Developers Sketch Out Varied Approaches to Market

In an App Store flooded with titles and a formal education market dauntingly complex, game developers continue to struggle with finding ways to market that guarantee sustainability and success.

Still, firms like Filament have found success in schools and new companies like Speakaboos and Lightneer have built creative marketing approaches aimed at cracking the code and gathered recently at Games for Change to share their war stories to an overflow crowd.

The three developers outlined how they approached the idea of core markets and what that aim did to their products, marketing and services.

For each firm, the decision of where to focus has shaped their company and their games.

For Lauri Järvilehto, a veteran of Angry Birds maker Rovio and now CEO of Lightneer, the focus is on the child and the consumer market. Like the company he came from, Järvilehto argued the solution is in the product.

He clarified that distribution is often described as the problem, but it is not that, but rather “discovery and differentiation” that are the major problem plaguing the app market. Producers can easily sell games, but developing consumer loyalty and finding ways to make their game different than others and worth finding in a crowded marketplace is the real challenge.

We don’t want users. We don’t want customers. We want fans. People we can interact with and people we can cater to.
— Lauri Järvilehto, Lightneer CEO

This focus on the cosumer market has meant that Lightneer is focused on high quality graphics, compelling characters and engaging gameplay.

“Kids don’t go home and say, ‘I learned something, so I want to play again.’ It has to be the best game ever,” Järvilehto said.

Speakaboos is a reading service featuring interactive titles aimed at building a love of reading and expanded abilities among its users. For its founder and CEO Neal Shenoy that product and its subscription business model meant trying to hit both the consumer and school model. He described their business model as “being a consumer-driven business… We understand our business is subscriptions and so we see institutions and teachers … as a very powerful catalyst for driving consumer consumption.”

This has meant their model is built around a connection that begins in school and builds the consumer market at home.

“The holy grail that people talk about is the school-to-home connection. You’re selling into schools. You’re making money from schools. Teachers are using it and they are influencers and they are driving home consumption and you are making revenue from that. It’s a very virtuous cycle,” he said, but added that to do this he needed products that overlapped, but also recognized what a teacher needs is different than what a parent wants.

Shenoy stressed this model also has been built to work with other platforms rather than to force the consumer or the institution to connect directly with Speakaboos. The company has sought distribution through groups like First Book and on platforms such as the App Store and Noodle Marketplace.

“The ethos of the way we built our company was the partnership model and one of the things we did as a game developer or an ed tech business that’s trying to break in to the education and broader school market was the importance of those partnerships with existing publishers and distributors,” he said.

But while Shenoy’s Speakaboos sees formal education as a way to beef up and expand the consumer subscription model – a teacher recommends a program and a parent pays the subscription for a product they know their kid likes – the trials of selling to school as your primary revenue stream is one Filament knows well.

Filament, a game studio with some 12 years of experience, launched a publishing platform three years ago. The platform, with its teacher dashboards and 17 titles, has been marketed to schools aggressively, said Brandon Pittser, Filament’s Director of Marketing & Licensing.

The K-12 sales process requires the super high-touch, heavily conversation-based sale where you are in the school a lot. You are talking with all stake holders. You are talking to the district’s technology folks and the curriculum folks and you often find that those folks are not aligned.
— Brandon Pittser, Director of Marketing & Licensing, Filament Games

The school market also has specific needs that Pittser said developers need to keep in mind.

“Containing the game within that classroom capsule and then making it so you can scaffold it across multiple days, something where you can spiral within the curriculum and get deeper in the material,” he said.

But even if developers can build the games and the dashboards to serve the formal education market, Pittser worried the lack of clear catalogues remains a major hurdle.

“What teachers do need is a way to find games that will provide value. Whether it is one Steam store that encapsulates all of that or something else, but what there needs to be is a consistent quality across the apps,” Pittser said.

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Lee Banville Lee Banville is editor of Gamesandlearning.org and editorial director of the Games and Learning Publishing Council. He is also an Associate Professor of Journalism at The University of Montana. For 13 years he ran the online and digital operations of the PBS NewsHour, overseeing coverage of domestic and international stories.