The Business of Manipulation

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laryri:
Nice to see the issue of marketing from a different perspective than just a gamer criticizing marketing techniques. I hope a lot of advertising agencies see this article, they could learn a thing or two.

Amen, probaly one of the most refreshing and rather unique article on the Escapist if you ask me. This certainly stands out and it was weird reading through it but it really shows the common mistakes they usually make.

Nice one!

TheMadDoctorsCat:
TO THE AUTHOR: When the revolution comes, sir, you and yours will be first against the wall.

Nah, someone's got to market The Revolution.

The talent level of marketers in the gaming industry is low because good marketers avoid it. It's not a good industry to be in. Too much volitility and unpredictability.

The most talented marketers are in mature industries with well defined rules and rewards like consumer packaged goods.

No one thinks about the "evil marketers" behind Dove soap or Tide laundry detergent. Because those marketers are extremely good at their job. Games marketers tend to stumble around and make lots of mistakes than those in other industries because the Hardard and Wharton MBAs avoid the industry.

Self-awareness and humility are always endearing. A couple of small things I'd like to mention.

To the list of sins, I'd like to add "trying to advertise the product as something it's not". The Marilyn Manson-backed "Dragon Age" ads were the epitome of this most recently. I understand a marketing department desperately wanting to push the message that their fantasy RPG is not a nerdy basement-dweller activity but a edgy adult experience, but I'd much rather the advertising push "it has deep characters, engages real and resonant issues, and takes its audience seriously" or even "this is not like the cinema-driven JRPGS you're used to but something new and different" and not "Dude! It's got sex! And violence! And noise! And you're really into sex and violence and noise!"

See also: Sonic the Hedgehog is edgy, Bomberman is dark and brooding, and any game that became about Xtreme Sportzz three-quarters of the way through production.

Secondly, I- and I hope, many people- are also aware that marketing is valuable beyond information. I'm completely aware, even though I'm damned if I'm ever going to buy a @$%$ing Slim Jim, that without advertising many quite wonderful sites like The Escapist wouldn't exist. Marketing has created a significant reservoir of funding, a secondary source of entertainment that not infrequently surpasses the products actually advertised, more or less for free. So as far as that goes, thank you, marketing department.

Very good article. It's nice to see marketing from a marketers perspective. I worked with an ad agency for a while and I still don't get it.

I've always had this weird fascination with marketing. For one, you can sell something really well with effective marketing. Two, you stop buying bullshit products because you can see through their techniques.
Not all marketing is evil. Sometimes you genuinely DO want a certain product, but don't know it until it's been shown to you. What about Steam? "TF2 for $5! Come get it!" Would you prefer NOT to hear about that?

I'd love to hear more about this kind of thing, and what we can do to help gaming advertisement agencies get on track.

I kinda feel sorry for markerters of Sony products in Europe. It must be hard trying to make an incredible pile of stinking drivel look appealing to consumers, especially if they happen to be aware of the quality of Sony's products in other regions.

Anyways, great read, very interesting. I look forward to regular intallments of this column.

At least the gaming industry is typically dealing with an audience that is typically already actively looking at their product. While the advertising can sometimes be condescending or feel forced, at least you don't really deal with the slimey shlock that is convincing someone they have a "problem" they weren't aware of before.

I think you need to make a distinction between marketing and advertising/spam

Any "commercial message" that annoys me and I can't avoid but still live a normal life is spam; billboards, direct mail, telemarketers, uce, blinky flashy noisy slows my computer down web advertisements, litter left in my windshield wiper, etc. It always was spam just email spam is so obnoxious and so unsubtle that people are starting to realize that pretty much all advertisements are in one way or another unwanted intrusions into their day.

The "figure out what people want so we can make money selling it to them" part of marketing is a good thing, the "yell at people and shove stuff in their faces while they are trying to do things they actually want to do" is the despicable part.

It isn't that people hate bad marketing, it is that they hate the whole concept that someone thinks it is OK to impose on their lives to make a buck. Some people are more sensitive than others to it. And as you start to look critically you see that almost all advertisements are for scams or truly useless shit. Most ads are misleading at best or are bald-faced deception hiding behind poor court decisions protecting puffery at worst.

Unfortunately the FTC barely has the resources the worst of the worst. Which is why complete scams like the detox footpads persist for so long before they are finally taken off the market. Then the perpetrators get a slap on the wrist, a fine equal to a tiny percentage of their ill gotten profits and they get to move on to their next scam.

