be doing the same, but I have to ask, what did these industrious artists do to proactively get visibility for their titles? Game development is a business. The difference between success and failure isn't always measured by quality or effort. Often it's measured in mindshare. Who's cares how handsome you are if you're invisible?

If I sound critical, I don't mean to. It is neither easy nor entirely comfortable to take the steps necessary to attain visibility. It requires almost as much work as the artistic effort itself, and you have to be the kind of guy who will interrupt the conversation of strangers to point out how awesome you are. Seeking visibility is self-aggrandizing intrusiveness, socially ambiguous behavior and an unqualified necessity if you want to succeed. There's a good reason you know about games six months before they are released, and annoying though it may at times be, the strategy is highly effective.

Did any of these industrious developers create a marketing plan in concert with their effort? Did they build a website, sign up for every forum they could get access to, start Facebook pages and Twitter feeds? Did they contact producers of endless podcasts out there to seek promotion? Did they ping every small and mid-range website out there to talk about their work? Did they start blogs? How much more might a person have made in revenue if they had created their own visibility?

As I look through the results of XNA what I take away has nothing to do with Microsoft, the platform or indie gaming. What I see is a social experiment that proves an entirely different rule, that financial and commercial success is not something achieved without salesmanship and making a general nuisance of one's self.

Sean Sands is a freelance writer as well as the co-founder of Gamerswithjobs.com. Though he talks a big game about marketing, it's a safe bet that he won't even remember to link his own article in his woefully ignored Twitter feed.

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