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How to Research Your next Game's Target Audience for Free
by Justin Carroll on 03/13/17 05:26:00 pm   Featured Blogs

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The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
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Your game’s target audience is the demographics and interests of the majority of it’s players. For example if you’re launching a match-3 puzzle game, your target audience is likely female, 35 years of age, and cares mostly about achievement over all other aspects of the game.

This article was originally posted on Launch Your Indie Game.

But before you’ve launched your game, before you’ve gathered any real player data, you’ll need to make an educated guess about who your players might be, so that you can make and market your game to attract them.

Contrary to popular belief, not all games benefit from the same marketing channels, tactics and strategies.

And investing what little time and money you have on marketing the wrong way can lead to devastating losses, if not failure.

In fact, it’s such an important part of launching games that AAA publishers spend exorbitant amounts of money building in-house teams whose sole responsibility is to gather this research and use it to decide whether or not they should move forward with even making games that are in the conceptual phases of development.

However if you’re a bootstrapping indie game developer, you probably don’t have access to those teams or their tools. But you still need some idea of who your target audience is.

So I’m going to unpack for you why target audience research is so important before you launch, then I’ll illustrate my signature strategy for getting that research, and finally I’ll show you my process to build a tentative target audience profile for zero cost.

In other words, you don’t need to be a AAA publisher to make an educated guess about your game’s target audience.

Why It’s Important to Research Your Game’s Target Audience Before You Launch

Before you launch your game, you’re no doubt going to spend a lot of time and money on marketing. If not in actual dollars, then definitely in sweat equity. Think about all the time you’ve spent just on things like your website or social media. Now add in trailers, a press kit, media outreach, newsletters, conferences, and all those other marketing efforts that everyone else is doing.

Marketing games, even small indie games, is time-consuming.

Making an educated guess about who your game’s target audience will be helps you increase the efficiency and effectiveness of what you spend to choose your time and money on.

For example, let’s say you’re planning to experiment with some Facebook ads at launch. You could lose a lot of money by failing to hyper-target your ad campaigns based on very specific demographic and interest data. Even the seemingly trivial chasm between shooters and WWII shooters is wide enough to lose all your money in.

Or let’s say you’re spending the weeks leading up to launch promoting your game on various game development forums, but your game’s target audience isn’t actually other game developers.

The colossal waste of time and money is painfully obvious, not to mention the opportunity cost you will miss at launch.

Conducting target audience research before you launch helps you design the right marketing foundation to launch upon. That way, when you begin collecting actual in-game analytics, you can optimize your marketing strategy based on that real player data.

The Lookalike Target Audience Research Method

One of the biggest mistakes that indie game developers make is believing that their target audience is made up of people who are just like them. After all, they typically make the games they want to play. And that’s ok, a lot of great games are made that way, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your target audience is anything like you.

You and your games are far better served with the more data-driven approach of measuring the audiences of games that are similar to yours. It’s called a lookalike audience, as in your-audience-probably-looks-like-their-audience.

Here’s the gist of what you’ll be doing:

  1. The first thing you’ll do is make a list of your game’s 3 biggest competitors
  2. Then you mine their audiences for demographics and interests, documenting the results along the way
  3. And finally you’ll note the overlap to find your game’s tentative target audience

I call this the Lookalike Target Audience Research Method.

Obviously, it’s not rocket science. It’s just common sense, and you’ve probably already been thinking this way.

Unfortunately, there’s no empirical way to prove your game’s target audience before you launch. All assumptions, by you or big AAA publishers, are still assumptions. Building a target audience profile from competitor data is the best way to make a best guess about who your game’s target audience might be.

And that’s really all you need to move forward with.

You don’t really need teams of people, data warehouse subscriptions, and keynote presentation decks being pitched to people in suits. Sure, those help. But they’re nice-to-haves, and not really need-to-haves for where you’re at.

So here’s exactly how I execute this strategy:

1. Create a list of 3 competitors, and prepare a spreadsheet to collect their demographics and interests data

Who are your game’s 3 biggest competitors?

What we’re looking for here is to match your game with other games in the same genre, with the same mechanics, done in the same style or art direction, and that have similar pricing or business models.

You might not be able to find exact matches (unless you’re making a clone), but do the best you can with those requirements.

If you find that your game is unlike literally any other game out there, that you have zero competitors, that’s a big red flag. 9/10 times that means your game is going to flop. Just throwing that out there.

Make a copy of the Google Sheets spreadsheet I use to do target audience research. The pre-populated data is from researching the target audience for a new multiplayer first person shooter.

My Google Sheet spreadsheet for researching game target audiences.

My Google Sheet spreadsheet for researching game target audiences.

Think of this like making your own personal finance budget, where there are some staples (such as housing costs), but no two budgets are the same, nor should they be. Use your experience and instinct to choose which categories of data to focus on depending on your game.

Now that we’ve got our spreadsheet set up, we need to go out and find your competitor’s demographics, interests and behaviors.

2. Mine and collect the demographics and interests of those 3 games in your spreadsheet

Demographics are the age, gender, and race of players. Interests are, well, categories or things they’re interested in. And behaviors are activities they do either online or offline.

For example again using the match-3 puzzle game illustration, and having already talked about their demographics, their interests would be things such as other games by King, women’s health brands, and the Hallmark Channel. And their behaviors would be things such as dining out, buying pet products, and clicking mobile ads.

So if you’re making a very colorful and cute match-3 puzzle game, I’ve pretty much done your work for you.

