Design for Marketing: A Manifesto

Game designers and game marketers need to work together from the very start of a project

The game industry has undergone massive changes since its inception with rapid technological changes and new platforms transforming games from the motion of a handful of pixels into realistic 3D open-world simulations. Until the last few years, though, the same basic business model has driven game design, development and marketing for decades: Create a game, put it in a package and sell it at a retail store.

That traditional business model made things easier for both marketing and development. Marketing was a straightforward process of getting a package created, arranging for some advance press, then creating an ad campaign that would hit the major magazines. When the game launched, marketing was already moving onto the next product in the pipeline. Oh, there might be a classic edition of the game somewhere down the line, but for the most part both marketing and development were done with that product and on to the next one.

Now it's different. Digital distribution is taking over on all platforms, and that has multiple implications for both design and marketing. Games need no longer be constrained between a minimum and maximum length of game play set by the parameters of cost of goods and retail pricing. When your only way of obtaining a game was to pay $40 to $60 for it, and that was all you ever got, you expected at least a few dozen hours of game play for that price. Today games can be any length (from a few minutes to hundreds of hours), and size (from a few megabytes to the multi-gigabyte behemoth of World of Warcraft with all expansions) and price (from free to thousands of dollars with spending on virtual goods).

"The time has come for marketing and game design to evolve into a new, blended discipline"

Even for games still sold primarily at retail as packaged goods, the game is no longer confined to the package. Publishers expect games to be 24/7/365 experiences, with regular doses of downloadable content (DLC), active communities and huge numbers of multiplayer online gamers. The retail release of a major game is merely one important event in the totality of that game's presence across platforms and over time. Games are now a process, a service, not a single boxed product. You have to build and maintain a community if you want to maximize your investment in creating a game.

While technological changes continue (with the growth of mobile platforms, average bandwidth, new consoles and increasing graphics power), the business model changes have been more revolutionary. Now free-to-play (F2P) is the dominant model for mobile platforms and MMO's, and it's starting to appear on consoles as well. Subscriptions and ad-supported games generate substantial revenue each year, and the sale of virtual goods is rivaling the sale of packaged goods in retail stores.

Digital distribution has lowered barriers to game distribution, resulting in a huge wave of new games. Thousands of new games are introduced every week on all platforms, and discoverability has become the key problem facing game developers. Players need to find your game, download it, play it, and then get engaged with it enough to want to spend money on it. Getting enough players to do all those things with your game is a huge problem to overcome.

What does all this mean? The time has come for marketing and game design to evolve into a new, blended discipline. I call it Design For Marketing, modeled after the engineering principle of Design For Manufacturing - the practice of designing products to be easy to make, which can save substantial time and money for companies that embrace the principle.

Design For Marketing is the principle of designing a game such that it makes a game easier to market. More than that, in the case of games it's essential to integrate the knowledge of the audience and player behavior into the design of the game. This will create better monetization and an ongoing fan base, maximizing the game's fun, lifespan and earning potential.

Continue to our sister site [a]list daily to read the full article.

Latest comments (7)

Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
Firstly people have to understand what marketing is. Very few do.
Most people think that product promotion is marketing.
Which is a bit like thinking that using a keyboard is programming.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
David Serrano Freelancer 5 years ago
In the words of the late Bill Hicks:
By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing... kill yourself. No, no, no it's just a little thought. I'm just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they'll take root - I don't know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself. Seriously though, if you are, do. Aaah, no really, there's no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan's little helpers, Okay - kill yourself - seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously.
I know all the marketing people are going, "he's doing a joke"... there's no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, f**king hang yourself, borrow a gun from a friend - I don't care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil f**king machinations. Quit putting a godamm dollar sign on every f**king thing on this planet!
There should be a church and state separation between design and marketing... not a merger. When designers need to better understand audiences, they should seek the advice of behavioral scientists and statisticians trained in predictive analytics. Not the evil machinations of information asymmetry experts.
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
Zero marketing = zero sales.
Lots of indies have tried this and it works.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Show all comments (7)
Brook Jones Programmer, United Front Games5 years ago
I'd just like to point out that in the illustration at the top of the article, if all three people interlock the teeth of their gears, as they seem to be trying to do, the wheels will all be completely unable to move (see ).

Take from that what you will.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Robin Clarke Producer, AppyNation Ltd5 years ago
It would be difficult to quantify just how much wasted effort and resources, burn-out, bad blood and heartache has been caused by developers trying to pander to what marketing-led publishers want (typically no more articulately conveyed than "the last thing that was successful, plus these buzzwords, plus this trendy gimmick, which we'll forget about several months into the project").

Beyond that, this article confused me - are you really saying that discrete stand-alone games didn't (and don't) have to foster communities?

Surely marketing already holds sway over design for far too much of the industry? I don't think (for instance) anything with the Star Wars license slapped on it these days exists as the result of a creative impetus.

Ah - after the jump I see you're actually only talking about free to play games.

And your advice boils down to "remember to include things players like". Um, thanks?
1Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Ari Aumala mobile development, usability/quality 5 years ago
First make a game for yourself, then start marketing it to like-minded people.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply
Bruce Everiss Marketing Consultant 5 years ago
@ Ari Aumala

There are tens of thousands of indies who thought this and who didn't even make 100 downloads.
0Sign inorRegisterto rate and reply

Sign in to contribute

Need an account? Register now.