In part 1 of this series we looked at the marketing techniques we carried out to promote the Xbox indie game Gerbil Physics. In this part we are going to look at the hard facts, and try to gauge which techniques might have offered good value for money. The final part in the series will then attempt to summarise what might be learned from the exercise, if anything.
So, some hard facts then. Our analysis period is 7th Dec 2009 to 30th April 2010 during which time we got 21,115 trials and 7,208 sales. This gives a reasonably healthy conversion rate of about 34%:
Chart of Gerbil Physics 2 Sales
The sales chart shows 3 distinct phases of the game’s life so far. Phase 1 was the first week or two after release, when the game was on the Top Downloads and New Releases charts on the dashboard. This faded quite quickly but we were fortunate to then be featured by the IGN Top Picks page on the dashboard which was Phase 2.
This lifted sales again for another few weeks. Once we were cruelly removed from the IGN page the game reaches Phase 3, which runs from early January to today, where the game is bumbling along steadily selling 30 to 40 per day. Most of these sales we believe are due to us still being in the Top 20 Best Rated chart in the US and UK. Phase 3 shows regular spikes in trials and sales where we sell more over weekends than we do on Mondays and Tuesdays.
We anticipate an additional Phase 4 when we drop off the Top 20 Best Rated. Then we would then expect to sell only a handful of copies per day, and would then be relying on word of mouth and, well, marketing.
It is interesting to see the graph of the game’s website hits over the same period:
Chart of Gerbil Physics Website Visitors
We don’t get a wild amount of visitors as you can see. Visually, there doesn’t seem to be any correlation between the sales and website graphs, but our website traffic is so tiny it is easy to see when the press releases happened. The Valentine’s Day press release is clearly visible.
Although there is no visual correlation between sales and website hits, I did a fair amount of work trying to find a numerical correlation. I thought perhaps game sales could drive website traffic, and there would be a time delay between people buying the game and looking at the site. Or perhaps website traffic might drive sales, and there would be a time delay between people visiting the site and then buying the game. My analysis of the data shows that neither is true, and all scenarios I could come up with showed sales and website hits to be almost perfectly uncorrelated!
The Costs and Our Subjective Opinions on Benefits
Next then, here are the costs (approximate US Dollar figures) for each of the marketing strategies outlined in part 1, together with our subjective view on their benefit:
- Xbox Marketplace Charts | Cost: $0 | Benefit: High
The Xbox Live dashboard charts gave us the biggest exposure, allowing over 1,000 trials to be downloaded on one happy day just after launch. Being picked up by the IGN Top Picks was also a big boost. One really notable fact is that, at least at the moment, it doesn’t take that many sales to sneak in to the bottom of the Top 20 Downloads. If you could sell maybe 50 copies in a day (this number will vary by region) you could enter the top downloads chart and suddenly your game’s visibility shoots up.
- Press Releases | Cost: $0 | Benefit: High
We’ve estimated the benefit of press releases as high because it does drive website traffic and is a great way of getting some general exposure, even though we’ve no numerical evidence to correlate press releases with sales.
- Free Games | Cost: $0 | Benefit: High
Free games, if used wisely, can be a great promotional aid. Things like competitions, free giveaways, all work well to increase your visibility.
- Indie Review Sites | Cost: $0 | Benefit: High
It is hard to gauge how many sales Indie Review Sites might generate, but their support is invaluable to indie developers and they do generate awareness.
- Mainstream Review Sites | Cost: $0 | Benefit: Potentially High
We didn’t really manage to crack this one. With the exception of a Kotaku and a Destructoid news article (not a game review) we didn’t get anyone to take us on.
- Online Advertising | Cost: $30 | Benefit: Low (but has potential)
This was an inventive idea, to do a joint banner ad featuring 10 games, but the actual execution for us was probably of low benefit. We got 6 click-throughs to the game marketplace page and an unknown number of sales. Of course, this method does still build awareness, and people seeing the ad might have bought the game via their Xbox, or bought it a week later. This is just the intangible nature of marketing.
- Printed Leaflets | Cost: $150 to $300 | Benefit: Low
Hmm, leaflets. Well as mentioned, I got 5,000 printed for about $150 dollars and had some fun trying to distribute them myself before paying another $150 dollars to get someone else to distribute them door-to-door.
In terms of return of the door-to-door leafleting, it is not likely that this was a beneficial venture. We’d need the leaflets to generate one sale for every 11 distributed, and this is not realistic. If 1 in 20 households has an Xbox and 1 in 5 bothers to look up the game and then 1 in 3 buys it then we’ll shift less than 20 copies.
- Seasonal Promotions | Cost: $0 | Benefit: Medium
So our seasonal promotion as described was the Valentines Day poster and press release, encouraging purchase of the game as a romantic gift. We have anecdotal evidence that at least one person bought the game for Valentines Day. We also got a headline on Kotaku which would never have happened with just the game’s original press release alone, and our website definitely got more traffic. Overall we’re pretty pleased with that.
- Game Website | Cost: $0 | Benefit: Low
A game website is essential if you are to be taken seriously by the games press, and it is a good place to store any promotional material like posters and wallpapers and the like.
- Online Store | Cost: $0 | Benefit: Low
We haven’t sold any merchandise yet, so the benefit is low so far. CafePress are expensive (even when we keep our margin low) so we aren’t expecting big sales.
- Twitter | Cost: $0 | Benefit: Low (but has potential)
If done well, I am sure this would be a fantastic tool. If one of the twitterati were to pick up your game then that could be great. We’re still new to Twitter so the impact was very low.
- Blog | Cost: $0 | Benefit: Low
In all honesty, this blog is not intended to sell copies of games. It’s really just to share the experiences of game development, hopefully help other developers, and to learn some stuff in the process.
- Facebook | Cost: $0 | Benefit: Unknown
I view this a bit like Twitter, if handled well I expect it could be great, but I am pretty new to how Facebook operates and need to spend more time on it.
- Tell A Friend & Other Games | Cost: $0 | Benefit: Low
The in-game features of “tell a friend” and “other games” screen may or may not have been useful. Without any telemetry we have no idea if anyone ever even looked at either menu option! One thing that is clear is that trials of the game we were promoting on the “other games” screen stayed resolutely low. Given on some days we are getting zero trials of the game we were promoting (the tragically overlooked “Horn Swaggle Islands”) it would have been easy to spot any rise ;).
- Radical Long Shots | Cost: $0 | Benefit: None (but potentially Huge)
Emailing celebrities I think is a great idea and I think of it a bit like buying a lottery ticket. It’s worth one or two punts, but no more, as the promo codes are so precious. Expect nothing back and you won’t be disappointed and the upside is potentially enormous.
So that’s it for this part, in the final part in the series we’ll try to extract the lessons learned.