But for those of you who aren’t, let’s mine some data!

1. GOOGLE ADWORDS DISPLAY PLANNER

Most official game websites and app traffic comes from organic search. And Google is the king of search. Thankfully, they make the demographic and interest data of certain keywords and websites available to you for free in Google AdWords.

If you don’t already have a free Google account, grab one and head on over to Google Adwords. Log in to your dashboard and navigate to Tools > Display Planner.

Google AdWords Display Planner

Then type a competing game’s official website domain in the “Your landing page” input box.

I’m using Candy Crush Saga for my search:

Don’t forget to consider region. If you’re soft-launching in Spain, filter for Spain otherwise your results will be useless.

Google AdWords Display Planner

As you can see you’re not only getting juicy demographics for over 10 billion impressions, you’re also getting interests and specifically where they’re running display ads, if at all.

Google AdWords Display Planner

Here’s a fun side note: The Display Planner shows an affinity audienceof “Fast Food Cravers” for Candy Crush Saga. Looks like candy isn’t the only thing they like!

I mean, who doesn’t? McDoubles are crazy cheap. Just saying.

2. FACEBOOK ADVERTISING AUDIENCE INSIGHTS

Almost 17 million people like Clash of Clans on Facebook. What if I told you that Facebook makes all that demographic and interest data available to you for free?

It’s totally true, all through the magic of Facebook Advertising Audience Insights. Grab a Facebook account and head on over to the dashboard for Facebook Advertising.

Go back to your home dashboard and click the new “Ads Manager” menu item on the left-hand side of your screen.

Facebook Advertising Ads Manager

On your Ads Manager dashboard and navigate to Tools > Audience Insights.

Facebook Advertising Audience Insights

Once you arrive on the Audience Insights page, you’ll notice the general demographics and interests for all of Facebook have already been pre-populated.

But we want to narrow that data down by interest. On the left-hand side of the screen you’ll notice a section appropriately named, “Interests”. Start typing “clash of clans” in that input box.

Facebook Advertising Audience Insights interest

And there you have it, the demographics and interests for all 17 million people who like the official Clash of Clans Facebook page. Boom!

Facebook Advertising Audience Insights for Clash of Clans

This technique can also be used to display your own Facebook ads to their audience. Yes you read that, you could put your game in front of 17 million Clash of Clans fans if you wanted to run some ads.

3. SIMILARWEB TRAFFIC ANALYTICS & BEHAVIORS

SimilarWeb gives you insight into the Web traffic analytics any domain name or mobile app in the world.

The mobile app analytics are meh. I recommend sticking to domains for the best information.

While there’s no demographic data, it’s fantastic insight into behavior and interest data. Reports show modules such as social network referral numbers, ranking keywords, referring domains, traffic from organic search, display ads, categorical interests and more.

Simply visit SimilarWeb and perform a search for any competing game’s domain name.

Once it finds the domain and creates the report it should look something like this:

SimilarWeb results for Game of War

Take the social network data alone. It’s a clear picture of where you may want to consider focusing your initial efforts. And equally important, where not to.

SimilarWeb social results for Game of War

Now that you have all this data drop it in a spreadsheet and start comparing and contrasting your results.

But there’s one more thing.

Don’t forget to consider the personality of your game. For example, let’s say your game is about survivalism. It may be a good idea to dig up any available research on the survivalist community as a clue to how you might better market your games or segment your overall research.

3. Analyze the data, identify the overlaps, and draft a target audience profile for your game

Now that the tedious work is done, it’s time to start analyzing your data for overlaps.

Again, it’s not rocket science. You should be able to pretty much eyeball it, especially if you were able to find 3 solid competing games. The overlap should be deafening.

However, if the game you’re making is more obscure game, or unlike much that’s out there, then connecting the dots with your data is probably going to be more difficult. It’s possible that you complete this process, stand back, and are confused by what you’ve found.

In any case, I would put your trust in that data.

There’s only one, big trick I have for finding overlaps when it comes to Interests and Behavior data, and that’s to use a word-analyzing tool such as Spokeforge’s Word Counter & Text Analyzer to identify duplicate terms and phrases. Otherwise you’re going to be squinting at spreadsheet cells trying to find all the overlaps (and missing some).

No one has time for that mess, just use the analyzer.

Profiling Your Game’s Target Audience Is Just the Beginning

Congratulations, you now have a really great idea of who your game’s target audience is going to be.

The next step is to start using your new profile to begin planning your game’s launch marketing strategy, choosing the channels and projects that you’ll be executing for that strategy.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to track the analytics of your game or your game’s marketing. Otherwise, you might as well just have not read this article because you’re not going to have any data to compare it against.

After all, Google Analytics is free.

Also, don’t forget to enable demographics and interest tracking. But note that there is some legal requirements in doing so.

Basically your game’s analytics will tell you who’s really playing your game.

And that data will either validate or disprove your best guess here. It will probably be really close (it would be rare to miss the mark completely), but make sure you use the overlap to optimize your game’s marketing strategy.

Creating a tentative profile of your game’s target audience is just the beginning, but I can tell you first-hand that if you take the time to do that, you’re already lightyears ahead of most other indie game developers.

What did you find most interesting about profiling your game’s target audience? And how have you used that to successfully influence what you’ve done for your game’s marketing?


Justin Carroll writes about indie game marketing at Launch Your Indie Game. Get his free email newsletter for help launching games and growing a business.


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