Despite canceled trade shows, gaming startups can still win an extra life

As organizers cancel events with massive attendance, like SXSW (400,000 attendees), E3 (66,000), GDC (65,000) and Mobile World Congress (100,000), mobile game developers have felt the crunch. At a show like SXSW, larger developers can spend more than $135,000 just to secure some real estate.

Despite the steep cost, if you’re a developer, these events can prove worthwhile for building awareness, buzz and customer downloads. Real-time feedback from attendees, the ability to sign up users for beta campaigns, opportunities for bolstering subsequent email marketing and the prestige of having your app live side-by-side with games produced by larger studios are unique qualities.

It remains unclear if and how developers that made investments will recover costs such as those for onsite promotion, print advertising, staff for booths and restaurant reservations. Equally, if not more important though, is the added layer of opportunity cost for developers, especially those who sought to use these events to launch something new.

How important are launch moments for game developers? During the Game Developers Conference 2019, a new port of Cuphead for Nintendo Switch was announced. Per Google Trends, web searches for the game reached their second-highest point of the year during the event (March 20th), only behind search volume of the game’s release a month later, in April 2019.

Large developers can come out unscathed from a trade show cancellation and simply kick the launch moment to their next big tentpole event. But for smaller app or game developers that can’t wait another six months for their launch moment, they need to do something.

Here are five ways to salvage a launch lost to a trade show cancellation.

Use live-streaming services to host your own trade show and product launch

Nintendo’s approach to its Direct series is a prime example of this type of format, which teases upcoming games and general news. Many others are adopting this approach in response to recent event cancellations. Assuming your app isn’t the same size or on the level of recognition of Nintendo, you would have to make heavy use of marketing channels like social media, PR, advertising and email marketing to promote this type of stream in advance.

The benefits of this format over an IRL trade show is the ability to capture massive amounts of fan feedback in real time, which can help inform marketing investments moving forward. YouTube Live, Twitch, Mixer and Facebook Live are platforms to check out if you go this route.

Host a giveaway to generate excitement

Another way to greatly increase viewership about your product launch and amplify excitement among customers is to use a giveaway as an incentive.

A select number, or even all, of your stream’s viewers could get early access to play your game or a unique in-game character skin. If your game is landing on newer tech like Google’s Stadia streaming service, that platform could be a great tool to leverage for this. Right after your big reveal, consumers all around the world could hypothetically jump into the game through their browser.

Tap into existing offline communities to build momentum

Though many events are being canceled, gamers, investors and journalists are flocking to virtual spaces for product rollouts, demo days and other remote-only gatherings. There are thousands of groups across sites like Meetup and Facebook Groups, which can get as granular as fans of specific gaming platforms, genre of game or even specific game series. Even though in-person events are out of the question, helping these communities host online tournaments by sponsoring a prize or even a virtual happy hour on Zoom can help your game stay top of mind.

Connect with influencers to build advocacy

If you’ve paid attention to the rise of services like Twitch and Mixer, you know that some video game streamers command massive viewership of people who could be your target audience. Despite the number of mainstream gamer celebrities, influencers come in all shape and sizes, and making smaller investments to sponsor multiple microinfluencers — typically those with a few thousand followers — could be a better fit from a demographic (and budget) perspective. Many platforms have emerged to connect you directly with streamers to discuss these sponsorships, such as PowerSpike, Wehype and HelloGamers.

Engage the PR machines

To drive interest in your new launch, you can’t forget the basics. Well before you announce your next big game publicly, it is critical to start the public relations process. From a timing perspective, if you want broad exposure for your announcement via press coverage, it means giving reporters an early look before the announcement goes live. It can take months of prep work for messaging, media relationship-building and building visual assets before you can launch from a PR perspective. Paid sites like Muck Rack offer databases of reporter contact information, while sites like PR Newswire can help get your official announcements to the masses.