2 Interesting Strategies Used Recently by Game Companies

27 July 2017 | 18 Comments

In this series, I highlight some of the interesting choices made by creators regarding their project’s reward levels, stretch goals, and overall campaign design (the projects themselves, not the content or product). This isn’t an endorsement or promotion.

Who Goes There?

It’s become a best practice for a board game Kickstarter campaign to include a gameplay video on the project page. This gives potential backers a way to experience the feel of the game before they pledge.

I’ve watched hundreds of gameplay videos–many of them very well made–but Who Goes There? by Certifiable Games has the best gameplay video I’ve ever seen. It was created by Mad Genius Inc.

You really need to watch the video to understand what makes it so good, as it’s a combination of many different factors:

  • It’s a “gameplay highlights” video, not a full playthrough, allowing it to focus on key elements of the game. This also helps the video only be 10 minutes long, which means people are more likely to watch it compared to a much longer playthrough.
  • The camera work, audio, editing, and lighting is superb. It’s polished, yet it feels like you’re right there at the table.
  • The camera moves around the table as players talk and play, but then it’ll zoom in on one person in particular so he can explain what’s happening and why it’s important. It’s incredibly well choreographed to help viewers understand what’s happening.
  • Digital images of cards and components are occasionally superimposed on the screen to highlight certain concepts.

Have you seen any other companies make gameplay highlights videos like this? (Thanks to Jason Brown for the tip about Who Goes There?)


This isn’t a Kickstarter project, but it’s such a unique marketing tactic by Plaid Hat Games that I had to talk about it. There’s a detailed article about it here.

A few weeks ago, 50 people all over the world received a mysterious box from a fictitious company called Raxxon Pharmaceutical. The box contains a game–Raxxon–and instructions that talk about a virus outbreak. You’re told that the box contains materials needed to “lead the evacuation.”

Here’s the really intriguing part: Raxxon isn’t a game that’s in distribution. In fact, the only way to buy the game is for someone who already has it to “recruit” you. If you buy a copy of Raxxon, you’re allowed to invited 3 people, and they’re then allowed to buy the game and invite 3 more people, and so on.

I’m fascinated by this. It’s a bold move, to depend this heavily on invite-only marketing. But the behavioral psychology behind it is really clever–you feel special if you get an invite, and you feel powerful and influential when you have invites to give. It’s no wonder that the game has spread as quickly as the virus it represents:

The main downside, as I learned from reading a post in a game industry Facebook group, is that it puts retailers in a very awkward position. If people go to a retailer asking for a game they’ve been hearing about and the retailer can’t get the game, they’re not going to be happy. Perhaps they’re forgiving of it, though, given that Plaid Hat has made other games that have sold very well for retailers.

Have you seen other companies (game companies or other industries) successfully use this type of viral, invite-only marketing?

Leave a Comment

18 Comments on “2 Interesting Strategies Used Recently by Game Companies

  1. There was some mudslinging aimed at Jamey in Update #9 of Who Goes There? I’m not sure if another game’s Kickstarter project is a good place to do that sort of a thing, but to each his own, I suppose. :)

    (I’m still on the fence about the game because of the price of the “full experience”.)

  2. Personally, i like what PHG did with Raxxon. It’s a nice experimentation.
    I’m comparing this to launching a movie in selected theaters. Maybe it will be expand, maybe not. Or to a European tour instead of a World tour by an artist.

    Almost forgot. This video is a winner! :D

  3. One thing that I saw a while back that was interesting was during the KickStarter campaign for Skulldug. They started the campaign with a clue which then led backers on a digital scavenger hunt full of mysteries to solve and codes to break. Each step was accompanied by a video showing the progress and containing the next clue. Backers eventually created a Google Doc to help keep track of all the information, hints, and guesses, eventually leading to the final prize. It was a great way to gain backer interest and buy-in, and was super fun!

    Here’s the backer doc that documents the event:

  4. The Raxxon marketing technique was definitely a risky venture, but given how well established Plaid Hat is, it was a risk they had the means to take.

    I think it’s hilarious how they are making a disease based game go “viral” and am sure they have enough social media influence to keep it going.

