There is a single radical shift facing marketers and developers in the emerging digital game landscape. In the first article we covered opportunities in digital games and evidence that a lack of a new approach to publishing them is hindering growth. One shortcoming could be that not everyone recognizes this radical shift. It's that many games in the digital distribution era are more akin to services than products, and that marketing a service has a set of different fundamentals.
The shift is very similar to when television emerged, adding to Hollywood's annual slate of products a persistent service for filmed entertainment.
From the onset, it was apparent to TV networks that they would have to approach content development and marketing very differently than film. Their product was free to consume, with profit reliant on sponsors and advertisers. This gave a uniquely important role to audience analytics, which provided the means for broadcasters to prove the value of content. There was too much at stake for any room for error, and advertisers of powerful companies holding the money end of the stick. It didn't take long for the industry to develop a single standard for analytics using Nielsen ratings.
The ratings were projected estimates, yet they gave broadcasters a dramatic new tool to quantify viewership and thus set pricing for advertisers. Suddenly there was a need for mathematicians in the entertainment industry to do more than budget and count money. Statistics were influencing what got made, what got canceled, and how shows were packaged and promoted.
As shows came and went at a brisk pace, the networks needed some sense of consistency to their business. They needed a strategy for building audiences continuously while maintaining those they had the best they could. Nielsen was a good source of consumer research. Outside of development, it also helped networks measure how their service rated and made adjustments.
To build a following, however, these media companies had to approach marketing the same way Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Ivory Soap were building loyal customer bases. Their marketing strategy revolved around branding. Performers, producers, programs, even the network as a whole were given personas. Tuning in was akin to joining their community. Tune out and you were bound to miss something. It's why even today TV networks quite explicitly project a feeling of belonging, presenting shows and their stars as your extended social group.
That's what it took for TV to attract a persistent stream of customers. To a game company or product in the digital marketplace that needs a persistent player base, some of the same fundamentals apply to you. It's part of being a game publisher 2.0.
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