Question About Marketing

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    • #25286 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      What was Sierra’s marketing and advertising like back in their glory days? How did it compare to the other game companies? What about in comparison to the other game industries (like console)? Did you face serious challenges in that area — even competing against console companies — or was it an untapped market so you didn’t have to worry about advertising?

      I was just reading about Sega, my favorite video game console company, and it seems to me that — aside from having to beat a resident giant (Nintendo in Sega’s case) — Sierra and Sega are just about the same. New technology, great game, perfect product. What separated Sierra from Sega, and what led to both their downfalls and the downfall of the PC adventure game industry, is advertising. I remember Sega breaking rules with their constantly changing TV commercials, shown at their demo’s high-viewing time and TV channel (MTV). I remember their slogans and their mascots, magazine and newspaper ads, banners on buses and billboards…

      I don’t remember Sierra having any of that. I don’t even recall any advertisements outside of game stores. In fact, I first heard of Sierra from my father, a veteran mainframe programmer/operator/engineer/tech who gobbled up PCs and all PC software as soon as they came out.

      The secret of Sega’s success was their Sega of America CEO, who was the former advertising director for Matel. (Yes, the man responsible for Barbie and Ken. I found myself reviling and yet perversely revering his accomplishments in a Darth Vader “Luke I am your father!” kind of way.) How heavily did you focus on marketing and advertising? In hindsight, would you have done it differently? As you look at today’s games, do you think the secret of their success relies more on advertising (and force-feeding) than actually finding a viable market?

      –Matt

    • #25287 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      What was Sierra’s marketing and advertising like back in their glory days? How did it compare to the other game companies? What about in comparison to the other game industries (like console)? Did you face serious challenges in that area — even competing against console companies — or was it an untapped market so you didn’t have to worry about advertising?

      I was just reading about Sega, my favorite video game console company, and it seems to me that — aside from having to beat a resident giant (Nintendo in Sega’s case) — Sierra and Sega are just about the same. New technology, great game, perfect product. What separated Sierra from Sega, and what led to both their downfalls and the downfall of the PC adventure game industry, is advertising. I remember Sega breaking rules with their constantly changing TV commercials, shown at their demo’s high-viewing time and TV channel (MTV). I remember their slogans and their mascots, magazine and newspaper ads, banners on buses and billboards…

      I don’t remember Sierra having any of that. I don’t even recall any advertisements outside of game stores. In fact, I first heard of Sierra from my father, a veteran mainframe programmer/operator/engineer/tech who gobbled up PCs and all PC software as soon as they came out.

      (Except for InterAction. I fondly remember those issues, and I always looked forward to more issues that, sadly, never came. Still, you would only know about the magazine if you bought the game. It wasn’t advertised outside of that, at least, not that I could tell.)

      The secret of Sega’s success was their Sega of America CEO, who was the former advertising director for Matel. (Yes, the man responsible for Barbie and Ken. I found myself reviling and yet perversely revering his accomplishments in a Darth Vader “Luke I am your father!” kind of way.) How heavily did you focus on marketing and advertising? In hindsight, would you have done it differently? As you look at today’s games, do you think the secret of their success relies more on advertising (and force-feeding) than actually finding a viable market?

      –Matt

    • #25288 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      I’ve been looking through old computer magazines trying to find anything about Sierra. I’ve found the occasional advertisement, or the occasional short article. Granted, I currently have a small selection material to draw from, and I hope to acquire more. But it does seem that Sierra did not rely so much upon advertising, as upon word of mouth and promotions within computer stores.

      I would have to agree with your idea that so much of today’s consumer market (not just video games) is driven by force-fed advertisement. Companies look for any place that they can get an advertisement. Entire busses are painted to advertise (instead of just the advertisement panels), movies now have 10 minutes of product ads before the 10 minutes of previews, etc.

      But I would be interested as you to hear more from Ken about what courses of advertisement Sierra took in the early years.

    • #25289 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      Quote:
      “… (by Brandon Klassen) … I would be interested as you to hear more from Ken about what courses of advertisement Sierra took in the early years.
      …”

      Sierra’s success was largely attributed to our product, which is certainly true. But, equally important was our marketing. We had a very unusual approach to marketing, which might not work today, but was very successful at the time.

      Prior to starting Sierra, I spent some time in the direct mail business. I thought of our business as a classic “cost of acquisition and customer retention” business. I invested heavily in building great product, and heavily in customer support. We also invested heavily in direct mail. InterAction magazine was VERY expensive to produce, and was only mailed to repeat customers.

      During my time, word of mouth in the industry was everything. You couldn’t spend enough money to make a bad title sell, and by the time we released a new title, everyone knew about it (because of InterAction magazine).

      I have a LOT more to say on this topic, but we have to run out now. I’ll try to come back here and post again sometime in the next few days.

