MCV sat down to talk recently with Tonia Valesco, a prominent figure in the Australian games industry since 1996.
Tell us a little about your background in the games industry.
I started with Mindscape (formerly The Learning Company) in December 1996. Back then, we were just a sales and marketing office and worked through distributors. In ’99 we were acquired by Mattel, which saw me down in Melbourne for a year. It was very different to what I’d been accustomed to, from being a software company to being owned by a toy company – it provided many challenges. That lasted for about a year before we got sold again. I was Marketing Manager during my time at Mattel, had been a Product Manager prior, and moved into the Sales and Marketing Manager’s role once we were sold and relocated the business back to Sydney in 2001. In 2003 we decided it was time for a change, ceased working with distributors and started selling direct into retail. We were American owned up until 2002 when we became a French company and changed our name from The Learning Company to Mindscape. Now we’re Australian owned. I’ve been involved in all facets of the business throughout the years and really enjoyed the experience not to mention the challenges.
Gaming was often positioned directly alongside toys as all being part of the same category. Having worked in both, what are some of the biggest practical differences between the two?
The planning process for toys is much lengthier. Much more thought goes into it because the shelf life of the product is much longer. The toy business was and is very much a children’s market, which our industry was, but when everyone started moving into higher end PC games, that growth changed the demographic, and the next generation of consoles only grew that market further.
Everyone really stopped supporting kids’ games at this time. I can’t quite understand why they don’t though – we get parents ringing us up all the time saying ‘Why don’t you guys have any more kids products?’ and ‘I’m looking for something for my kid to play.’ and Nintendo has tried to fill that gap educational gaming with the DS and its successors, but ultimately the perception was that there was never an educational element to the games. To an extent, that sort of thing has been trialled on the DS, but hasn’t been much of a success.
Did your marketing campaigns go significantly longer than the ones you run today then?
Yes they did because back catalogue had a significantly longer shelf life. Today is all about building the awareness prior to launch and hitting it hard day one.
Is there much that can be done with post-launch marketing in games do you think?
No, not really. But that’s only because the shelf life of games is so small and a lot of your budget goes into the pre-launch and launch of the game. After that, it’s all about markdowns and getting the stock sold through. You’ve already spent a lot of money on all that pre-order activity, so you don’t really have anything to do unless you’re pushing DLC for those titles or other add-ons.
Outside of that, it’s all about managing cost-analysis rather than more straight marketing.
Would you say that continued marketing is the main reason DLC is fast becoming the standard?
As someone who’s been marketing games to Australia and New Zealand for 15 odd years now, have you moved to targeted marketing through new avenues like social media, or do you still see the value in broader more traditional forms like print, outdoor and TV?
We have embraced the new ways of marketing (online, social media, etc) though depending on the product, we mix up the old & new media’s to get the best possible results. The likes of Facebook is measurable but in the case of online marketing, everyone measures everything by impressions and views and I believe we have some way to go before we know how effective this is (despite what our media people are telling us).
With some of the larger scale marketing methods like billboard and free-to-air TV, is there a point where the campaign is too small to have an impact? Do you have a smallest budget that you’d allocate to such a campaign?
Yes, depending on the spend, the use of TV or outdoor is obviously diluted if there is a small budget. The industry is changing, digital marketing is becoming a much bigger part of everyone’s business model. Obviously, we’re still very focused on retail and placing products into stores though we heavily focus on PR and trade based activities for smaller campaigns. Campaigns that drive consumers into retail along with value add offers is the most effective way of reaching consumers on smaller campaigns.
How important are the retail store staff themselves to making those final sales?
Vendor shows are very important to our business. Store staff are the critical connection to our consumers. It is crucial we arm retail and store staff will all the key facts as to why a consumer “must buy” our game or games. We treat the store staff at vendor shows as our key customers/consumers. If they walk away feeling positive about their experience with a title, we are half way there in getting end users to purchase.
Do you believe in incentivising store staff with rewards for reaching certain targets with your product?
We are in the business of convincing store staff that the selected products that we present are “must have purchases”. Retail and suppliers generally frown on and have policies regarding reward based incentives. Those practices died a decade or more ago.
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