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Marketing -> Can you start too early?

Started by Sebastian K. Hickey, September 02, 2009, 06:34:48 PM

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Sebastian K. Hickey

Can you start to market your product too early?

That's the question.

If so, what are the consequences and how can you make sure you get the timing right?  What are your experiences?  Have you ever wished you'd done your marketing differently?  What sort of pitfalls are there and how would you advise a newbie?

I am eager for your delicious wisdom.

P.S. Thanks to Nathan for advising me to start this thread.

Dan Maruschak

It depends what you mean by "marketing". If you mean advertising and promotion, then yes it is definitely possible to do marketing too early. You don't want to build expectations that you can't meet. I'm sure you can figure out your own examples of products that haven't lived up to the hype, or were delayed long past when customers expected them to be available.

If you take a more modern definition of marketing, then marketing is part of product design. Word-of-mouth marketability needs to be designed into products. You want to design something that people will want to talk about (e.g. if your product produces an experience that is unlike any competitor in an excitement-inducing way) and that people will find it easy to talk about (e.g. produces an experience that people can tell engaging stories about).

Seth M. Drebitko

Yes all the way around. You're more than able to market yourself before your product simply engage with the community. However if you're not well versed in the social contract of the community you could end up making an ass of yourself, which is not good PR. When it comes to product if your not at least quarter of the way done with a project you risk not actually publishing it, and in the industry we call this vaporware.
MicroLite20 at
The adventure's just begun!

Nathan P.

Dan hits the first pitfall pretty right on. Not to call anyone out, but here's the example that comes to mind: every Gen Con, I see someone pick up one of the Dresden Files RPG promo cards that says "Coming Soon!" and go "wait, this isn't out yet? still?" I think Evil Hat printed those up 3 years ago? Maybe 2. And I don't think it's going to hurt Dresden Files per se, but in general you don't want to link your product with the idea of "...still? Not here yet?". Vaporware is a danger.

The really problematic version of this is when you run a preorder for your product, take people's money, and then aren't able to deliver the product as promised. This has happened a number of times at all different levels of the publishing hobby/industry, and it's always really bad! I would counsel you not to run a preorder until you are absolutely certain the game will actually be printed. Like, files ready to go to the printer, if you need the preorder capital to do the actual run.

Dan and Seth are also both pointing at a big issue: there's a difference between marketing an individual product and marketing your brand. Again with an example: Dresden Files may suffer a bit from premature marketing, but Evil Hat has a strong enough brand that people tend to trust that it will, in fact, happen eventually. Someone else without an established track record, strong sales and loyal fan base who had been talking about their major licensed game for years and years - well, people would stop looking for it.

All the stuff about being a good community member, having a consistent presence and building a destination for people to visit - that's all brand management. A strong brand will retain people's attention in-between product releases, and you can tailor the marketing for each release to maximize it's impact on a target audience. But, especially when starting out, you tend to have to build a brand hand-in-hand with a product. It's hard to establish yourself without something to point at as an example of your work.

Does that all make sense?
Nathan P.
Find Annalise
My Games | ndp design
Also | carry. a game about war.
I think Design Matters

Dan Maruschak

On the topic of Evil Hat, Fred Hicks and Chris Hanrahan have talked about some marketing stuff, specifically the "announcing Dresden Files too early" issue, on some recent episodes of the That's How We Roll podcast.

There's also a recent thread on Story Games that talks about sales figures for independent games and what kind of marketing was done to get them.

Sebastian K. Hickey

All of this is very useful to me.

Promotion should be brand centric until there's something else to publicise...  I've been consumed with the uncertainty of pre-product promotion, which seems the fool's path now that you've shared your experience.

As far as branding goes, I'm a bit shy to the whole phenomenon.  I've subscribed to the podcast that Dan pointed towards and I've joined the Story Games forum.  I'm going to hunt these for nuggets of wisdom.  In the mean time, thanks for your generosity guys.



If I may ... as my product is a vaporware !!!

