Marketing your serious game on a tight budget (5 top tips)

Marketing your game is extremely important. Whether you are a commercial, corporate or educational organisation, it is crucial that your game is marketed and promoted to the correct target audience. We currently live in a world that is saturated with digital content. For example, there are approximately 2.6 million applications on the Google Play store (December 2018) and approximately 2 million applications on the Apple store. With another million published on the Amazon, Windows and Blackberry World stores, your game is unlikely to gain any traction unless you put some level of marketing behind it.

However, unlike AAA game studios who can spend up to $300 million on marketing, the budgets available for marketing educational games usually range from $10-1000 per game.  

For most educational games, this will often mean reduced traction, reduced media coverage and ultimately poor download analytics. However, it is also important to be realistic when measuring the success of your marketing strategy. With a $100 budget, are you likely to gain 1 million downloads – probably not. However, a good marketing plan can increase your download number by 5-10,000 and therefore provide you with a valuable user group and evidence for future grant applications.

 To get you started, we have provided five tips to help you market your educational or healthcare game effectively on a tight budget.

1)    Develop a marketing strategy 

 At the beginning of the project, it is important to draft and formalise a marketing strategy. Depending on the project, this could be included in the game design document or developed as an individual document. The marketing strategy should provide a structured plan of how you are going to market your game throughout and after development. Your marketing strategy should go beyond release of the product and should include an evaluation component. Develop your marketing strategy as a team and identify the group’s strengths for this process. At a minimum, your marketing strategy should include: Proposed release date; game publication platforms; media platforms; social media campaigns; key performance indicators and evaluation strategy.

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2)    Tell your story

 Why is social media so popular and successful? Because the world loves people, loves a story. Exploit this fact during development and tell your story to the world. Who is the project team? What equipment are you using? What is the game about? What challenges are you facing? Have you received any awards, funding or support from external parties? Each project team has a voice (and ultimately this voice will dictate the style of your game), so show this voice to the world and connect to like-minded professionals and individuals out there. These people will not only download your game when it’s finished, but they will continue to support you throughout your career and as you develop further games. 

3)    Use diverse platforms

 When marketing your game, be adventurous and inventive in your use of platforms. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are all very useful, but also try Linkedin, Research Gate, Reddit, Stack Overflow, educational game forums and health forums. In addition to social media, get creative with podcasting, audio and YouTube videos. Make some phone calls and attend an event you would never normally consider. Have fun with your marketing and if this seems overwhelming, stick to the platforms that you feel comfortable with. For example, I am much more effective during face-face marketing so target all of our budget at Game Dr to attending digital health and science conferences. Match your marketing to your personality – trust me it will be far more effective.

4)    Meet the community

 When marketing a digital product, it’s easy to forget the world and community around us. Interestingly, it is often stakeholders and organisations in our local community that can have the biggest impact on our project or game. A great example of this is when I was developing CD4 Hunter for Drexel University in Philadelphia. CD4 Hunter is a mobile game that educates science students on how HIV infects immune cells in the human body.  However, as the game was developed using simple and addictive game mechanics, I explored alternative uses for the serious game in patient engagement and healthcare.  To this end, I found this small local charity called Camp Dreamcatcher who organise an annual summer camp for children and youths affected by HIV/AIDS. The CEO of the charity, Patty Hillkirk and Programme Director Emmalee Bierly, fell in love with the game and agreed for it to be exhibited and used at the 2017 summer camp. This partnership led to local media coverage in Philadelphia and ultimately a radio segment on public media channel, WHYY.  This excellent marketing came from one friendly meeting, sparked by shared interests, enthusiasm and a professional connection based on Philly culture. Always look around and see who is present in your professional and cultural community. 

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5) Stick to your release date

So, it’s time to release your game. You have told your organisation, project stakeholders, partners and social media that the release date is April 1st.  This has been the confirmed release date for 12 months and your followers and organisation have it marked in their google calendars. On March 12th however, the team finds an unexpected but major bug.  When the problem is still not fully solved by March 25th, an email is sent to all stakeholders stating that the release date has been delayed to May 1st.  

This is the biggest mistake you can make in marketing as it not only disappoints your users before they have even downloaded the game, but it also undermines your entire marketing strategy.  You have spent the last 12 months creating a unique voice for your project in the gaming and science/education community. You have gained the trust of your stakeholders, community and social media. You have created a following for your game based on accuracy, education and innovation. A last-minute change of the release date will ruin all of this and ultimately market the game and project as unorganised and unprofessional. 

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to help stick to your release date: 1) Do not confirm your release date at the beginning of development, wait until you have hit your critical milestones and then confirm a specific date; 2) Be realistic and transparent about your deliverable. Even AAA studios will release games with bugs and issues (Fallout 76 being a key example of this). If you discover a small bug towards the end of the project cycle, prioritise your release date over its fix – just be honest with your users and fix it for the next build or release; 3) Do a soft launch of the game before your public release.  Publish your game on the app stores prior to the release date and test it with end users. On your release date, the game will be tested, polished and already live for download!

