When I think about launching any new software “product” these days, be it for developers in the form of an SDK, consumers in the form of an app or application or enterprise in the form of a standalone executable or client/server application, I always first consider these three major “must-haves” or market requirements.
Every marketing plan for software (cloud based or otherwise) should include these three major tenets be fully addressed:
1) Platform: Platform coherency should be clearly defined
- Must be low friction for deployment and well documented for access (no excuses)
- Should be open source (if business feasible)
- Have a support ecosystem if the product encourages growing a user or developer community (aka: community forum, simple helpline email access, FAQ, newsletter, etc.)
2) Content: Content should always be included, even if the content is only code samples
- Content is what motivates adoption and sells the developer on using the platform
- Encourage user-generated content (especially if the primary goal of the application is UGC – think Snapchat and Instagram)
- Content can help you determine which distribution models may work best (the other way around is true as well).
- Content should help provide support for user acquisition, lead gen and more
3) Support: Support should be just as much business oriented as technical.
- Partner guidance (e.g., mobile platform advice, infrastructure tools such as Github, Bugzilla, etc.)
- Other possible synergistic partnerships (e.g., ecommerce tools, ecosystems apps and tools, support partners, etc.)
- May include co-marketing aids (if that makes sense for your product)
- Could be contract based and/or subscription based (or better yet, free!)
- If the product is technical in nature, such as an software development kit (SDK), expect to create developer forums, FAQs, and have someone on staff active in other internet channels where your developer customers may congregate.
I hope to write more about this soon, especially regarding content driving distribution choices.
Do you remember your first video game? I’m talking about the one you made, not played. I remember mine like it was yesterday but it was more like 20 years ago. I couldn’t wait to learn how to make every aspect of it, it was totally addictive and I worked like 16 hour days to finish it. It took me three months. Alone. Thankfully I was being paid to make it. You see, it was actually a research project, and I was the young intern who “got multimedia” so I got the task as a young computer graphics researcher at a wonderful but now defunct research institute. So, what was the first thing I did? For me, it was learning how to do anything I could think of that would go into my game. In the early days, it involved everything from importing super simple art (never my own, often clip art like junk from the late 80′s or early 90′s) to crafting animation code so my characters would move in my simple scenes. After I had the basics (and it was very basic!) I then went on to think about adding some UI and interactivity in my game. I wanted to learn it all, and do it all, but I didn’t have a lot of patience. I was young (and probably stupid too). What I did have then was time. Now, I’m older, wiser, way busier but more experienced. I know I can’t do it alone and I know I would need a world class team. I also know the time to market for any game keeps shrinking, and the pressure to finish on time rising inversely.
The experience I’ve gained over the years has led me to a new understanding and appreciation of game development. When I think of a game I’d like to build, I immediately make a plan, even if just in my head. That plan always includes pulling together the best team I can find. I work on a storyboard and think about finding a great game designer. Whom do I seek out next? Artists, of course. And a bit later? Animators. The software developers and level editors come a bit later. And who do you think I would go to at the end? Right before publishing? The agency folks who find the right people to make a killer trailer. It’s always good to be prepared in case you want to go the crowd funding route, right?
Today, I wouldn’t think of doing all the art production in-house. I mean seriously, how few people in our world can create something like this amazing mythical bird from DeNA’s Chains of Durandal
I wouldn’t think of creating my marketing trailer in house either. Likely, you wouldn’t either. It’s just too expensive, too time consuming and too slow. Enter GameCo. They made this amazing creature for the good folks over at DeNA. I found these guys about six months ago and fell in love with their work, so much so that I offered to represent them at the Game Conference and GDC this year. They’ve already helped so many great studio’s get fabulous games out – on time and within budget. Look at Chains of Durandal by DeNA and Lord of the Dragons from KLab Games as just two awesome examples of game art by GameCo Studios. Now that I’ve moved on to new adventures in my life, I felt I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out for GameCo. They are just THAT good.
Contact my friends at GameCo if you want to learn more about how they can help or contact me next time you hit the wall and art production is falling behind or worse, is just not going to cut it. I’ll make sure you meet the right people at GameCo.
They’ll help you get that art production done and it will look amazing. I promise you that.
Recently I was asked to pull together a simple “one-pager” on lead gen for a game industry start-up. While lead gen has been always been a big part of offline marketing (outbound marketing for sure), today any study of lead generation primarily focuses on online tactics (called inbound) lead generation. See HubSpot’s excellent ebook on the subject for instance and you’ll know what I mean. This said, I took it upon myself to think about what successful lead generation might look like both online and offline for companies providing tech solutions in the game dev space.
