Before we begin I would like to make it clear that this is meant to be used as an external post-morten review on the marketing of the game Party Golf in order to educate other game developers as well as to potentially help Giant Margarita Games in the future.
For full disclosure I do know one of the people involed in this project, the logo designer, as I've met her at a few parties and events. However the main reason for doing this analysis is, well, Party Golf comes from my home state of Tasmania and specifically from Hobart where I spent almost ten years of my life. So I'm super happy that such a great achievement came out of my home state. However in all honesty it has been marketed pretty poorly / minimally. So let us begin with how we could have improved the marketing for Party Golf.
What is Party Golf?
Party Golf is a local co-op multiplayer game for 1-8 players (no online except leaderboards). The unique thing about it are the maps are procedural generated to give a lot of variety. In fact variety is a huge positive for Party Golf as you can customise the various rules (gravity, modes, ball sizes, shapes etc.) to give a lot of different ways to play. Anyway the best way to understand the game is to watch the trailer (which we will cover in a little bit).
How do you know it isn't doing well?
I don't have any internal information however I can access Steamspy, I can compare the number of reviews on PSN as indicator, I've checked google trends as well as the number of videos (and views) on YouTube. Plus I haven't heard it mentioned in any of the PlayStation or video game related Facebook groups I'm a part of. Even on Metacritic it has had just a handful of reviews. Now for Giant Margarita Games this could very well be highly successful and smash their goals, I don't know. Perhaps they just wished to release one major title for the experience and not focus on the numbers. Either way, I can see ways that they could greatly improve their marketing which would have (or will) result in Party Golf getting more sales. A lot more.
So let's identify three of the key components where Party Golf got a marketing bogey, in my opinion.
1) It's expensive and doesn't fall into the impulse buy category.
2) The trailer (and maybe other marketing material) isn't very convincing in ensuring the asking price is reasonable.
3) Potential customers aren't aware that the game even exists (due to lack of influencers).
Ugh the trailer. Let's just show it before continuing....
Now a deeper issue with the game is that it lacks a real identity. I won't delve too far into the game design side because I'll ruffle a few feathers, but at its core Party Golf is a fun, functional party game however it lacks any sort of charisma which ultimately will reflect poorly onto the trailer and gameplay footage (for comparison just see how Worms have 'character and personality' and Bomberman at least has expressive avatars to reflect wins/losses etc).
The Party Golf trailer shows us HOW the game works but not WHY we would want to play it. Admittedly a lot of indie game devs fall into this trap a lot where they just show the gameplay, usually in a really raw format, rather than focusing on the elements that would resonate with their intended audience. The trailer is essentially an advertisement and like with advertisements they work best with creating an emotional connection. For example car ads don't focus on top speed, fuel capacity etc (except in niches) instead they focus more on "getting away for the weekend", or "family safety" etc. and this is true for most advertisements - and game trailers should be no exception.
Let's compare it to another party game trailer - the trailer for 'ACT IT OUT! A Game of Charades'
Now please ignore the fact that it's charades and obviously they need to show people playing it (and let's gloss over their acting "skill"s haha). See I watch that and I can imagine myself sitting in my lounge room with my mates having a game or two. By using real people in their trailer enjoying the game it is easier for potential customers to imagine themselves playing with friends - a huge aspect of marketing is if you can get the person to already envision your product being a part of their lives (whether it be a car or a video game) then it is a much, much, much easier sale. Now, I know there will be a few developers out there that are like "Uh but you have to show just gameplay". They see it as this typical perfect trailer formula where it has to be exactly 90 seconds, you show gameplay, end with the game logo and developer logo and availability and then afterwards you have a little post credits-esque Marvel snippet. Yeah great, you just made the same trailer as everyone else. If your game is about experiencing huge worlds and grand vistas then you would just show in-game trailers focusing on that, however for party games, unless it's immediately obvious it's fun (like with Party Golf), then you can mix it up - if you need further proof just think of how Nintendo advertises a lot of it's games. ;)
What I would suggest:
First up cut out the app from this trailer. It makes it too long and you're trying to do what I call a double-sell where you try to sell two things at once which obviously is much harder and may confuse the potential customer. Don't get me wrong the app is a great addition and I give major kudos for it - however give it its own trailer (more on this later) or try and feature it more in the game itself where it would make sense to people who have already bought the game to download it. Next I'd do something very similar to the aforementioned ACT IT OUT! by perhaps having a little skit where someone is playing golf inside a house and they keep breaking stuff; it is then suggested they instead try party golf. In pop friends and they start playing on the couch. Interject gameplay with real-life shots of them laughing and saying "so close" etc. and then towards the end queue balloons falling down and disco music to go with the whole "more party less golf" tagline. Insert funny quip. Bam. Trailer.
Also make a second trailer advertising the app where perhaps they are playing and the younger sibling starts messing with all the rules or something.
However perhaps the biggest issue with the trailer is that it in no way reflects the value of the given price...
