10 tips for making promotional Flash games

Kerb MD Jim McNiven offers advice on how your promotional minigame can create more buzz
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With ever-increasing competition to get the attention of potential customers in a noisy online marketplace, publishing companies need to discover successful and cost-effective methods of attracting attention to their titles and generate pre-launch buzz.

One such tactic is to port the DNA of a boxed title into a Flash minigame, which can be distributed across hundreds of international games portals.

It’s a strategy that makes a lot of sense when you consider that the one thing publishers know for a fact about their potential customers is that they enjoy playing games.

By their very nature, Flash minigames are the workhorses of online marketing, attracting huge numbers of players by naturally encouraging your audience to virally distribute them throughout all the territories publishers need to sell the boxed product.

So with more publishers looking to the web as a platform for extending their game experiences, here are the top 10 considerations we believe go towards creating a successful game-based marketing campaign.

1. Extend the experience
When porting the DNA of your console game to an online space, it’s important to remember that this audience engages with games in a different manner to console gamers.

Casuals expect snackable experiences that provide quick bursts of entertainment. Look at your product and consider how the narrative could be simply extended and try to bring the online story back to the boxed experience by offering some download achievement-based rewards through PSN or Live.

2. Don’t get hung up on the limitations of Flash
Be bold with your concepts of how your game could translate to the web. Casuals are a pretty sophisticated bunch and they’ll expect a branded Flash experience to be suitably different from the boxed product in the same way they’d expect a DS port of a game to be different to a PS3 or Xbox build.

3. Condense the narrative
Your boxed game will be a highly complex and rich narrative with lots of threads and twists. A marketing minigame doesn’t really need to explain the whole plot – it’s a teaser to encourage players to click through and find out more. Your minigame needs to leave players wanting more.

4. Kickstart conversations
A minigame provides a great opportunity to develop an online PR campaign to support the pre-launch buzz of your boxed product. There are literally hundreds of sites, bloggers and newsfeeds hungry for games-based content, Provide them with interesting and relevant stories about your minigame promoting your boxed game and watch your Google ranking rise as inbound links grow.

5. Don’t include a manual
So you thought that you had a tough time with console gamers not reading instructions? Well prepare yourself for a whole world of pain with the casuals! Most will move on if they don’t ‘get’ your game in the first milliseconds of play but will also reject any form of game education that doesn’t meet their exacting entertainment requirements.

6. Keep it small
Please don’t release a full-on 3D experience featuring incredible renders straight from your game that runs in an 800x600 window. It might look incredible played on your internal network on a pimped-up games PC but most of your audience won’t have access to this kit and it will take hours to download. Unfortunately, regardless of how cool your game thumbnail looks or how respected your company is, a large proportion of your potential audience won’t bother waiting for the preloader to finish.

7. Stage size
Make sure you know what the industry standard stage sizes are and develop your game to them. Even in Flash, it can be prohibitively expensive to resize a game once it’s been developed and you’ve discovered that none of the games portals will host it … and your audience’s processors are grinding to a halt as the Flash plug-in gorges all their computers’ resources.

8. Professional seeding
Lots of media buying companies will tell you they can seed their game and will grab you a few hundred thousand plays at 10p per person. However, game seeding is a highly specialist area and you’ll only get good results with professional seeding from a company that has built a strong and trusted relationship with the games portals. The best possible results usually come from companies who build and seed the games themselves as they can never use the excuse that the game was too weak to get decent traffic.

9. Install specialised game tracking
Most standard web-tracking tools won’t be able to monitor a viral game as they rely on tracking content on a specific webpage. Your minigame will be a truly portable application and it’s essential for you to be able to see how many people are playing it. A good tracking system will provide you with data such as total plays, unique plays, dwell time, location-based plays, referring sites and hosting sites as well as having the ability to include custom tags to monitor specific events in your minigame such as level complete events, submission of high score or click through to your website.

10. Don’t leave it to the last minute
Whilst creating a game in Flash isn’t as intensive as working for the PS3 or Xbox, it does need a few weeks’ development time and you’ll be grateful for having the opportunity to fine-tune the experience, adding those final touches that will make your minigame a viral hit.

Kerb are a full service digital engagement agency who have provided strategic marketing campaigns and web based casual games for publishers including Eidos, EA, NAMCO as well as a 'leading console manufacturer.'

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