In my opinion, effective lead generation is a part of any creative, integrated, multi-channel marketing function that helps build brand awareness and reputation. It should provide a steady flow of qualified sales leads reflecting upon the effectiveness of your company’s marketing initiatives, both inbound and outbound.
Strictly addressing the problem from a marketing perspective, here are five ways you should address lead generation after determining the bait you are going to put on the hook to generate leads; in general lead generation offers are designed to motivate a response. The offer should provide a reason to act, or minimally, contact your organization for more information. It can be a consumer-like incentive with personal benefit to the recipient, or it can be related to solving a business problem.
Hare are my five key lead gen techniques:
- Content marketing
Never launch anything without a blog, but your potential customers need to know the company, and especially the blog, exists, so you’ll have to work hard initially to get the word out. Blog posts can be reseeded to analysts and game industry/enterprise industry news sites hungry for content. Start promoting your site and your blog on twitter, create a LinkedIn Group, or get very active in one in your area of expertise. Also consider answering questions on Quora as often as you can. Write and publish white papers. Post your slide decks on Slideshare or Scribd or whichever site you like for publishing slide decks. Ask to get included in industry newsletters by writing some content. If you build any kind of tool, create repurpose-able content, or have an API or SDK you want to promote, try to get into any industry app stores, such as the Unity Asset Store – minimally for market outreach (e.g., to send developers back over to your site to check out your product), or craft an SDK to give away.
- Live marketing
Do webinars. Often. Many services exist to support webinars, but if you want free ones, check out FrechTechTips.com 9 Best Free Webinar Software For Marketers And Businesses. More recently Google+ Hangouts has become popular. Everyone from the tech support folks to the CEO can and should participate, time permitting. Often the webinars flow well when presented in Q&A or interview form. Attend and speak at as many conferences as you can. Many gaming and game industry small conferences and meet-ups happen in big cities such as SF and NYC, so be prepared to travel if you don’t live in a bigger city. Have your execs and top tech guys do interviews wherever you can get them in. This is not hard if you have the connections. Cold call if you have to to make the connections.
- Channels marketing
Seek out and take advantage of any and all possible partnerships. Bring on a few choice resellers. Research and make a short list for US, Canada, Asia, Europe, LATAM and Australia. Set up an affiliate service on or off your web site. Don’t totally ignore education channels. Have a presence at a few big universities so students are aware of the company. Good way to get good interns as well, and when they join the workforce they will promote your company.
- Social media marketing
Set up a LinkedIn Group or get super active on other groups and enhance your Facebook page, or create a new one for each product. Be on twitter every day, tweet and retweet often. Create a Pinterest page of any good visuals from games helped by your tech, fun “life at my_company ” photos and/or create and pin infographics about successful customer campaigns thanks to your tech’s help. Perhaps get active on Instagram as well. Go wherever game developers hang out. Social is easy and there are many paths to great social media marketing. I would suggest trying out a lead tool such as Lead Rocket to manage this in conjunction with any email campaign strategy you are already thinking of.
- Traditional media outreach and PR
Put out Marketwire press releases from time to time. Work the analysts. Get on the radar of a few large analysts and hopefully get mentioned in their reports, e.g., IDC, M2 Research, Newzoo (Europe), Screen Digest, NPD, Jaffe, etc. which should lead to better, pre-qualified leads. Ask analysts, thought leaders and pundits to conduct product reviews for your product specifically. Good reviews are gold, less than stellar reviews will yield useful feedback. Take out a full-page or back cover ad in Game Developer or Casual Connect magazines if you have a catchy tag-line or clever ad, but user test it before spending the big bucks this requires. Consider traditional lead gen techniques such as buying mailing lists from IGDA, GDC, IGN, GBR, etc. if possible (and if desired). Obviously host game jams and contests. Charity: consider contributing some tech developer time to Humble Bundle and maybe get a little exposure from this while contributing to a nice cause.
Lastly, make sure everyone in your company, from the admins to the CEO know how to state your value prop and your mission clearly and succinctly, as word of mouth is still your best (and free) marketing tool. A value proposition is a clear statement of the tangible results a customer gets from using your products or services.
It’s no surprise that HTML5 has not yet delivered on all its promises. WebGL has some major dependencies on HTML5 issues being resolved before we’ll see many awesome games, efficient 3D content creation apps, or secure 3D enterprise apps. For simplicity, I’ve dumped the issues into two buckets, technical and non-technical.
