A strange paradox occurs with word of mouth marketing. Good products spread quickly through recommendations but equally, bad products, achieve the same level of (anti) recommendations. What’s interesting here is that the average products, the products that are not bad just not great, can become invisible. They idle around in the doldrums; they can’t catch the wind. Remember that Amiga game, Elf? Probably not, not because it wasn’t brilliant, it was actually pretty good but at the time there were much better ‘hyped’ games and it failed to gain “traction”. Arguably this is the job of marketing, to ensure the product does get traction. Streetfighter II on the other hand was talked about like it was a rock star, even my parents knew about it, and this prior to it being officially available . The grey imports went for anything around £100 for the Snes Japanese or US import.This is best form of marketing for the cash strapped indie: word of mouth. This is not to fall into the trap of thinking that this is free or you can forget about product quality, you still have to get your product out and into the hands of people to talk about it. So the product needs to be good for these early adopters to think about spending their ‘social capital’ on it. Therefore you need to think carefully about how to create that buzz with the limited resources you have (some expert advice on those methods in part 2) As a good example, yesterday I met with some old University friends for our annual meet up and we quickly started swapping game recommendations. One of which was the iPhone’s Espgaluda, an incredibly fast bullet hell shooter. My old friend Steve, who introduced me to Ikaruga years ago, eagerly fired up his iPhone to show me after I admitted I’d not heard about. After a few minutes of playing around I’d seen enough to know I’d be buying it soon enough, even at the eye watering price of £5.49 (an absurd app store relativism I’ll cover later). And now I’ve just told you about it. This is a great form of marketing. I’m sure the marketing professionals have got a term for this sort of buzz marketing (maybe it’s buzz marketing!) It’s gold dust really as it uses your personal network and associates itself with the trust/integrity you have for the person telling you. Perhaps video games are special in this area too as almost all of us are, by nature, early adopters, perhaps largely due to it being delivered by a technology that is rapidly changing. A good contrast would be the literary world, I love reading and I love book shops but the technology hasn’t changed in centuries and so I never feel the velocity of ground level recommendations (e.g. “have you seen God of War III, you need to get it now, it’s sick” – btw, sick, I’m led to believe is the new cool, but I could be quite wrong here as I still use the words cool and ace), this has been there since day one of the videogame industry.
This is based on a very definite sense of missing out and knowing that games, like pop music, are at their most vibrant and potent within the timely bubble of their release. They quickly attach themselves to you and become forever entwined in nostalgia. Games are also instant gratification, and their output across many genres is prolific, pop music works on the same network, perhaps even faster. It’s probably no surprise then that I also love pop music and most gamers I know are the same. Perhaps there’s something in this memory grafting relationship that’s worth exploring later.I don’t think things haven’t changed in this respect since the early days and this is how I came to ditch my beloved Spectrum for something that I could mow the lawn with. Rewind to 1984 and my neighbour, Paul Tucker, invited me to his house to show me his new computer. It was a C64. He loaded up a new game and I was stunned to hear a symphony, a rendition of an English country garden, being belted out of this big (and ugly) grey box – my Spectrum, in comparison, was like a small box of buzzing bees. My beloved little rubber keyed wonder’s days were numbered. The legendary Jeff Minter, through my neighbour’s recommendation had notched up another sale of Hovver Bovver http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hover_Bovver and started my migration to the world of the 6502.
By the way, and somewhat incredibly, Jeff is still developing games through his beastie inspired company Llamasoft and I’m hoping to visit Jeff and Giles soon. I believe they are working on a new iPhone game and I’m really interested to get their views on making and selling games and how that’s changed over the past 30 years. For what it’s worth, the industry and us gamers are all the richer for having them around. I mean, where else are you going to find giraffes in space? I think if you head on over to Steam you can pick up their latest shooter, Gridrunner Revolution and Space Giraffe for around a tenner – http://store.steampowered.com/sub/3014/
In the meantime, enjoy some “quintessentially British” Minter output (and you can read more about ‘Yak’ here: http://llamasoft.co.uk/yak/AHistoryofLlamasoft.pdf