Marketing 101 Part 2: Contacts and Contracts
Welcome back to Issue #2, Contacts and Contracts. In this issue we will be looking at contacts, who, where, when, and why. When asked what the single most important aspect for success in the field was my instant response was "contacts, contacts, contacts." There are a million variations on the old saying, its not what you know but who you know. The contacts that are important for you fall into a couple categories, and it's probably best to approach them all differently.
Before you do anything with contacting people, make sure you have a system to keep track of all the people you talk to. The best thing to do is make a spreadsheet or contact list, like the one in Outlook, of everyone you talk to. Get their e-mail address in there, why they are important, what they have said, and what you think of them. This will come in handy a year down the road when you are thinking of launching a new product and can't remember that guy you talked to when you were just starting out who said he had a great artist for that type of thing. There are many third party programs that help manage contact lists, but I just ended up using a custom Excel database to store my info.
The first contacts you should make in the game industry, strangely enough, are other developers! You should e-mail the people who have created similar games to you. Some of them won't write back, others not only will write back but give you hints and tips on what worked and what didn't. All the marketing knowledge in the world doesn't always promise success, but I would heed the advice of someone who has done what you are trying to do. The worst that can happen is they laugh your e-mail off and you never hear back from them. I can not count how many other developers have referred us artists, statistical data, ideas, and other things, just because we took the time to discuss some of those things with them. Luckily the indie community is vastly more friendly than most, so you are in good company 99% of the time.
These e-mails may lead to partnerships and business opportunities you may not have acquired before. When dealing with your peers I suggest being friendly and open. If they suspect (or if you DO) have some kind of malice ulterior motive that you are hiding they won't write back!
Now after other developers, these are in no particular order. You definitely need all of them to declare yourself Ms./Mr. Contact Extraordinaire.
Publishers are important contacts. They are also darn hard to get, so when you meet a publisher, make sure they remember you! Even if your product isn't right for them, you may someday need them. Usually these people are very busy and like to do things in very sterile ways. E-mail is probably the least effective way to get in touch with these people (however, by far the easiest). A telephone call (if you get through) forces them to slow down for a second and listen to you. Meeting them in person is best, which is why the GDC, IGF, and E3 conventions are important. A lot of people there are there only to meet people.
When dealing with most publishers you want a serious game face. First impressions count. They are going to want you to provide hard evidence that you are the next Sid Meier, or at least that your game can move a couple hundred thousand copies. Your arsenal is a professional business approach and personality, a solid design document, a demo (hopefully), and a portfolio of artwork and experience. Online publishers tend to be a little more lax, however, you still want an arsenal of 'proof you are better than good.'
Press contacts are key for several reasons. First, obviously, press releases. If a press contact knows you by name, you can be sure that any press release you make is going into their publication (online or print). Second, they have their ear to the ground on news. They may be able to clue you in on business opportunities that have not been formally announced yet. Press contacts are also the people who will most likely nominate your game for review, preview, or interview. Get to know as many of these people as possible.
Unlike publisher contacts, these people are far more human and frankly, far busier than anyone you will meet. Someone who has to get, read, and post dozens of news articles a day, play editor for staff writers, and play website coordinator is not going to have much time. Be human with them though, that is my tip. Approach them like they are just guys who have the same interests as you (video games). If they are busy, don't bother them, ask when they will have time and if they don't know, give them a week and follow up. There are literally thousands of press contacts, I have over 300 in just the field of video games, not counting general news sources and general technology. This is why the aforementioned contact list is going to save your life.
With the exception of the larger companies, advertising and press contacts are often the same. Even in larger companies, some advertising contacts have contact with the press guys. Yes, it is true, advertisers are more likely to get reviewed. Advertising contacts are key for the obvious reason of finding out how much advertising costs. Also they are business people, and therefore are much easier to get access to for a chat. I do not suggest contacting someone under the pretense of advertising just to pitch your company at them, but if you are even remotely interested in their advertising it is a great way to start a conversation with a site editor or owner, or at least someone who is in the know. It is not a bad strategy to use advertising to secure press information, especially if the advertising has a positive return on investment to begin with! Advertising will be discussed in more depth in a future article.
If I had a dime for every time I heard "I need an artist" or "I need a musician" or "I need a programmer" … I would make enough to buy lunch now and then. Still, too many people forget that it takes time and effort (and sometimes luck) to find a good resource for any of these things. The best people to refer you are other developers, since they can vouch for people. Otherwise there are a lot of places to look for all of those things, but what is time consuming is interviewing and reviewing all of their work and deciding who is your man or woman. Here is a list of some of the contacts I use for various things.
Because it is so important, I will say it again. It is not what you know, but who you know. You can create the greatest game in the world, but in the end it will be up to your ability to network to make the world aware of it. Finding contacts is time consuming, but for the most part it is a one time deal. Once you have the contacts established you will be able to use and reuse them for a long time. Think of making contacts an investment in your future and the future of your company. Last but not least, make sure you have a way to keep track of everyone you talk to and make backup copies of your contact list as often as you can.
About the Author: Joseph Lieberman is the founder and owner of VGsmart Marketing. To receive more helpful tips via e-mail, sign up for our newsletter at www.vgsmart.com.