    There is also something to say about how smart Plaid Hat is. They saw how big they had gotten, saw they had a lot of influence and made a move that only a company like theirs could make. This shows how flexible they are with their marketing they transition into a bigger company and use their resources to their advantage rather than sticking to what’s safe

  5. I think that Raxxon has a great idea! It is out of nowhere and seems effective. Actually, even if the game was average, it still might be interesting since there is a level of “secrecy” or “special privilege”. This is genius. There are obvious risks involved, as you pointed out. Those can not be overlooked. Perhaps this would be good for an established game with fan-base? Maybe you could have a membership of some-kind, where members receive random game add-ons (cards, campaign guides, rules, etc) periodically? It might be fun to pre-pay for a game, and get X# of suprise components throughout the year.


  6. You ever just kick yourself for not coming up with something first? PHG had the infrastructure to do a fun move like this with Raxxon, and I can’t imagine a world in which people won’t be itching to get their hands on the game eventually. I can’t wait to see how this plays out further.

  7. I loved the Raxxon marketing idea. Totally out of left field and unexpected. My whole experience from getting an invite, going to the website and then spreading invites made me feel part of Raxxon. It seemed so thematic. To me it really drove home how the Zombie virus would spread.

  8. I assume that Plaid hat is using the viral marketing scheme for Raxxon to get a lot of free advertising and social media, and then they’ll release it for sale at some future point (maybe a GenCon exclusive before going into full production). If they can leverage the buzz from the artificial scarcity, they can get a lot of game sales without having to do traditional advertising, perhaps?

    But I’m a little cynical.

  9. While many of you have a very different perspective on Raxxon, I appreciate you sharing! I’m seeing it through the eyes of a publisher–sometimes we like to do things that are cool, thematic, or fun. The intention isn’t to hurt or exclude anyone–it’s to let a game spread like a virus to anyone and everyone who wants it (except, apparently, retailers). While I understand that it may turn off some people, I at least hope that people don’t make declarative statements like “I’ll never buy another Plaid Hat game,” as that seems a bit extreme–one marketing scheme doesn’t define a company. I think it’s a good thing if publishers can experiment with stuff like this.

  10. Interesting idea, much like word of mouth multi-level marketing of Amway… but without the small kickbacks to the person at the bottom level. This tactic might work better if this was used with a Legacy game… and based on how many copies you helped sell the game changed or leveled up… just a thought.

  11. My problem with the Raxxon bit is my ability to actually be “in the loop”. I’d rather not play “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” just to buy a game…or even try it.

    It’s an interesting methodology, it just leaves me cold.

  12. While this may be an innovative marketing strategy, as a consumer it’s a complete turnoff and has me think that Plaid Hat Games doesn’t care against their customers.

    “We’re putting out a really cool game but you can’t have it” is a message that I find irritating and elitist, and makes me much less likely to buy their publicly available games in the future.

  13. The gameplay video is absolutely great. I agree with you Jamie in every point you highlight (great lighting, changing music when the guy is explaining something…) Very direct to the customer. The video focus on the experience you can achieve playing the game and strengthen the possible interest the customer can have to the game. Maybe with a highlight video you can avoid the weak points of your game also.
    About the Raxxon experience. I like it a lot. We may consider it a little bit risky if we talk about retailers and the spread of the game with a common distribution method but all this can be let aside if we take into consideration the great impact that a campaign like that has in the brains of the game community. As a player I would be thrilled, but as a creator I feel even more excited. Great move in my opinion.

  14. I actively dislike the Raxxon model. I am wondering if we want a few copies for Geekway, but personally I’ve not taken advantage of several ‘would you like an invite’ opportunities that have come my way. Manufactured scarcity makes me question the quality of the game.

  15. Love the video above. Almost instantly, because of the style and how easy they made it look, I wanted to know more. Almost instantly. Well done.

    Raxxon is interesting because I have heard people say things like, “I’ll never buy another plaid hat game again after this…” Personally I loved it and thought it was a fun way to market. And I also asked around for an invite and bought the game. They got me.

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