The people behind Uppercut Games may have a AAA background, but they don’t have AAA resources. The company formed three years ago when Andrew James, Ed Orman, and Ryan Lancaster left 2K Australia (A.K.A. Irrational Games, the makers of the Bioshock series) to create a new company that makes mobile games.
The games they’ve made so far, most notably Epoch and Epoch 2, have been well received by gamers and critics alike. The Epoch games are cover-based shooters that star a sprightly robot in a post-apocalyptic world. The games are made specifically for touchscreen devices, so you control them with taps and swipes.
Even with the developers’ pedigree and the quality of the games they release, it can be tough to stand out in the ever-growing crowd of mobile games. To find out how they’ve honed their marketing approach over the years, I spoke with Uppercut’s Andrew James over email.
With a core team of only three people, Uppercut doesn’t have a single dedicated marketing person. Instead, all three of the partners split the responsibility of getting the word out about their games. James says, “When you don’t have a big marketing budget, a publisher, or parent company paying for PR, you have to try to do every little bit you can to get the word out.”
When Uppercut Games is ready to go public about a new game, they put together a package of marketing materials that reporters can download with one click. This includes a few key things: a one-page press release, two to four “amazing” screenshots (as opposed to 20 screenshots highlighting every little feature), a trailer posted to YouTube, and a FAQ document, where they try to answer any questions reporters might have about the game. “We email that out to a whole bunch of press outlets and hope that some small percentage of them will pick it up as a story.”
However, every press sites worth attracting receives dozens of similar emails every day. Cutting through a cluttered inbox, James says, is all about the pitch. “Ask yourself, ‘What will get their readers to click on the story?’ Then answer that question, and make it a short and clear pitch in your initial email.”
To that end, he said, “Your game needs a Unique Selling Point. We spent a lot of time iterating on our characters so they animated smoothly, and that it all felt extremely responsive to the user’s input. Of course, your USP will most likely be something totally different, but once you decide what it is, you need to drill down and focus on making that unique thing really shine.”
When Uppercut first started, James says, they didn’t think about marketing until it was time to let the press know about their game. That was a mistake. Marketing your game or app should be on your mind from the beginning. “Now,” he says, “when we think about a new feature, we also think about how we can message it. How does it add to the ‘story’ that we will be telling about the product? This process can mean that some design ideas get put aside because they do not align with the story you want to tell.”
Beyond contacting the press and hoping they pick up the story, Uppercut is also learning the importance (and effectiveness) of direct communication with their fans. That means having a website where you can post information, screenshots, and other materials that fans can access directly. It also means being active on Facebook and Twitter. If fans want to find out about what you’re working on, you should make that information readily available for them to find.
Another place your fans are likely to notice is within your other games or apps. James says, “We have in-game news feeds in our games, so we push/cross-promote news about new products through that channel as well; for example someone who is playing Epoch on iOS might click on a news story that Epoch 2 was announced and watch the trailer.”
Marketing your work is not an easy job. It takes a lot of dedication and effort, day in and day out. “When you are busy fixing bugs and polishing your product, it feels like talking to people on Facebook and Twitter is wasting time, but nothing could be further from the truth,” James says. “Coming from a developer background with no experience with the business or marketing side of running a company, I think we were not prepared for the time and effort that it takes to market a product successfully.”
In the end, no matter how well prepared you are, luck plays a big role. “It’s easy to miss your “15 seconds” (mobile developers don’t get 15 minutes!) in the spotlight if something else just happens to drop at the same time.”
All you can do is prepare a smart plan, put in a lot of work, and hope for the best. “We are learning and trying new things virtually every week.”