Finally, remember that marketing games and digital products is an art and for some people, is the basis of an entire career.  Serious game developers often have to balance game development with teaching, grant funding, healthcare or research and have minimal time for marketing or game promotion. However, even carrying out a weekly marketing activity during development can make all the difference that will help your game stand out in a sea of digital content.  


Author: Dr Carla Brown is the founder of Game Dr, a game studio dedicated to development of mobile games on science and healthcare. Prior to Game Dr, Carla completed research on digital game-based learning at Drexel University and a PhD in microbiology at University of Glasgow

Ten principles of educational video game development

 Designing and developing educational games is no easy feat. In addition to user experience, game mechanics and bugs, project teams also have to worry about communicating complex topics, relevance to students and accuracy of learning content.  To help early adopters and educators interested in this field, our founder, Dr Carla Brown, has shared her 10 principles for developing educational video games. 

1) The team is everything

Educational game development is a tough slog.  In addition to long hours of designing, programming and testing, you will also come up against user experience issues, problematic mechanics and numerous bugs that on some days will feel unsolvable. To that end, it is crucial that the project team is strong. There needs to be a lot of trust between producers, developers and artists - and transparency. You need team members that will talk straight, take ownership of issues and mistakes and also support each other when things go massively wrong. If you have just started working with a new team, why not test out the professional relationship on a small project?  Use a basic prototype to test how you work together and then reflect before moving on to a larger project.  

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2) Subject-matter expertise is a must

 For a successful educational game, subject matter expertise is a must. Educational games should contain accurate and relevant content to ensure that learning is effective. Therefore, a subject matter expert should be involved significantly during game design and testing with end users. If it is not possible to have an expert on the project team, use your remote and virtual networks. Due to the increasing importance of public engagement in academia, many researchers are becoming involved in projects such as these. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a specialist or researcher in the field you are working on and ask them to get involved. Even if they are unable to participate, it’s likely that they can put you in touch with someone that can.

 3) Create a project plan

Every educational game project should have a project plan. The plan should include timelines for design, prototyping, testing, development and publication and should be reviewed on a weekly basis. When creating the plan, it is important to work with the developers and artists to determine the key milestones for development.  Set the project realistic timelines and stick to them. It’s really easy for delays to crop up during design and development when you want to explore cool ideas or interesting mechanics. However, delays should always be factored into the project plan.

 4) Define clear learning goals for the game

 Educational games are often used with specific courses and modules and will therefore align to the learning objectives assigned to them. In the project plan, set the game learning objectives that will ensure its teaching effectiveness can be evaluated and assessed. In addition, setting the game clear learning goals with help shape the game design project. Learning goals or outcomes should be specific and measurable. Read more about learning objective design here.

5)    Define your marketing strategy 

In addition to classroom use, educational games are often released on commercial application stores for widespread use by the community. To this end, a marketing strategy must be defined before development starts. Marketing your game at your own institution is also very important to engage students. Holding an exhibit at a student event or running a talk can be a great way to engage students. 

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 6)   Get started!

 Once you are ready, just get going. It’s much easier to determine the strength of your concept with some software to play with. Wireframes are useful but often for games, give very little insight into user experience and effectiveness of mechanics for learning. Also – try to avoid worrying about small game details before development has started. Once you have some software, it is far easier to plan your game and showcase it to testers and funders. 

7)   Test everything with end users during development

 Testing with end users is the most important stage of educational game development. The views and attitudes of the end users should shape the development from start to finish. Prototype games should be used to playtest key mechanics and learning content. Playtesting can be done in several different ways including use of formal questionnaires or focus groups during and after gameplay.

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 8)   Finish the game

It’s really easy to keep working on a game. Realistically nothing will ever be perfect, and testing will reveal a whole host of factors that you had not even considered. However, it’s important to remember that you are the product owner and it is not possible to provide a solution for every piece of feedback. Use the project plan to determine the end point of this version and disseminate it to the community. Updates can always be made in later versions. 

9)   Implement

The most important stage: implementation of the game. Once the game is completed and released, use it! Use it in classrooms with the target audience. Test it with new audiences at festivals, public events, conferences and school workshops. By exploring new roles for the game, you increase the value of the product.  

 10) Evaluate and evolve

The game is out. Take a break (have some fizz!) – but don’t forget about the project. Now is the time to reflect on the project and take note of what went well and what not so well. Does the team work well as a unit? Are there missing skillsets or expertise? If there were delays, how could of they been overcome? Complete a review report on the project and share with the team. In addition, evaluate the game with end users using the learning goals that were defined during design. This will allow you to plan the next stage of development and prioritise future work of the game. In addition, formal evaluation can be utilised for peer-review publication and future grant applications.

 

 And finally – enjoy the ride. Digital game-based learning is an emerging trend and every product being released to the community is helping shape the processes and methodologies of the future. There will be tough days and weeks but it’s always worth it. One thing I tell myself when I am really stuck is: if educational game development was easy – everyone would be doing. 