      Here’s the key concept:

      If you burn a customer, they will never buy from you again. Because of our reputation, we didn’t have to do anything to get get potential customers to try at least one of our products. Once the customer was “in the family” we tried to “love them to death.” We always had an 800 number for support. I answered my email, as did all of our designers. If someone didn’t like a game, we gave them their money back NO QUESTIONS ASKED. We couldn’t promise that we would never make a mistake, but we did promise that no customer would ever spend a dime having a bad experience with a Sierra product (because of our refund policy).

      We NEVER had booths at the trade shows (well .. actually I was dragged kicking and screaming into a couple of them, but hated the experience. Why spend money to show your competitors your products?) We almost never advertised (Customers bought from word of mouth, not ads. We had a large enough circulation for InterAction to get plenty of word of mouth.

      -Ken W

    • #25290 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      I was a huge fan of Sierra’s money-back guarantee. I can’t begin to imagine a software company standing behind their product so strongly today.

      I think it worked in Sierra’s favor that during their glory years, a lot of families were buying their first home computers, and they often saw Sierra’s products used in demos. My father made a nice living building computers to order in the ’80s and early ’90s, and a Sierra product (generally the latest King’s Quest) was always the centerpiece of the “Look at the cool stuff you can do with your computer!” pitch. Although he wasn’t a software seller, he did stock Sierra games. They basically sold themselves. I’m sure that thousands of people across the country were introduced into the Sierra fold in a very similar fashion.

    • #25291 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      Sierra’s demo disks must have been really effective as a marketing tool. I have a news clipping about those… but what I’ll post now to also go along with this topic is an advertisement of King’s Quest IV from the November 1988 issue of Compute! It’s really cool, definitely one of the coolest ads I have. Unfortunately, the right side of the ad is actually cut off like that – that’s the actual proper dimension of the magazine.

      On a side note, if anyone is interested in old computer mags, after I have carefully removed the Sierra content from them, let me know immediately or they’re just going in the recycling. I usually pull anything interesting, such as ads for the Ultima games or things that may be of interest from other computer companies, but who knows what someone else might find interesting. And the flip side of that is, if you have any old computer magazines with Sierra stuff in it that you can donate to my archival work, again as always that would be much appreciated.

      1988 KQ4 ad, 800 pixels wide

    • #25292 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      Sorry about that, I tend to name things oddly and in this case, the email notification giving the link with spaces in it converted the spaces to “+” signs instead of “%20”. If you tried to see the image from the email, all you have to do is remove the “+” from the link in your URL address bar and change to ” ” or “%20”.

    • #25293 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      Brandon – that’s a VERY cool ad. I haven’t seen it in 20+ years. I had forgotten it. Thank you! It was an answer to an ad by Electronic Arts, which was titled “Can a computer make you cry?” We answered the question, honestly, as yes – and proved it.

      -Ken W

    • #25294 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      That’s a vivid ad. I first saw it in a Compute! magazine at the public library and I told everyone I knew about it…

      The funny thing was nobody changed sides. There were those of us who had to experience the magic that was King’s Quest IV, but most people didn’t have a computer back then. So what did they care?

      Now it’s totally different. The games my wife enjoys from DreamCatcher aren’t big money makers. Somehow the crews were managed better at Sierra — or the budgets — or did they just sell more games at Sierra than DreamCatcher can today?

    • #25295 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      Publishers like Dreamcatcher, JoWood, Mindscape, etc. specialise in bringing to the public games that it would otherwise have no access to. And I’m very grateful for that. Most of their developers do not have access to the millions of dollars in development budgets that has somewhat ridiculously become the norm in today’s gaming industry.

      Many gems, like Sanitarium, Gorky 17 (a.k.a. Odium), Spellforce, etc., have seen the light of day thanks to these publishers. And in many ways, these games are being sold through the same principles employed by Sierra all those years ago. Sanitarium is still selling relatively well six years after its release (and it really is an excellent game). And personally, good word of mouth has always had far more power to persuade me into buying a product than any amount of trailers, ads or reviews in the mainstream gaming press.

    • #25296 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      You can’t compare the success of companies like you mentioned to the success of Sierra On-Line. Sierra On-Line was an empire. They were acquiring other companies like EA.

      “Dreamcatcher, JoWood, Mindscape, etc” are nothing compared to what Sierra accomplished. But the games are just as great and seem to sell almost as much.

      But the companies are not success stories — they might have succeeded but nothing like Sierra On-Line.

    • #25297 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      Quote:
      “…(by Benjamin Lindelof) You can’t compare the success of companies like you mentioned to the success of Sierra On-Line. Sierra On-Line was an empire. They were acquiring other companies like EA….”
      Benjamin, I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings or someone else’s, but why does it matter that Sierra On-Line was an empire? Only the end-products matter, the games that we loved. So, if a smaller company puts out a great product such as Sierra’s or better, it doesn’t mean that the company is less successful. In financial terms, sure, Sierra would be top. But finances doesn’t matter to us the end-users, as long as the company is profitable enough to continue making great things. And which, as the previous poster said, need NOT be, shamefully, multi-zillion dollar projects.

