Game Developers Are From Mercury and Marketing Is From Neptune
One of the big bogeymen in stories that developers tell each other is the “Marketing Department.” The story always ends up the same way, “and then we had to change the game … for the worse.” If you read any developer’s blogs, it is clear that most don’t hold marketing in high esteem. They are the enemy, an agent of “The Man,” suits sent to crush the creativity of us geniuses. I wasn’t particularly kind to them either in my previous posts.
Why is there such acrimony between these two groups? This is actually by design, if you look at it from the publisher’s perspective.
The heads of publishers are going to be clueless as to what makes a great game. They got to be the boss because they know how to play the business “game”, not video games. So when a studio comes in front of them and says “Hey, we’ve got a great game. It is going to very popular and you should sink X millions into this.” they are going to need someone to verify that it will make them lots of money. That’s where marketing comes in. Marketing’s job is to come up with projections of how many units the game will sell while the game is being developed, and meeting those projections when the game comes out.
“Trust, but verify” may be a sound business practice, but the current structure has two major pitfalls from the point of view of developers.
- Just like the adage “no one ever got fired buying IBM,” no one ever got fired saying no to a project. While there are tangible evidence when a bad game got made, there aren’t any way to measure a great game not made. So the natural stance of Marketing is to be conservative. Of course, Marketing won’t outright say no to a project, they’ll just suggest changes and more changes until it becomes something they can safely market.
- There is little accountability for marketing when a game fails due to bad marketing. It is true that games are easy to market, like licensed games, and some are hard, like Okami or Psychonauts. But how can you verify that Marketing did a bad job? If a game sells, they can claim it was due to brilliant marketing. After all, ‘Enter The Matrix’ sold a few million copies. If a game doesn’t sell, they can claim the game just isn’t marketable.
These two groups approach the game from two complete different world views. Developers plans from beginning to end, from prototype to production to post release support. Marketing think from the end of the project backwards, from how many units will be sold, to the marketing campaign before release, to managing release of assets during development.
Some publishers are trying to change the relationship between marketing and production side of the business, with techniques like embedding marketing personnel within the development team or have production drive the marketing schedule. In the end, Marketing shouldn’t be thought of as an enemy that prevents the fulfillment of artist vision but an ally that will help the game reach its audience.
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