I'd like to point out that "branding" (in the sense described above) is a good for you (or for any publisher).
Speaking for myself, while "branding", I definitely learned how to describe my product, know the way it is different from others, how to present it, to whom I shall market it. Those are, in my opinion, very important soft skills to develop.
Also, please try to remember that the internet as a "long memory" (or a long tail, if you prefer). So, while "branding" I came up with a teaser, wrote a blog for three years (it has not been active for two years) and I even did a rmap !!!
As strange as it may seem, and I can't explain why, I still get around 30 to 40 downloads of the teaser each month and around 80 downloads of the rmap. So, in a sense, the work is not lost.

Even if at some point, you might look "bad" ; for instance, on my teaser it is written "coming out in 2006 !!!" ; which doesn't look to good ... I think it is worth it.

And you may come to a point where speaking of your product might seem "ridiculous". So, yes, there are limits to "how far" you can go but it is necessary, and never too early.
I do feel I have a "stronger hold" on my product now than three or four years ago (that is, even if I can't see it coming out).
Sébastien Pelletier
And you thought plot was in the way ?
Current project Avalanche


Also, let's not forget that half the battle in marketing is research, which can never be done too early.

Who are the people you want to sell to? What are they playing right now? How can you grab their attention?

What other games that are in development compete in the same niche as your game? When are their release dates? Can you alter your timeline to compete? Is it worth it? How many other games in the same niche are already out? How does your game differ? How well do the previously-released games sell?


I am thread necromancer, but I feel that I have something to contribute.

My answer to the OP: JESUS YES. I feel like three months from announcement to book-in-hand is just right. Any more time and you lose your buzz. Any less time and you're not giving enough time for word to filter out.



Luke, how do you normally market your books beginning with that 3 month date. We've been struggling to find the right combination of announcements, banners and traditional ads. We are very small, so putting too much money on a losing strategy is a big deal to us.
Bedrock Games


I very rarely spend any money in advertising.

I announce on my forums and others that we have a new book coming out. I encourage folks to speculate on what it is.

I announce the nature of the produce 30-45 days later. I put it on the front page of my website. I announce it on other forums.

15-30 days later, I put the product up for presale. Depending on the product, preorders get a PDF when they order and then wait 30-45 days for the actual book. I never put up a preorder until the book is at the printer.

I also make sure I do this around the same time every year, once a year. I release one product a year and my fans know it. They can rely on it.

I attend conventions, demonstrate the product and personally sell it to interested folks. At conventions, if there's a busy dealer's room, I get a table and hang banners and sell from there. But honestly, Gen Con is the only convention I bother with a table. For other conventions, I just get a regular gaming table, adorn it with small table signs (maybe hang a banner) and sell direct from there.

Once the game is out and has buzz (and preorders are fulfilled), I make sure it goes into distribution. My games are available through Alliance, ACD, Esdevium, Lion Rampant, Ulysses Spiel in addition to web vendors.

In less than five years this process has helped me sell more than 6000 of my core books and 3000 of my first supplement. I have produced and sold at least four other books using the same model in the last couple of years.


How many conventions do you go to a year?
Bedrock Games


Last year I went to Dreamation, Origins, Dexcon, Connecticon, Gen Con, PAX and Draconis. It was a light year for me. At the height of my effort, I was doing just under one a month.

Sebastian K. Hickey

Thanks for the advice Luke.

QuoteI announce on my forums and others that we have a new book coming out. I encourage folks to speculate on what it is.

Assuming I'm at the delivery point of my first game, and I'm happy to get it out to the printers, where should I start promoting the product?  You mention that you'd use your own forum, but I don't have enough fans for that.  In fact, I don't have any fans yet, except for the people I have played with face to face.  Which leads me on to the next question.  If I were living in a remote, green little island off the coast of Europe, where every convention offers the same faces, how should I expand my audience? In other words, I'm from Ireland and I can got to every con here, but there won't be any new imaginations to capture unless I head to Europe (a costly and scary business).

What would you suggest?  Is there a way to bring my game to a U.S. convention without actually flying around the world?  Or should I just move to the States and cash in on the indie RPG gold rush (read irony)? Everyone advises that the best way to create an audience is to go out there and play your game at the conventions, but what if the doing of that is prohibitively expensive?

Sebastian K. Hickey

Oops. I've gone off topic.  I'm going to post the above reply in another thread. Please don't respond to my last post.