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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.

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Steve Peterson

Contributor/[a]list daily senior editor

Steve Peterson has been in the game business for 30 years now as a designer (co-designer of the Champions RPG among others), a marketer (for various software companies) and a lecturer. Follow him on Twitter @20thLevel.