In the specific case of 3D interactive applications, there are several issues that currently prevent HTML5 to be used as a practical delivery platform. In particular 3D hardware acceleration (GPU) is still not available as a mainstream feature. While the specification for WebGL exists, unfortunately it has not yet been widely implemented on major mobile devices (i.e., no WebGL access on iOS) and on major web browsers (no WebGL in IE 6/7/8/9/10 where the market is still so fragmented it will take years for IE users to migrate up to 10, even if it did support WebGL!) Google and Mozilla (Chrome and Firefox) have been providing an ‘experimental-webgl’ canvas 3D implementation for a while now, but it still suffers from driver issues (see the blacklist/whitelist for WebGL capable drivers). More importantly, the WebGL 1.0 specification is providing a subset of OpenGL-ES 2.0 specification while native applications on desktop have far more capabilities through OpenGL 4.x or DirectX 11.
Pretty much everyone with any knowledge of HTML5 (in general) will tell you that the largest challenge HTML5, and hence WebGL, face is security. Beyond the many blog posts, many Khronos meetings and HTM5 related conferences, security remains the greatest obstacle to HTML5′s adoption, particularly for enterprise and business productivity applications. HTML5 has other obstacles to overcome before becoming mainstream, and those coming from 3D support not the least of them. None of the outstanding API issues such as those maintained by the Khronos Group public WebGL forum will matter much until HTML5 architects and experts finds solutions to more pressing concerns such as security, but also UX (including supporting push notifications), the ability to handle a C++ API (a la NaCL beyond Chrome) or even compute on the GPU (WebCL) for web applications. Another issue with HTML5 is that it is limited on access to device specific hardware. In particular access to file system is very limited due to security concerns, but also to other important device specific inputs – such as camera, microphone, GPS, or simply USD (devices). This alone is preventing HTML5 to be used to create web “apps,” limiting its use to only web pages.
When I look at the politics of WebGL adoption, browser providers such as Google (Chrome), Mozilla (Firefox) and Apple (Safari) all do a pretty good job supporting WebGL. However, Microsoft (IE) has yet to make a decision if they want to jump onto the WebGL bandwagon. Whether they do or not, only time will tell if they lose market share for IE because of it, but their security concerns, and the way they look out for their enterprise IE customers, is admirable, if indeed that is their only true concern.
Mobile is a different story.
Regarding the competition
Adobe and Unity stand out as proprietary platform competition for WebGL. Adobe is not as much of a sleeping giant as one might think and Flash has nicely advanced to accommodate hardware accelerated 3D via Stage 3D. The Stage 3D platform has also gained enough traction to have its own ecosystem of viable support applications such as Flare3D, Away3D, Alternativa and Minko, – all linked to from the Adobe Stage 3D website.
Unity continues to gain traction with significant software updates (Unity Pro 4.0 is now out, and includes advanced animation support via Mechanim) and a strong developer user base (1.5M developers and growing). It’s highly likely that for at least the foreseeable years, it’s proprietary platform will continue to be used by indies, non-game developers, casino gambling developers and other kinds of developers who care more about using Unity’s easy to use editor (and/or require a cross-platform solution) than an open web platform 3D engine.
Khronos made an intelligent decision to open up the WebGL working group to stimulate and encourage open discussion, and their public WebGL forum - where most key discussions take place, was the right move for enabling the most comprehensive WebGL spec development. The other issue however is conformance. While Khronos has done a pretty good job with conformance test creation and testing for OpenGL|ES and COLLADA, they did not initially a) make the tests freely available to be used informally by implementers and thus have their products improved upon because of such testing or b) market the test suites to developers who may not also be Khronos members. Frequently I see complaints about COLLADA being too complex and that COLLADA’s complexity hinders the “adoption of the standard,” but if they knew they could conform to Khronos’ COLLADA conformance suites, they would be more successful adopting, implementing and supporting the standard. Fortunately, that lesson has been learned for WebGL and Khronos is ahead of the eight ball on this one, providing an implementer’s portal on Khronos.org from pretty much the beginning.
HTML 5 is slowly but surely adding all kinds of technologies into the web browser and exposing it to web developers. Perhaps because of HTML5′s collaborative and open nature, as well as the complexity to create and deliver something that does not introduce security issues, it may take years before WebGL exists in a stable deployment environment. Also, Microsoft (IE) who still has a large part of the web browser market still has not decided if they will support WebGL in their browser, of if they will stay on the plug-in path with a proprietary solution, competing with Flash, et. al.
However, HTML5 is leveraging the web architecture, which provides technologies and lets the ecosystem decide how applications will be architectured between the client and the server. This is the strength of the web, the ability for the client(s) to collaborate with the server(s) and split where the data should be stored and processed for a given application, enabling content to always be up to date, and sometimes created on demand by the server. Because the server is visible to many clients, it also enables user interaction, made popular by social applications such as Facebook, twitter, etc.
How to get involved
If you want to learn more about how to get involved making WebGL successful, check out the Khronos web site for all goings-on with WebGL.