Since 1999, I've had the luck to work in the game middleware industry. It's been extremely interesting, but something of a crusade. Why? Probably because game middleware is one of the hardest things to market and sell.
The electronic entertainment industry is a fast maturing sector, especially since the rapid democratization of online games and more recently mobile games on smart phones and tablets. If you're old enough to have been young in the 80s, we're back -- definitely for the good, to an amazing opportunity for talented creative individuals and small teams to create a blockbuster with limited investment.
Quite a few tools and middleware have popped up over the past 10 years to try and build a healthy business out of this booming industry. For example, there was a great opportunity to innovate gameplay by adding real-time physics in the mid-2000s, with the rise of Havok and PhysX (both companies have been acquired, respectively by Intel and NVidia).
There are many more opportunities to come with the ever-growing processing power of the gaming devices, and one of these successful tools could be coming from you. In order to maximize your chances to be successful, here are some easy-to-remember rules that I try to work with when helping other middleware vendors to go to market.
Some of these recommendations may seem obvious to you, but I can tell you many companies aiming to go after this market often forget some of these essential parts.
Mistake Number 1: No Marketing, No Social Network Presence
Whatever you promote and sell online and offline, putting the right marketing strategy in place is absolutely essential -- even if your product is a killer, and you expect it to sell without any type of effort.
There are some easy ways to market your product at low cost; some others are rather more expensive, and require a much higher investment:
A good website. Obvious but essential. The look must be modern, alive, the information easily accessible, the pricing exposed, and in most cases I would recommend online sales.
Social network presence. Your company must have a LinkedIn profile and I recommend Twitter and YouTube accounts, too. Facebook fans are a nice to obtain very casual support, but it's not the main revenue driver at this stage.
PR and communication. You must share your story and successes as much as possible. Blogging and tweeting is a real commitment, but it will improve your reputation and credibility over time, as well as your search engine optimization (SEO). If you can afford it, a PR agency is highly recommended, though you must be very clear with your goals in order to maximize the return on investment.
Be present at tradeshows. The game community is rather small and while people tend to travel less than a few years ago, a few major game events tend to gather most of the people you want to target first, starting with the San Francisco-based Game Developers Conference. Whether or not you are present on the show floor as an exhibitor, make sure you carefully plan your participation in advance, in order to optimize the costs and maximize the impact. Set meetings weeks in advance and prepare your demo material carefully.
One of the things you can do is to be hosted by larger technology providers/exhibitors. They usually offer a package with some marketing exposure and a kiosk against a limited fee of $2,000 to $5,000 if your product is compatible with theirs, and it will save you a great deal of organization to rely on them.
Advertising. This isn't my preferred track, but it can't be ignored. It starts with Google AdWords and goes all the way up to printing advertising in professional magazines. In any case, if you advertise, make absolutely certain you can measure the return on investment (by creating custom URLs, landing pages, promo codes, etc.)
Mistake Number 2: No Easy Access To Evaluation Copies
You have just completed the packaging of your product, following a long discussion with your peers to try and monetize your internal tools and tech. Congratulations! Well, wait -- how are other developers going to take a look at it?
In today's world, not providing an easy access to an evaluation version of your technology, whatever it is, is simply unacceptable. You will have to decide what licensing mechanism to implement, in order to track the usage. Warning: implementing some licensing tools can be very complex and costly. Internal tech is often used at first, but there are a number of products available. For more information about licensing, check this Wikipedia page.
It will require quite some work for another developer to evaluate your middleware, so the evaluation must also contain documentation, samples, and other elements listed on the next page.