I really enjoyed reading that.
I study business and I'm hoping to either go into marketing or management so this was very interesting for me.

Bill Hicks was right. ( A little cursing warning :P )

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDW_Hj2K0wo

"When a popular gaming company hired an agency to do some viral marketing, they came out with a horrible rap about one of their most popular hand-held gaming devices"
Which game company and it's there a youtube video of it?

That was fascinating. Please educate us further, then this whole marketeer, consumer relationship can become truly symbiotic... No really I'm not being sarcastic that article was cool.

Whispering Death:
Games marketers tend to stumble around and make lots of mistakes than those in other industries because the Hardard and Wharton MBAs avoid the industry.

Are you saying that after I finish my MBA, I'm going to become jaded and fearful of the gaming industry? :(

Awesome article, I'd love to see more like this on the Escapist.

I, for one, attribute most of these poor marketing decision to just the industry itself going through growing pains. The gaming industry has grown at a prodigious rate, but the marketing mechanism and sophisitication has not yet caught up with it yet.

Why?

1. the lifecycle of gaming products are generally much shorter than say, traditional industries. Most games are forgotten in a matter of months, and within a matter of a year or two are generally gone from the public consciousness. (The exception being sequels)

2. processing the amount of information to make truly sophisiticated marketing decisions takes a lot of time and a lot money.

3. gaming industry research and gaming academia are still by comparison in it's infant stages. The article talking about Zynga and social gaming last week allude to an important fact: most game publishers out there have never actually gone ahead and performed truly comprehensive market research, relying mostly on traditionally developed and confirmed markets as their targets. A lot of social gaming devs are now starting to collect matrix on the subject but it is still for the most part, just a small corner of the entire picture.

Points 2 and 3 are particularly important since the implication is that research companies out there specialized in the gaming industry have yet to truly mature and assimilate everything into the marketing model.

i.e. if you talk about the auto industry, you can see that each individual vehicle released by each individual company probably has an entire market analysis behind it that talks about not just spending habits and feature lists, but more on the notion of lifestyle choices, customer emotional values, and a whole host of other factors that can go VERY indepth.

But look at what 99% of the games out there, and generally the emotional value delivered from one to another are more or less similar to one another. They are still sitting on crunching numbers as opposed to synthesizing that with emotional impact.

Incidentally, this is also why gaming narrative is often awful and game publishers will favor sequels over original content. they just don't have enough to go on.

Focus grouping, laugh all you want, is actually an entirely valid way of getting feedback on a game. But more often than not, it is not used extensively enough.

And I'm not even sure most game publishers would ever run a test marketing before launching a product.

MMMowman:
"When a popular gaming company hired an agency to do some viral marketing, they came out with a horrible rap about one of their most popular hand-held gaming devices"
Which game company and it's there a youtube video of it?

I do believe it was Sony with their PSP.

I'm sure it's on youtube somewhere.

I found this very interesting. And I like the whole average age is 35. Heheh. I hope to read more!

and all this are things perfectly obvious. One thing every dev should realize: it it ain't on gametraielrs, it's highly likely to stay largely unknow. Another importance is you should be concerned about graph rather than average, and that is what EVERYBODY gets wrong, youtube's facebookish thumbs rating has absolutely no informative value(in addition to trashing all previous rating). I would be completely satisfied if they replaced up and down with 5 to 0 stars and kept the graph next to it.

Fusionxl:
I really and truly hate the "hot chick" trick people use from the very bottom of my heart, so many gaming sites are guilty of thinking that letting a good looking woman with a babe accent open her mouth is going to drive legions of horny males to their site. Especially IGN.

I literally cannot watch IGN reviews because their incredibly dumb chick makes me lose faith in humanity with every passing second.

Oh I agree.

But you would be surprised to know that a lot of those girls are in fact gamers. The issue is that they do not sound that way, and you end up feeling they are just bimbos there to sell their product. Which is both a shame for the girls themselves and the industry in a whole

Good article. It is refreshing to see someone from marketing with the honesty to admit that their primary goal is to manipulate people and their behaviour.

Now that I think about it, perhaps honesty is the solution to all the problems in game marketing.

But then again, I suppose admitting that the game you are marketing is terrible isn't a very good idea.

the real threat is how nowadays being a games doesn't mean a thing, every ant would play if we made consoles for ants. Actual meaning now comes only via description as in: if you aren't already tired of specific genres, you are a noob to me.

gamer_parent:
Focus grouping, laugh all you want, is actually an entirely valid way of getting feedback on a game. But more often than not, it is not used extensively enough.

