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Marketers and developers a "necessary union"

Ubisoft Montreal brand director Luc Duchaine says game makers need to consider marketing's needs, talks about overhype

The games market is changing, and the marketing of games needs to change with it. That was the message of Ubisoft Montreal brand director Luc Duchaine, who spoke about the "necessary union" of marketing and development last week at the Montreal International Game Summit. Production and marketing are increasingly starting to merge, Duchaine said, and his ideal future is one with one team for one game, where every developer uses their creative potential not just to make the game, but to promote it.

After his talk, Duchaine spoke with to discuss the subject. While he said developers and marketers are beginning to understand each other better throughout the industry, talks like the one Alex Hayter gave at Gamercamp last month show there's still skepticism and resistance to overcome.

"You can't ship a game without an art director, or a lead programmer. But without a marketer? The game will go out. In the best conditions, I don't know."

"It's a recurring subject," Duchaine said. "I still get it sometimes from people who are new to Ubisoft and they're like, 'There's a marketing guy on the team? That's kind of weird.' But I know for us, now it's common knowledge at Ubisoft. Tomorrow morning if you came and told my producer I wasn't on the project any more, he'd probably slap you and be like, 'What? I need him!'"

Duchaine said it's tough for developers to see the utility of having a marketing specialist on the team until they've actually had the experience and seen firsthand what they can bring to the table.

"You can ship a game without a marketer," Duchaine explained. "You can't ship a game without an art director, or a lead programmer. But without a marketer? The game will go out. In the best conditions, I don't know. Will it be maximized in terms of return on investment, in terms of reach? I think that's the downside... That's why certain studios don't have marketing early on. They can ship a game without a marketing person in-house. They see it as a cost they can avoid, and they see marketing as a separate service and not something that can truly help to make a better game."

Duchaine would rather developers see marketing as part of the development process, always thinking about how they can give the marketers the tools they need to get the game the attention it deserves. As an example, he pointed to signature features or selling points that marketers could hone in on, like the "Leap of Faith" mechanic in Assassin's Creed, or the exoskeleton armor in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.

"If you do not give the tools to the marketing team, if you fail to provide them the materials to build a good marketing campaign, the result is very simple," Duchaine said. "Someone somewhere, in an agency, on a marketing team, will decide what's iconic for your brand. Because we need that in marketing. We need iconic elements. We cannot put on screen the same thing that's been shown over and over again. And chances are, you won't like it. They'll try to sell a game you aren't making."

"[E]veryone can play a role with the marketing of a game. And if everybody has that mindset, it can truly help a game."

Even though Duchaine is firmly embedded in the world of AAA, aspects of his ideal integrated approach to development and marketing can be seen at work in the world of indie developers. There's no division between marketing and development when the same handful of people are completely responsible for both tasks.

"What's to be learned is that everyone can play a role with the marketing of a game. And if everybody has that mindset, it can truly help a game. If you have someone to emphasize that, it's an added value, but if everybody thinks, 'Well how can I help marketing' when they develop a game, that's what we can learn from indies."

One thing Duchaine hears from marketers and developers is that each group claims the other fundamentally doesn't understand the consumer. It's a common issue, and one that will only become more pronounced if the two groups aren't better integrated as the market evolves.

"The audience is more complicated," Ducahine said. "Before we were selling games to a single audience and it was very easy. We were going to one trade show and everybody was there. We were talking to one media and all the kids were there. Now it's a more diversified audience, more business models, so it's more challenging. It's easier to f*** it up, to be wrong than before."

At the same time, being able to market effectively despite those difficulties is a vindication of how necessary the role is. Of course, there's also a downside to marketing that happens to be too effective.

"There's a risk of overhype, but it's difficult to measure. It's difficult to stop the hype machine at some point. When the hype starts rolling, it's like a snowball effect."

"There's a risk of overhype, but it's difficult to measure," Duchaine said. "It's difficult to stop the hype machine at some point. When the hype starts rolling, it's like a snowball effect. I know sometimes I would love to put the brakes on. For me, that's the toughest thing. I've been told before, 'You overhyped the game!' Overhyped? I did my job! I got you press coverage, I got you on all the shows. What was I supposed to say? No? What would you tell me? 'You forbid me to go on GameSpot or IGN Live at E3!'... When it starts, it starts. And yes, sometimes maybe you can overhype, but for me overhype or underdeliver, I don't know which one's what, actually. But for sure you set expectations."

Duchaine, who has been with Ubisoft Montreal since 2005, said he recalls a time when the studio threw a party because IGN was featuring its games, a time when game marketers for big companies were cold-calling journalists in the hopes of coverage. These days the big coups include getting favorable coverage from YouTube personalities like PewDiePie. And while he acknowledges the importance of this new crop of media and the buzz surrounding them, Duchaine doesn't see them as a replacement for the traditional gaming press.

"It's sure one way to market games, to reach your audience, something that didn't exist two years ago," Duchaine said of YouTube. "Will it exist two years from now? Is Twitch becoming the biggest new thing? I think that's the beauty of marketing, that you need to constantly evolve depending on where people are and what people listen to. I keep hearing that Facebook is dead and I say, 'Oh yeah? I didn't know that.' I go there multiple times a day.

"For me, game reviewers are important. They're still a key part of our business. The media environment has changed a lot in the past 18 years, but they're still there. I think what will probably happen is they will start reviewing more like entertainment pieces and less like technical products... But I think it will remain a part of marketing and PR."

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Brendan Sinclair avatar
Brendan Sinclair: Brendan joined in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at GameSpot.
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