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3 ways to bring more creativity into mobile game marketing (that don't just mean hiring Hollywood talent)

Metacore's CEO Mika Tammenkoski shares mobile marketing tips following Merge Mansion's viral Pedro Pascal ad

With the mobile game market’s outstanding growth over recent years, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how young of an industry it still is. However, following a post-Covid market decline – which in reality, was more of a market correction – and tightening privacy regulations, games industry operators and investors alike have been quick to doubt the industry’s growth potential with some even declaring that mobile game marketing is dead.

I can’t say that I share their skepticism: the mobile game market is barely in its teens and it would be unimaginative – and, frankly speaking, ambitionless – to presume that this is all that the industry has to offer. However, it’s also clear that legislative changes and player feedback both demand a new approach from game makers and marketers. Here are three ways the mobile games industry should adapt their approach to this new environment:

1. Start with your audience – positioning isn’t an afterthought

Game studios have historically been fixated on product development: making the best mobile games possible. "The best" has often correlated directly with what game developers personally liked – we probably don’t need to recap the full, problematic history with representation in games here – and only after a game has been finished has anyone thought about how and who to market the game to.

This auteur mindset may be the norm in indie films and music, but games seem to be the only consumer-facing industry of this size and scope that still systematically follows such a developer-focused approach. Virtually every other major consumer brand’s product development starts with clarifying their positioning and mapping their audience’s needs.

Take Netflix circa 2007 as an example – it would’ve been easy for them to continue with a product-first approach and develop a new way of renting videos. Instead, they tuned into their audience’s needs and introduced a streaming service which we all know displaced DVD sales and rentals for good.

For game makers, putting positioning first means forming and validating hypotheses about your audience already during the early stages of game development, not when you’re gearing for global launch.

2. Narrative is key – start shifting focus from UA to creative

It’s impossible to mention mobile game marketing these days without discussing performance marketing, the proverbial elephant in any game studio’s room. The way social media ad platforms operate has changed so drastically over the past few years that it’s no longer necessary – let alone wise – to invest in hundreds of versions of hyper-targeted campaigns.

In order to reach key audiences, game companies should be putting more emphasis on narrative instead of just ad spend. Old habits die hard and my bet would be that a lion’s share of the whopping $62 billion that was spent on mobile game ads last year was poured into UA – could a bigger fraction of this have been dedicated to creative, focusing on how the game’s story is carried between different channels?

Going forward, game studios that can crack the code on creatives that resonate with broad audiences will prove that UA isn’t dead, it just demands a new mindset. We’ve already seen some great examples of this over the years, both within games and beyond – check out Supercell’s Clash-A-Rama mini series, the first Angry Birds animations, and Red Bull’s freerunning campaign for inspiration.

3. Think broader – your game is more than an app

A big part of mobile games’ growth potential is no doubt the fact that they can be played anywhere, anytime – but it also means that they face the most intense competition for screen time from other apps or forms of entertainment entirely. The key to building something enduring is creating something that feels like it’s bigger than just a game or an app – something that will make people talk even after they’ve logged off. Game marketing and branding play a major role in this.

Think about the Star Wars empire – is it a book, film series, video game or theme park? If you asked five fans to describe it, you’d likely get five different explanations, because every fan has a different way of experiencing it.

Likewise, we imagine that our players will have multiple takes on the Merge Mansion story: for some it’s about the puzzle game, for other’s it’s the lore, or Pedro Pascal on TikTok, or Kathy Bates twisting a statue’s nipples. And yes, Hollywood star power has no doubt accelerated pleas for a Merge Mansion Netflix or HBO spinoff series – but we’ve been applying the same basic principles to our marketing even before we had tinseltown budgets:

  • Know your audience – and don’t underestimate them
  • Align your marketing with your product
  • Build ads with one strong emotion in mind
  • Focus on what makes you unique instead of aiming to look like everyone else

So the next time you’re working on a UA campaign or larger brand marketing act, think: what would appeal to broad audiences and make them not only download the app, but talk about the game, too?

Mika Tammenkoski is CEO of Metacore Games, creators of Merge Mansion. He’s an industry veteran who has worked as a developer, investor and entrepreneur in studios like Remedy, Sumea and Digital Chocolate before co-founding Metacore in 2020.

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