I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but focus grouping is best used for exploratory data, trying to uncover the breadth of opinions on an issue; not descriptive data, determining how previlant a given opinion is.

Focus groups are often used incorrectly when viewed by bad marketers as legitimate samples of the overall audiance when, in actuality, focus groups are so small as to be nothing more than annecdotal evidence.

Then you get the bad marketer tendency of when s/he doesn't have market research, instead relying on "industry trends" which is the fastest way to make yourself look silly. This is the kind of thinking where "no, don't make an RTS game. Guitar hero is hot right now, we need to make a band game! The kids love the band games!"

Gamers don't dislike marketers, but they hate bad marketing.

JuryNelson:
It is not the case that marketers are mustache twirling hollow suits who never learned the true meaning of Christmas. Thanks for sharing, and I look forward to reading more.

There's nothing wrong with moustache-twirling, but I do like how the article tells us what marketers should be doing, as well as the various troubles that marketing comes across. Unless the article is marketing marketers to us all along... I'd best not dwell on this too much.

Thoroughly impressed, nice to see a marketing perspective and a few thoughts spring to mind.

The stereotypes you mention are unfortunately broad and I guess quite common from industry to industry, depending on target audience, but segmentation is a tool in the marketers arsenal that should be used (though to much better effect than currently employed if possible). Though of course identifying an advanced segmentation can be time consuming and costly, especially to a small studio, I'd be interested in knowing how you can combine a message to everyone's liking or in fact identify an audience beyond demographics and console type/game type. More curious than anything. I happen to agree that macho men and girly girl marketing is quite damaging to the profession (and to many people's feelings) but surely there are good examples of marketing segmentation (gamers are quite a large diverse group in this day and age).

A lot of what you mention is what marketers strive for (I hope), but a marketer would have to be very brave and needs a lot of trust behind them to propose a plan to a board that is entirely radical from what they're used to and which might not make the money needed for a company to survive.

Look forward to the next article.

Nice article.

Are we allowed to talk about marketing ploys that annoy us? Because I have one.

I hate it when retailers offer bonuses for pre-orders, especially in game ones. Because the people who pre-order them likely would have pre-ordered them anyway, regardless of whether they get a new gun or not. Me, on the other hand, if I see that other are going to be given a weapon or advantage that I don't get, I'm not going to say "Ooh, better buy that!" I'm going to say "Fuck that, I want access to all the weapons."

That said, I have no information about this, and this may increase pre-orders and be effective. I still hate it though.

I'm not sure that this is what JP was talking about, but I remember back when I was at IGN, hearing this travesty from Infogrames. It was massively ridiculed at the time.

Infogrames is Entertainment!

I'm confused at why there is an article about telling marketeers how to market. Why should we care? There isn't an article on teaching cookers how to cook (for gamers), is there?

Edit: Overall the article felt like a waste of my time. Any one who falls for advertisement "good" or "bad" is probably not on an intelligent website.

An interesting read with a good conclusion. Inclusion is usually all the community wants from marketing anyways. :)

I'm glad to see a marketer who tries to perform his job honorably. Please believe me when I say that what's to follow is nothing personal and not directed at you, but at marketers (and the people who hire them) in general. I mean this as constructively as possible.

Now, as a gamer, let me tell you why I don't like marketing.

Marketing is about manipulating us, the customer, into buying stuff. As gamers -- people who desire the ability to control our actions -- we don't take kindly to that idea. I don't know any self-respecting human who would. Isn't agency central to being human? Then why would we ever want to give that up willingly, or worse yet, unwillingly and subconsciously?

But it's not even just that. If it was in our best interests, we would allow ourselves to be directed. But it isn't always in our best interests. Marketers have a job to sell stuff -- that stuff may be pure gold or pure shit, but it's their job to sell it. Screenshots, trailers, sneak previews and early reviews give gamers the sense that a game is going to be great. Maybe too great. Marketing tries its hardest to raise our expectations as high as possible so that we'll value it as highly as possible. It tries to make us think that we need this game no matter the price.

Then the game arrives and our expectations are thoroughly let-down. It could be because our expectations were set too high or, quite likely, the game is just out-right terrible. Whatever the case, we get angry at ourselves for being deceived and angry at the marketers and publishers for deceiving us.