      -Vesko

    • #25298 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      Vesko, Vesselin, et al:

      You said: “it doesn’t mean that the company is less successful”

      If the company is not successful, then guess what? No more games!

      The whole point of the company is to create games so companies will avoid the “No more games” scenario at all costs. I’m just wondering what the secret is to sustain that over that long time and remain in business despite everything. (Between monochrome graphics and CD-ROM computer games? That’s Sierra entire history).

    • #25299 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      Quote:
      “…(by Benjamin Lindelof)
      If the company is not successful, then guess what? No more games!
      …”
      I also said “But finances doesn’t matter to us the end-users, as long as the company is profitable enough to continue making great things.” I meant that as long as a company is profitable enough to be able to make games that are loved, it doesn’t matter to end-users how much more profitable it is than other companies out there. I love Sierra On-Line for their games, I do not love it for how much money it made. It is like saying that Victor Hugo has been more successful than Plato, or vice versa, because after adjusting for inflation, one of them made more money than the other.

    • #25300 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      “I’m just wondering what the secret is to sustain that over that long time and remain in business despite everything.”

      Well BL I think that Ken gave some answers to that in his post above. Another part of Sierra’s success came from the fact that Sierra was born while the game industry was being born. Making great games also meant shaping the game industry and being in a great position to innovate. That is a huge, if not the most important difference, between game companies today and game companies 20 years ago.

    • #25301 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      I think the game industry has become so much like the movie industry, it’s going to take another CEO like Ken to spot the trends before they are mainstream.

      Let’s hope Ken’s writes a book so we can learn from his own experiences during the pioneer years. It’s still pioneer days on the Net, so there’s still a chance a new company could come along and spark new types of games that embrace new technologies.

    • #25302 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      You could almost make a book from all the posts that Ken has made in these boards. I’ve been keeping an archive of almost everything Ken’s said that’s interesting since the beginning, so you can look forward to some sort of a big collection of Ken wisdom sometime in the future.

    • #25303 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      Thanks for the answer, Ken! I agree that the Sierra advertising worked very well toward the family market, but I still feel that it wasn’t as successful as you claim if the sale target was only 200,000 copies. It did and can still create the same family company and extremely strong company-client relationship, but was there ever thought of exporting that to a greater scale? Again, it’s very easy for us to look at this in hindsight, which is why I pointed out the techniques used by console video game companies at approximately the same time.

      Again, thank you for the answer, and I look forward to reading your response to the rest of my questions! (For example, was there much competition between Sierra and console companies, and, if so, how did you address that issue?)

      –Matt

    • #25304 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      Quote:
      “… (by Matt ) Thanks for the answer, Ken! I agree that the Sierra advertising worked very well toward the family market, but I still feel that it wasn’t as successful as you claim if the sale target was only 200,000 copies. It did and can still create the same family company and extremely strong company-client relationship, but was there ever thought of exporting that to a greater scale? Again, it’s very easy for us to look at this in hindsight, which is why I pointed out the techniques used by console video game companies at approximately the same time.

      Again, thank you for the answer, and I look forward to reading your response to the rest of my questions! (For example, was there much competition between Sierra and console companies, and, if so, how did you address that issue?)

      –Matt
      …”

      Hi Matt,

      In the 80’s, and I think the early 90’s, the number of PC computers sold each year was greater than the number of all the computers in the world sold in previous years. I think that King’s Quest 4 broke an absolute record (best selling game of all time) when it sold about 250,000 copies, simply because this number was humongous in relation to the total number of computer-equipped possible customers.
      Today there is a much greater number of people having computers, but with the huge budgets typical AAA games have, only a game selling millions of copies would be able to pay back for itself. (I don’t think such huge budgets are necessary, but that is another topic.) Regardless, there was no way back then that Sierra could have sold substantially more (i.e. millions), because there were not just as many computers to run the games :).
      Of course, Ken has the final word and I’d like him to correct me if I’m wrong on something about KQ4.

      All in all, it seems that Sierra’s advertisement was quite, quite successful! Word of mouth is #1, because you get the opinion of a real person you know, not some marketing droid’s stereotypic message on a glossy sheet of paper.

      -Vesko

    • #25305 Reply
      Unknown,Unknown
      Participant

      Granted, but I was referring more to the mid-’90s, when the PC industry jumped almost exponentially. That, as everyone in the computer industry — from software to hardware — realized, was the time to make or break a company, the time to decide if your company could keep up with the industry and the market. So, my questions and comments are posed from that angle. Apologies in advance for the confusion!

      –Matt

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