I’ve spent the last week researching marketing for games.
The sales curve for most books, movies and games reminds me of a fancy dinner at home. You spend all day in the kitchen, slicing, dicing, prepping, cooking, plating, etc. And then, the food hits the table and it’s all over in 20 minutes. Game development is a little like that. Years are spent in development, and then comes launch day. In the first week after launch there is a lot of excitement. Your game is featured everywhere. The game releases, and in the first week, you book most of the revenue you’ll ever see.
In my old days running Sierra, launching a new game was mostly about “loading the channel.” In those days games were sold in boxes and we would load in pallets of game boxes at retailers like Walmart or Costco. We wanted the game to be in front of everyone, no matter where they shop. On a hot title we would often load the channel with a hundred thousand or more copies of a game. In the weeks following the release, there would be a massive explosion of sales, followed by a return of any unsold inventory, and then some steady level of sales would continue for a fairly long period of time.
That’s not how it works in today’s world. There is still physical distribution of games, but it’s not the bulk of revenue. In today’s world, most sales come from online distribution. With our Colossal Cave game, effectively all revenue will come from a player going to an online store, for example, Steam for PCs, or appearing inside their VR headset, or on their Switch or Playstation. These stores usually feature a handful of products that are NEW or ON SALE, and in most cases that’s what players will buy. Appearing up front on one of these stores is the equivalent of my old Sierra days where selling games meant locking in retail shelf space. Looking at industry stats, in 2022 one of these online stores, Steam, had nearly 11,000 new games released, with the number growing every year. Their current catalog shows over 50,000 games! How does a game get attention in that crowd?
We’ve now launched our game on a few platforms with some bigger ones launching over the next couple months (Playstation, Mobile, LOTS of new VR devices). We have a lot of marketing to do, and after every launch comes the effort to keep the game in player’s minds. We have the good fortune that Colossal Cave is a game that has been around for nearly 50 years. It’s a classic, and something that has become a part of modern culture. Virtually everyone has stumbled into phrases like “XYZZY” or “PLUGH” at some time or another. There are 10s of thousands of websites that refer to the game. We are also in the fortunate position that word of mouth and reviews on the game are positive. I need to figure how to get that word out, and convince players to go the extra mile to search for our game in stores, long after we’ve been dropped from the NEW page.
Bottom line: Game Development is easy compared to Game Marketing in today’s world, or so it seems. I spent the weekend watching Youtube videos on things like “Marketing Strategies on TikTok” and “How to advertise on Adwords.” I’ll figure it out, but coding is a lot more fun….
And with that said, there are some special treats in this issue of ReAction! I stumbled into an old interview with Roberta from 1991. In it she predicted the game market expanding in the future, and pondered the question of how her games might be able to compete in a crowded market. There’s also an awesome interview we did with a YouTuber named Kilg0re_Tr0ut. We had a blast doing it, and the interview shows that.
– Ken Williams
- Ken & Roberta chat with Kilg0re_Tr0ut during GOG’s livestream
- Roberta was interviewed for Sports Illustrated’s Video Games.
- Roberta made USAToday’s list of Women in gaming!
- A reprint of a 1991 French Magazine interview with Roberta
- Final two days of Steam Spring Sale! Colossal Cave 20% off!
Thank you for reading.
- See what Ken & Roberta have to tell Kilg0re_Tr0ut in their own words on his livestream!
- Read what Roberta had to say to Sports Illustrated Video Games!
- Learn about The Women Who Rocked Game Development this year, including our very own Roberta Williams!
- Revisit the past, and check out this classic interview with Roberta from 1991, with insights into her own experiences with Colossal Cave in the formative years of Sierra OnLine!
- Get Colossal Cave – 20% off in the STEAM SPRING SALE – Only Two Days Left! Tell a friend… tell two friends! Tell ’em “Ken Sent Me”…