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Marketing doesn't have to be gross

Alex Hayter says it can be more effective--and cheaper--to be weird, surprising, and fun instead

Marketing has a bad reputation among game developers, but it doesn't have to be that way. That was the message marketing specialist Alex Hayter delivered while speaking at Gamercamp festival in Toronto on Friday.

When developers think of marketing, Hayter said they often picture a room full of suits trying to trick people into spending their money, empty buzz words like "brand synergy," and cynically sexist ads and booth babes.

"Weird marketing doesn't have to inform people about your game explicitly, but instead reaches to your audience to say, 'Hey, we get you,' and creates a bond."

"This stuff makes you feel kinda gross, doesn't it? As game makers, this stuff makes us find marketing as at best ineffective, and at worst, slimy and disgusting," Hayter said. "And as people who also buy and play video games, it makes us less compelled and less interested. But I'm here to tell you it doesn't have to be like that. My main argument is that marketing doesn't have to be gross, and it doesn't have to be boring. In fact, it can be an incredibly effective way for people to better understand what your game is about. And it doesn't have to make you feel ashamed to take part in it."

Marketing games can be as fun as making them, Hayter said, encouraging developers in the audience to eschew the standard tactics of selling games in favor of solutions that were fun, weird, and surprising. He gave some examples, including a Super T.I.M.E. Force trailer that cribbed the style of Saturday morning cartoons of old, Nintendo's original Super Smash Bros. TV spot, and a German magazine ad for Quake portraying the id shooter as part of an idyllic family portrait.

Hayter said such ads show the developers have a certain sense of humor, and that "they don't take the tacky, randy world of marketing too seriously." It doesn't hurt that these sort of campaigns also lend themselves more to sharing through social media.

"Moreover, it tells you that their game isn't normal, because normal is boring," Hayter said. "Weird marketing doesn't have to inform people about your game explicitly, but instead reaches to your audience to say, 'Hey, we get you,' and creates a bond."

"Do something weird. Do something surprising. It'll get your game realized, and you'll have a great time."

Even if a developer doesn't have the budget for slickly produced videos or magazine ads, Hayter said they can still get results on a shoestring budget, and pointed to a few campaigns he worked on as evidence.

For Pop Sandbox's Pipe Trouble, a game that asks players to build a gas pipeline that meets the needs of the gas company as well as local farmers, Hayter said the team cobbled together arcade cabinets to house demo kiosks of the game, which then travelled to various locations and festivals around the Toronto area. Those cabinets got the game plenty of attention from the press, which then blossomed into a front page scandal as the government-funded game was wading into a deeply contentious area of political debate in Canada.

Other campaigns included one for SpongeLab Interactive in which the company attended conventions and hid sponges around the venue (with permission of course). Each sponge had a note on it saying that it could be brought back to the SpongeLab Interactive booth for a free prize (sponge toffee). For Blot Interactive's Facebook game Chat Fu, Hayter saw an opportunity to merge the marketing with the game itself. Chat Fu is a Facebook chat where the goal is to trick the other person into saying a specific word, so Hayter organized a press interview from within the game that doubles as a showpiece for its mechanics.

"The opportunities are there," Hayter said. "It just takes imagination. Next time you sit down and plan out marketing for your game, [have] some fun with your audience and yourself. Do something weird. Do something surprising. It'll get your game realized, and you'll have a great time."

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