Hey guys...been a way for a while. Lost a few family members to cancer and have decided to only chime in when I have some value to ad. I don't know much about making a pinball machine or repairing one, but I do know a lot about marketing. If you are interested in this topic would love your feedback. Also, Colton got paid for Felix, my LOTR is still broken, KLOV banned me again...that should settle us up Enjoy.
Have you ever wondered why Pinball marketing and communication is usually so poor? As someone who’s worked in marketing for 15 years, the answers are quite simple. Some are quite obvious, others not so much. But here’s why Pinball marketing and communication leaves many of us endlessly frustrated for years.
1. It doesn’t need much marketing at all: Pinball has a rabid following. I’ve never been on a forum where people are so actively wanting more. Which is a good thing. And anyone who’s looking to sell a new pin knows that. There’s far more demand for new pins than supply. So you don’t need to drum up a lot of interest, initially. It’s already there.
(important note: this does not apply to new IPs and unlicensed games. Look at AMH, that kind of theme needs a lot more marketing help to get people emotionally connected to the game. That connection may not even be possible considering every other option out there is tapping into HUGE equity that the male buyer is into: TBL, WWE, Hobbit, Ironman, etc.). Now imagine if Spooky had a better them out right now while everyone is frustrated with the waiting game. Spooky could have sold 1,000 Predators right now. Selling a licensed game will help their marketing 1000x.
2. Pinball marketing starts with bang and ends with a whimper: this is the complete opposite of effective marketing. When you have something special, you want to slowly build excitement over time. And you never show anything final until it’s ready to be made the next day. Mostly all boutiques hype the hell out of their game on day one. They do this because they are trying to raise capital, not market a product. And this is a VERY important point. Usually there isn’t even a product to market when guys like Skit-B announce a title. There’s simply a dream. In my honest opinion, this approach is amateur and not professional at all. They should be giving that sales pitch to investors, showing them how pinball can make money and using other people’s money to make the pin and THEN reveal it to the world with proper marketing. If they had done that, they could have charged $7,500 - $8,000 per pin because you know what? People would pay for that theme and a working pin if they could have it in a week. And this is just one example. Look at Lebowski. They came out strong, but then waa waa. No games ready. A whistle blowing soap opera ensued. And then all of a sudden a company that looked like pros was knocked back into looking like “just another sloppy boutique”. Now I think Dutch will be fine, but what a waste of an amazing reveal. That reveal should have been made when license was locked and games were ready to be made next month. Again, they would have sold LOTS more if this were the case.
3. You can’t turn on marketing before a release date is set. This is marketing 101. We work backwards from a release date. 100% of the time. Oreo doesn’t come to me and say, “Well, we’d love to make Red Velvet Oreos, not sure when they’ll be ready, but go get people excited!” Instead, it’s “They’ll be out on February 2.” And we know that date about 6 months in advance. Now I’m not saying a pinball company can operate with this level of certainty (building pinball is harder than making OREOS), BUT it can be done.
4. You can’t say how much something will cost until you know for sure. This one really separates the men from the boys. Part of marketing is selling people on, what we call, RTBs (reasons to believe). One major RTB in pinball is price. A pinball marketer wants people to feel they can get “THAT EXPERIENCE” for “THIS PRICE.” I spend countless nights pondering why people price their games the way they do. I love JPOP and I know his games will prove to be worth it, but he had a price out there BEFORE he embarked on his journey. Again, like most boutiques, he needed the capital to get things moving, but this approach, as I mentioned before, is really a recipe for disaster. 4 years later, John has made MG something truly spectacular and with the amount of effort and innovation found in MG, it’s easily 2-3X more than anything on the market. But besides production cost, there’s also exclusivity and prestige elements that some of these boutiques need to factor into price. Do you think Ferrari does not charge you A LOT more for the badge? They do. JPOP is building the Ferrari of pins and should price it accordingly. My point about price is once these guys are locked into a price, that’s it. They can’t change it. Or else they come across as liars and swindlers. But then they have to stick to something that could make their company fail. It’s a vicious cycles that needs to stop. Games should be priced AFTER they are done. That’s what car companies do. That’s what all real companies do.
5. Pinside is nightmare for a communication’s professional: When I worked in the video game industry, we didn’t really care about the enthusiast sites. Why? Because we knew they’d buy the game no matter what. Same is true for Pinside. Pinside often demands info/answers on a minute by minute basis, but if I’m Kevin at Skit-B, why would I bother coming on? He knows that if he makes the game, you’ll buy it. He knows that if loses the license, he’s fucked. Coming onto a forum to ease fears is something he would do if HE COULD ease fears. He can’t. So what’s the point? Also there’s just so many people who are not even in on a game weighing in that it’s a futile place to have a discussion. If I were handling a Pinball company’s PR, I would not ignore pinside, but I would not jump into threads very often. But again, if I were handling a company’s marketing / PR, we would not even get to the point where bad threads would occur. The only time you’d hear from me would moments that blew your socks off and got you super excited to by my pin.
6. Lack of marketing expertise in the industry. While there’s many many talented pinball makers / designers out there, when it comes to great marketers / communications professionals involved with pinball, the number is low. Mainly because of reason #1, it doesn’t require a full-time day job to do it. Marketing however is a skill that needs to be learned over time. Same with communications. What people embarking on a pinball venture don’t realize is the role of your communications person is often to STOP YOU from talking. And often times when you’re MOST EXCITED. No communications pro would have said, “Mission Accomplished” for Predator, or “December 17 Reveal for Magic Girl”. People may think PR / Marketing is easy…just be transparent and everything will be OK. That is 100% not true at all. The best rule is to speak when it’s time to speak. And never promise something you can’t deliver.
7. There’s only one company doing it right. Code issues aside, Stern Pinball is the only company that operates like a real company. They have someone in a dedicated communications role. Jody is a great guy and I enjoyed working with him on our RadioShack (god bless them) / Ironman tournament. They don’t reveal a game until it’s ready to ship soon. This means they are never behind schedule, never caught in a lie, never under-delivering. It also means they can market their games properly. Now that being said, I do feel Stern’s marketing could go above and beyond. Just pulling back the drape at CES for WWE? They could have done something more with wrestlers. I would have sold LE games only to people who uploaded a video of themselves ripping off their shirt like a Hulk-A-Maniac. Your initial payment would be mailing the ripped shirt to Stern. Just SO MUCH you could do with that fun theme. But like I said in #1, they know they don’t have to do much because nobody is even on their level. If you want to go buy a new game, there’s a good chance that 95% of the time it would have to be a Stern. They must be laughing everyday to the bank, especially when their only competition is busy brushing Smaug’s teeth for months.
I know this is a lot. But the key take things to remember are:
- Pre-Order hype is piss poor marketing and will only make you suffer
- Communication will improve when companies seek out that expertise
- You can’t build a game and a marketing plan separately
- A great game will sell itself
- Pinball is fun, but hard to make