My name is Andreas Juliusson, I am the Marketing & Communications Manager at Swedish VR games developer Fast Travel Games, founded in 2016. I joined the studio in 2017, shortly before we announced our debut title Apex Construct which was later released for PlayStation VR, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift & Windows Mixed Reality. While one and a half year spent in any other industry would be considered a relatively short time, for VR it is actually around 50% of the period that consumer VR headsets have existed on the market; from the launch of Oculus Rift & HTC Vive early 2016 until today. Given that most VR game studios currently do not have a full time person dedicated to run Marketing, PR & Community Management, I am actually something of a rare breed! Here is my brief take on the struggles we face, and the priorities we should take, when bringing a VR game to market today.
LACK OF MARKETING BUDGET
Most VR studios are relatively small with only one or two games currently out on the market. While there is no arguing that the Beat Saber team are in a financial sweet spot at the moment, their game being the first VR exclusive title to sell over 1 million units, the reality for most of us is that there is still little to no revenue to speak about. This is bound to change as the install base grows and as new and consumer friendly products release, like the Oculus Quest headset which SuperData Research predicts will sell 1,3M units in the CY of 2019. Revenue will be there to claim for studios releasing the right game at the right time going forward but in terms of marketing budget, we will not see many studios being able to spend much until maybe in a few years from now. My experience from working on Apex Construct showed however that a lack of marketing budget can be mitigated by actively engaging with the core VR communities online. There are over 300K people to reach on the main subreddits like r/psvr, r/oculus & r/virtualreality alone, adding to that some dedicated VR groups on Facebook that are thoroughly enjoying the presence of a transparent developer. While these channels are free to engage with, since they also require time and resources it can of course be considered a luxury for some studio. For us however, by frequently engaging in these communities we managed to make March 2019 the second best month in terms of unit sales for Apex Construct, only beaten by the launch month in February 2018.
If you work for a studio that does have money to spend on marketing however and want to spend on advertising you game, there are really only a few great ways to make sure you reach your target groups exclusively: Facebook, Twitter & Reddit for example all have ways to direct your messaging specifically to groups of people who are interested in VR gaming. As an example, we promoted our PSVR launch trailer through a Facebook ad and by segmenting down to Interests (like “VR”, “PlayStation 4” and “Video Games” etc) in addition to age range and the geographical areas we had highlighted as key for our game, we managed to display the trailer to 144K highly potential buyers by spending as little as $2500 – gaining some great engagement and a CTR of 1,4%. While many industries enable companies to go wide and big with messaging in billboard kinds of fashion, we who work in VR gaming have to be much more careful with where we spend our precious marketing dollars.
LOW INTEREST FROM MEDIA
From my time spent working at places like DICE & Bandai Namco, I was used to gaming media asking for news, review codes and so on. For a VR games studio, the lack of interest from these same outlets is saddening – but it does make sense, since the massive VR hype in media from 2016 has died down quite a bit. GameSpot only reviewed 8 VR titles during all of 2018, and IGN’s Reviews Manager Peter Brown admitted to me personally in February last year that “VR is a really tough sell for our audience”. It is a situation which we marketers in this industry have work around. I personally spent way to much time trying to reach out to and convince the well-known gaming sites about Apex Construct leading up to its launch, finally realizing my time was better spent elsewhere. I ultimately decided to focus on the smaller, but respected and growing, VR specialist media for coverage and at the same time set out to find additional ways to gain the reach and trust that traditional gaming media would not help me with. The major thing I did was to look up and engage with numerous VR specific content creators, primarily on YouTube. It became clear to me that most of them were up and coming, eager to get their hands on new content for their channels. From the relatively little marketing budget we had, over half of it went into different initiatives with these content creators including a local preview event in Stockholm, which to this day is still paying off due to the relationships we managed to establish. But even without this particular event, and with no money at all, a VR studio can still get awareness for their game by spending time and effort with this growing group of industry ambassadors.
UNDERSTANDING YOUR POTENTIAL BUYERS
Which VR game will be that one big hit in 2019, and why? Are consumers asking for in-depth, lengthy adventures or are they satisfied with smashing blocks in a fashionable way? What genres will dominate VR gaming going forward? How do you make your game stand out in a market that has seen VR games on Steam increase from 800 titles in 2017 to 3900 towards the end of 2018? What main marketing beats should you focus on; do you start an Early Access initiative, release a demo of your game, or focus on getting it reviewed on the main launch?
While many of these questions have been answered in the flat screen gaming industry over the years, in VR gaming the reality is we simply do not have all the facts today. This is also what makes the VR industry so exciting right now. Bringing your first game to market and evaluating everything you do is by far the best kind of tactic, from my perspective. Try everything once, use the acquired insights and apply them to game two, three and four. For our Apex Construct campaign, I tried some traditional, semi-targeted ads on PC gaming sites which turned out to deliver a poor return of investment. Running ads on specific subreddits delivered great results in terms of reach and conversion though, and by my third ad I had learnt how to best tweak them to optimize results. Our demo for PSVR, allowing anyone to try the first level of Apex Construct, launched in the summer of 2018 and has been a tremendous success for us with over 100K downloads worldwide. While it also provided an increased baseline sale of the game, in retrospect we would have gained a lot more by enabling this demo even before the main game was released, using it to build up hype and trust in the product.
There are of course many more areas to consider when marketing a VR game, including a major one which warrants its own article: ‘How to optimise your strategies in the first party channels and store fronts‘ like Steam, Oculus Store & the PlayStation Store. If you are interested in getting in touch, connect with me on Twitter at @BalzarJuliusson or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andreas Juliusson is the Marketing & Communications Manager for Swedish VR games developer Fast Travel Games. Fast Travel Games released their debut title, action/adventure Apex Construct, in February 2018 and they are currently working on their next VR game. Before entering the VR industry he held lead marketing roles in different game companies such as EA/DICE & Bandai Namco for over 10 years.