Cloud gaming subscription services have been hailed as a boon to game publishers and developers looking to reach large gaming audiences most effectively. With the largest tech companies competing for market share through their own game subscriptions—Microsoft via Xbox Game Pass, Apple via Arcade, Google via Stadia and recently, Amazon via Luna—game developers have a significant opportunity to receive what may seem to be free marketing. I’m going to share the risk this poses for the game publisher and developer community and how to ensure you’re not sabotaging the long-term success of your games.
Mega corporations are offering established game developers and publishers with all sorts of wonderful financial terms. These include things like sign-on bonuses, hosting, distribution, payment, processing, pricing, monetization, discovery and marketing. Publishers and developers are willing to accept these offers because they’re trying to streamline game distribution and game discoverability and get tons of impressions and downloads in a short amount of time.
One would think that big tech’s involvement eliminates the need for the awareness generation or user acquisition (UA) marketing that you would normally deploy if you were marketing the game through traditional means of other distribution methods. Wrong. What can very quickly happen is that these marketers, publishers and game developers back off on any of their own marketing and rely on these distribution platforms to handle that for them.
But the learning is that won’t last. Those offers will dry up. Those cloud gaming services will become cluttered with thousands of games. And in a few months or years, it will be just as important to market your games on those cloud services as it was for mobile app developers. This cloud subscription gold rush reminds me of 2008-2010 when digital distribution really started taking off. All you had to do to get downloaded on the App Store was get featured. Steam had so few games that any good title got traction.
Don’t just rely on those companies to market your IP, especially if it’s a new IP, because at best you have a short windfall of revenue, and at worst, you’re going to have an IP that hasn’t built any equity with customers.
The next time you release the next iteration of your game, there will be very little brand awareness and affiliation for it, because the gamers that are subscribing to these services view games the same way they view a new series on Netflix. They’re bingeing them. For these gamers, there’s no downside to playing a new game that came out today, putting in 20 minutes or an hour, discarding it and never thinking about it again then doing the same thing with a new game tomorrow.
If you’re not building brand equity with your game, you’re not building brand affinity, and as a result, you become a commodity, that candy bar at the checkout stand, an impulse download.
Game developers and publishers who basically write their own financial terms with mega technology companies are okay with taking small losses in order to gain consumer credit cards on file. But giving up on and relying on another company that isn’t invested in the long-term business health of your company is risky. You’re allowing them to take control of marketing and build your brand. At that point you’re no longer charging directly for your content and it becomes easier to no longer market your own content.
When working with big distribution platforms like Arcade, Stadia, Xbox Game Pass and Luna, be cognizant on the business side and on the marketing side. Is the game you’re willing to give up your rights on in exchange for marketing in the best long-term interests of your company?
As these new cloud services mature and start featuring thousands of games rather than tens or hundreds of games, it’s going to be important to work with these platforms to ensure you can take advantage of and promote your game in the different ways they offer, whether it’s dashboard presence on Xbox or ad buying on Twitch that directly links to a Luna game. The need to figure out how to get better placement and visibility on the dashboards or app stores of these different cloud gaming services will be critical to the long-term success of your game. Your game may get noticed as these Cloud services have limited portfolios, but if you are in business to build a brand/IP, leaving the brand-building up to your 1st party partner is short-sighted!