Before releasing her company's mobile game Seabeard just prior to Christmas, Blackflip Studios VP of Brand Marketing Sarah Ross knew she wanted to take an “integrated approach” for the launch. As Ross explains, the alchemy of launching a mobile game has many parallels to the film business. If you don't have a big opening weekend box office, your chances of having a smash hit “diminish significantly.”
Ross, a Yahoo veteran and former CMO of TechCrunch, is also a social media marketing pioneer. When she worked for Ashston Kutcher's company, Ross conceived the 2009 Twitter Race to a Million between Kutcher and then-CNN-talk-show-host Larry King.
Nearly six years later, she was looking to exploit the relatively uncharted waters of Vine, as well as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and the blogosphere, to propel Seabeard to a big open. Backflip contracted several Vine influencers to tout Seabeard using the 6-second video sharing app. According to Ross, within a week there were 5 million Seabeard-fueled Vine loops.
Seabeard became the biggest launch in Backflip's history, exceeding such earlier hits as DragonVale and Paper Toss. Ross freely admits that part of Seabeard's breakout success was driven by prime placement in the Apple's App Store. And that's something that can't be bought. “Of course we brief Apple about what we've got coming out and they know our track record,” says Ross. “But those decisions on placement are strictly an Apple editorial decision.”
Yet there were other factors driving Seabeard downloads to 1 million in its first week of release. Facebook was liberally used to target gamers. And for the first time in its history, Backflip aggressively peppered YouTube's mobile platform with videos promoting Seabeard. “We thought these were effective, efficient ways to reach a global audience,” says Ross. In addition, Backflip parent-company Hasbro's various digital platforms were used to promote Seabeard. Meanwhile, the day of the mobile games release, Backflip bought wraparound ads selling Seabeard on virtually every prominent gaming blog in existence. A rave review for Seabeard in USA Today helped too.
A mix of the tried and true and emerging platforms is part of the “secret sauce” in launching a new game brand. “The mobile game category tends to take a pretty traditional approach to marketing,” says Ross. “Vine was an experiment for us that was crucial in the viral aspect of our marketing effort. The YouTube mobile platform was key, too.”
The Ross/Seabeard takeaway: the same innovative drive that goes into developing an innovative game, if mirrored in its marketing plan, is a blueprint for a hit.