Yes, we want to be marketed to, because we want to be excited for the next great game -- we like games and want to play all of the best games -- but we don't want to be lied to. Marketing is looked down on because it's often misleading, and many times, it is intentionally so. Nobody likes being lied to.

Now, my take on this might be a bit extreme. I'm all about free agency and I despise marketing of any kind. I don't like commercials, pop-ups, unsolicited emails, or even billboards. If I want something, I'll go looking for it, and I'll trust the recommendations of trusted friends and reviewers long before any publisher-sponsored advertisement. So it's entirely possible that I am an extreme case, biased by my own view of marketing and not representative of gamers in general.

But I think we all feel that hatred for marketing at some level. We don't want to be manipulated and we especially don't want to be mislead. We want to get excited about new games, but we want them to live up to their promises and we feel cheated when they don't. I don't expect that marketers will tone down their message when a game will likely suck, because that's not their job: marketers are paid by publishers to convince customers that their shit smells wonderful. But it's still shit and the customers will eventually realize that, and when they do, they will be upset and distrustful.

Everything else you said was also entirely true. The attempt to fit in and be one of us; the pandering to stereotypes that we, ourselves, despise -- we don't buy any of it. Publicity stunts like those for Dante's Inferno and APB only make us realize that marketers aren't on our side and don't know what we want.

You want to market a video game? Give us the goods: screenshots, gameplay videos, all the juicy details of what we'll see when we open the box. Don't try to spin it or make it look cool, just feed us the raw info that we crave. Our own imaginations and desires will drive the rest. As long as the gameplay videos and screenshots are real and what we can expect to see when we get the game, we'll be happy. Sure, you may not sell as many units if we see the real thing instead of the cinematic trailer, but we'll be a lot more likely to buy the next $60 game if we walk away from the ordeal with a positive experience.

I respect companies who don't sell their game, but let others sell it for them. Link to the major websites who are all posting rave reviews of your game (just don't pay them for that PR). Let me see the 7/10 ratings too, so that I know you aren't trying to pull a fast one on me (I'll buy a 7/10 game if it's something I find interesting; it doesn't have to be a 9.5). Give me the head's up when something new is coming out that I might be interested in. But don't ram it down my throat, don't mislead me into thinking it's something that it's not, and don't betray my trust by using underhanded tricks like paid "reviews".

Gamers want to be informed, not lied to. We want to love your game just as much as you want us to love it, but it has to be for real. Marketing isn't the problem; deceptive marketing is the problem. Unfortunately, nobody wants to pay to tell the real story: they'd rather tell the fairy tale with the happy ending. That's why we hate marketing: it's not trying to inform us; it's trying to deceive us.

It is just another growing pain of the industry, an entertainment medium that is still less then 40 years old.

Right now the bulk of your marketing firms are made up of the children of the 60's and 70's. They are the old school breed of marketers that still see the world in terms of age and gender brackets, which is still tied into the television ratings.

It is nice to see a fresh look at the marketing side of things. It is a horribly under appreciated part of the business world from the consumers prospective, and can be a very fun field to study and get involved in.

Whispering Death:

I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, but focus grouping is best used for exploratory data, trying to uncover the breadth of opinions on an issue; not descriptive data, determining how previlant a given opinion is.

Focus groups are often used incorrectly when viewed by bad marketers as legitimate samples of the overall audiance when, in actuality, focus groups are so small as to be nothing more than annecdotal evidence.

Then you get the bad marketer tendency of when s/he doesn't have market research, instead relying on "industry trends" which is the fastest way to make yourself look silly. This is the kind of thinking where "no, don't make an RTS game. Guitar hero is hot right now, we need to make a band game! The kids love the band games!"

Gamers don't dislike marketers, but they hate bad marketing.

oh yeah, that is definitely true.

The point I was making was that video game marketing has not yet matured to a point where they can perform truly sophisitcated marketing decisions.

But we're starting to see a change though. Social gaming platforms are starting to collect the data for future analysis, and slowly but surely we're starting to see more companies whose entire schtick is to focus on gaming research. these are all very promising signs.

I really liked this article, it shows a lot of self-awareness about marketing and where it fails. In particular the comments on gender--since "fewer" girls play games, we can't vote with our dollars at all it seems; our preferences are simply not recorded for most games, or we get insulting shovelware.

Anyway, I hope this kind of wisdom catches on.

Thanks for bringing up the old memes. Those usually make me actively not want to buy something.

I thought the reason that marketing aimed at 18-25 year olds was that they are more amenable to marketing, whilst 30+ years old were less liable to be swayed?

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