 

If you have any questions about designing educational games or managing these projects, please get in touch with the Game Dr team here. 

Casual games for STEM education; trend for 2019

Barriers to using digital games in science and healthcare education

 Despite the growth of the video game market in 2018, digital game-based learning is still recognized as an emerging trend for higher science education (Brown et al, 2018). There are numerous barriers preventing educators and academics from developing and implementing digital game-based learning in their classrooms and online learning platforms. One key barrier is the lack of a consistent and robust methodology for their production and implementation. Other barriers include the budgets, skillsets and timelines required to develop an effective digital game for learning (Brownet al,2018). However, potential solutions exist in the form of alternative game formats such as casual or hyper-casual games and in the production of new tools for production of digital content.  

Potential solution for 2019: Casual mobile games for STEM education

Casual gaming has been gaining increasing momentum in the commercial game market since the release of mobile hits such as Candy Crush and Angry Birds. The market is no longer dominated by complex and multi-world AAA games, with many gamers now favouring short and simple games that can be mastered very quickly. These games termed, casual games, are defined as simple games that do not require players to invest large amounts of time to play or win.

 There is increasing evidence in the literature that demonstrate the effectiveness of casual games as learning tools in STEM and science (Price et al, 2016). Furthermore, casual gaming has been recognised by the educational gaming industry as the next horizon in STEM (Portnow, 2018). 

Candy Crush mobile game

Candy Crush mobile game

Casual gaming shows great promise for STEM and science education. Development of casual games involves significantly shorter timeframes, smaller budgets and in most cases, requires smaller teams. These features make casual games very attractive candidates for edtech as they align better with the resources and materials available to most educators and academic institutions. For example, in the U.K, bespoke educational games are often funded by education grants, public engagement (PE) grants or PE funds allocated from research grants. In most cases, these budgets can be very restrictive for the development of a complex game however can be utilized for development of complete and highly effective casual games.  

 In addition, due to the fast-paced nature of the digital gaming and educational gaming market, there is greater risk that complex and labour intensive products will be outdated upon publication.  Many educational game developers are recognizing this risk and are developing simple games that can be published quickly and then improved and further developed.

 Indeed, several successful casual games were released in 2017/2018 for science and STEM learning. One example is Chemtrix, a fast-paced puzzle game where players must remember different combinations of chemical bonds to create molecules from different atoms. In December, this game was listed on Apple’s Top game list on the iTunes app store.   Another example is CD4 Hunter, a casual puzzle mobile game developed by Drexel College Medicine (designed by Game Dr founder). Players use colour matching mechanics to learn about how HIV-1 infects and multiplies in human CD4+ T cells (Brown et al, 2016). Finally, Game Dr dedicate all of it’s efforts to the development of casual mobile games for science and microbiology education; current examples being Fungal Invaders (Space-Invaders styled game on fungal infections) and Bacteria Combat (digital card battle game based on Top Trumps).

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2019 will likely show a surge in the development of casual games for education by both academic institutions and commercial edtech companies and developers.  Mobile gaming is the fastest-growing segment in the overall gaming industry, expected to reach $106.4 billion in 2022, generating 59% of revenues in the entire market. For the serious game market to grow and remain sustainable, it must incorporate these technologies and methods when developing new products and content. 

Discovery Day at Edward Jenner Museum

Game Dr to exhibit games, apps and media at Edward Jenner museum

Discovery Day, organized by Dr Jenner's House Museum, is  a brand new event to educate and engage the public on immunology and  vaccines. The aim of the event is to showcase science and research Dr Jenner (inventor of vaccines) would be working on if he were alive today!

Presenters and exhibitors include:

  • Game Dr

  • British Society of Immunology

  • Cheltenham Science Group

  • The Royal College of Pathologists

  • Bristol Dinosaur Project

Visit Discovery Day on August 27th and playtest Game Dr mobile games and learn about the invisible world of microbes!

Learn more about the event and exhibitors here.

FORBES 30 UNDER 30 LISTMAKER

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The Game Dr team received extremely exciting news this week. Founder and Director, Dr Carla Brown has been selected as a listmaker for the Forbes 30 under 30 Europe in Science and Healthcare. 

During this amazing competition, Carla will attend the Forbes Class of 2017 summit in Israel in April. This achievement marks a key milestone for the Game Dr initiative.

Read more about Carla's competition profile and the competition here: http://www.forbes.com/30-under-30-europe-2017/science-healthcare/#7a9646241f7b

 

 

 

Check out our new blog post for Biochemical Society!

Last week to celebrate our success in Science magazine's Dance your PhD competition, we wrote a short article on Antibiotic Apocalypse for the Biochemical Society! Not only does the article describe the motivations, production and outcomes of the project, it also explains how we visualized the story of the film. 

 

 

Read 'The Visualization of antibiotic resistance through creative film' here.