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Nobody's figured out how to market mobile - Bing Gordon

Former EA exec says selling a game's social aspects is still a mystery, dismisses cloud gaming as "a fake demo" that doesn't work outside the showroom

Mobile game marketing may have joined the Super Bowl party, but it still hasn't quite figured out how to sell the best qualities of the games themselves, according to Bing Gordon. Speaking with VentureBeat recently, the former chief creative officer at Electronic Arts and current general partner and chief product officer at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers reflected on changes in the marketing of games over the decades.

"In the first generation we made games that would show well in magazines," Gordon said. "The second generation, we made games that would show well in a store. That was around the founding of Electronic Arts. The third generation was showing well on TV. In the '90s, when we understood TV commercials, the designers would co-develop the TV commercial with the game. In the 2000s we built games for the internet. Now people are wrestling with how you build games for mobile social sharing. Nobody's quite figured that out."

Gordon suggested that even hugely successful games like World of Warcraft and Clash of Clans haven't made the most of their opportunity because their marketing campaigns don't convey the benefits of their social elements. Game marketers as a whole are struggling with a transition from selling console titles to selling social and mobile experiences.

"It's hard to get inventive about social endorsements, showing on video what social is. 'Social' sort of becomes a buzzword we use and everyone nods. But that doesn't work well for marketing."

"In the 2000s, console games were marketed a lot like movies: paid television, a little bit of PR, a lot of retail marketing, and street marketing, trying to get word of mouth among opinion leaders," Gordon said. "None of that has worked well for mobile games."

He added, "The big difference right now between console games and mobile games is 3D graphics. TV is the only way to show that off. And then the sense of movie-like story quality. Console games keep playing that up. The TV for mobile games, rather than looking like a movie, it up-rezzes all the art. We don't have the footprint on phones to have all that art as a non-interactive interstitial, so they just run it as a TV commercial instead. That's very much like the kind of advertising Nintendo could have done for the Game Boy, the original black-and-white Game Boy. They could have put Kate Upton in Mario and it probably would have had the same impact."

When asked about a Clash of Clans live-action ad showing Liam Neeson seeking revenge against another player, Gordon said it wasn't a great example as it didn't actually show people playing together.

"I've tried over the years how to get across that social aspect," Gordon said. "What the movie business does, they do endorsements where they show people coming out of the theater together. What they really want to show is people kissing in the back row, I think, or somebody screaming and jumping into someone else's lap. It's hard to get inventive about social endorsements, showing on video what social is. 'Social' sort of becomes a buzzword we use and everyone nods. But that doesn't work well for marketing. The best video for social marketing comes from the dating apps."

Gordon also weighed in on some of the emerging tech trends in the industry. Virtual reality in particular shows great promise, he said, particularly if the experience is convincing enough to keep people from getting bored of the technology in a handful of years as they seem to do with traditional gaming consoles.

"So far, cloud gaming is the Coleco Adam of online. It's a fake demo that doesn't actually work when it's out of the showroom."

"VR in general has earmarks of really high consumer demand," Gordon said. "It looks like it's coming to market more slowly than originally anticipated. It's very difficult for a successful game company to spend a lot of time on it now, because it's happening slowly. But it's wildly interesting."

Less interesting for Gordon is cloud gaming. He's seen a few different attempts at cloud gaming, but didn't seem very impressed with them, particularly in the mobile space.

"The world's going in a different direction, I think. The problems with ping rate and prediction of what other users are going to do are just exacerbated on touch screens and mobile," Gordon said. "In general, asynchronous is fine. It's bandwidth or memory. I just don't think that games work with the client's memory constraints, and all the problems of doing processing and rendering in the cloud don't give much advantage to mobile devices.

"What I notice about it is, civilians think it's cool and gamers don't. That's usually a bad formula. It means that civilians invest and then gamers don't buy. So far, cloud gaming is the Coleco Adam of online. It's a fake demo that doesn't actually work when it's out of the showroom."

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