Party Golf is a fun party game. The sheer amount of possibilities and combinations can offer some very diverse experiences. However, it is not worth $21.95 AUD on the PlayStation Store and probably not $14.99 US on Steam. $20+ on PSN is what I refer to as death pricing for most indie titles. A lot of developers overprice their games and ultimately it's one of the big factors that hurts them both short term and long term. Now this isn't entirely Giant Margarita Game's fault and let's try and put this in a way that won't rock the boat for anyone. You may notice A LOT of indie titles have different prices on the Xbox Store and the PSN store. The Xbox pricing is usually more sensible while the PSN seems to be a bit 'inflated'. Strange really. However I'll let you draw your own conclusions. :)
Now a bit more to add to this is that at launch on the PlayStation Network it didn't have a pre-order or early purchase discount (right when the game is at its hottest) - it did on Steam however, which was good. In fact it was not part of a sale for approximately three months until the PSN January Sale. And then it went on sale for 65% off. WOW! Seriously I nearly had a heart attack. A sudden jump like this (although it is better it went on sale than not) skips a lot of potential price points for customers. Players may have been willing to purchase the game at a higher price point (and therefore greater revenue for the devs). For example some people may have purchased it at just 20% off (or anywhere in between 0 and 65% off), which would have generated more profit for Giant Margarita Games.
During the sale is when I, and I feel many others, purchased the game because the price was now (much) less than the perceived value. It is interesting to note before it went on sale that the 'Likes' for it on PSN was 4, however at the end of the sale that had increased to 30, which we can use as an indicator for the increase in copies sold.
Generally the better or more effective the marketing is the higher a price (or premium) can be charged - we've seen this with such examples as The Witness (which was in part due to the dev's pedigree) and the most extreme example being No Man's Sky (which we should talk about - another day). If you do no or minimal marketing (whether it is press, advertising, influencers etc.) then you generally need to charge less for your game.
What I would suggest:
Price it under $20 AUD on PSN and perhaps drop a few dollars on Steam too. For PSN I'd probably go $14.95 ish MAX depending on some market research. Also at launch I'd have a discount in order to work on a fear of missing out approach, reward early adopters as well as make the game more attractive for influencers. Also when doing sales ensure they're more frequent (but not too frequent) but give progressively more sizable discounts (*with exceptions).
Anyway you're probably going "Uh but lots of indie games are priced $20+ and do well... look at Stardew Valley, ARK etc." and that brings us to our next major point...
The lack of influencers
Games such as Stardew Valley can be priced at that price point and sell well because of the increased awareness from influencers such as Youtubers, Twitch streamers and etc. These influencers can also help in the purchase decision process by giving more information for customers to give the game value. Plus as mentioned before in the trailer scenario seeing other people enjoy the game makes it easier for you to picture yourself playing the game.
Coming back to Party Golf it has close to zero social influencers, in fact the biggest social influencer was the YouTube channel 'PlayStation Access' (which I'm actually subscribed to - their Friday Feature is pretty good) and the video has as of writing ~ 22,000 views. The next relevant video is Good Game Spawn Point's review with ~ 2,500 views. However I feel these were done more due to relevancy of it being a PlayStation console exclusive title and it being Australian made respectively.
Party Golf could do very well with Youtubers and other online influencers. For example an episode of Game Bang, a couch multiplayer series, on the Smosh Games Youtube Channel regularly has 200,000 - 300,000 views per episode. Other potential channels off the top of my head could include ones like Game Grumps, Rooster Teeth's Let's Play and many more.
Smosh Games - One of many Youtuber Influencers that could bring awareness to games like Party Golf
To my knowledge Giant Margarita Games just attended PAX Aus (I also must give kudos because their swag was on point - a squishee golf ball with their logo on it) however here is the thing. Their audience isn't at PAX Australia, or any PAX or other expos. There is of course some overlap however the majority of their potential player base are gamers after a casual experience (and there's nothing wrong with that). Plus I know they had funding from Screen Tasmania that I assumed helped in this department and sounds a lot more convincing for funding than paying someone to just send emails all day.
I have a feeling a lot of indie developers focus on this trap that conventions are purely the only promotional work they need to do and it's far from it. Some games of course naturally will get a lot of press and PR however a casual game like Party Golf does not fit well into that mold. Sure they could get some coverage from Kotaku or whoever but once again their potential player base probably isn't reading Kotaku. In fact a lot of them may not even know what Kotaku is. So although going to conventions isn't wrong (and it can be very fun and a great experience) it should be used as just one promotional platform, and when done well can compliment other promotional channels.
What I would suggest:
Now it's not all doom and gloom, unlike the set price (I'm not sure if they have control over that but they could more frequently participate in sales) and the trailer (which they could update, I'm not sure) they can still get influencers to play their game. Admittedly it will be a lot harder and less efficient since the game isn't new and fresh. However if they send out a lot of emails to relevant Youtubers and Twitch streamers they could significantly increase sales, but perhaps more importantly develop their brand for the long-term. Not 10 emails. Not 100 emails. More like 1,000 emails minimum. Serious. Ideally this would have been done prior to the game's release but this is currently their best option in terms of promotion to get more people playing their game.
The team at Giant Margarita Games
I wish Giant Margarita Games all the best for Party Golf and their future endeavors!
You can find Party Golf on Steam here or on the PlayStation Network here.
Written by Kaydos
He once played a drinking game of Party Golf where if you lost you did an alcoholic shot. Disappointingly he did zero shots. Also drink responsibly. If you want to talk video game marketing hit him up at email@example.com