Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

What the michelin guide tells you about marketing your indie game

So what is the michelin guide? well wikipedia tells us that it is…

“a series of annual guide books published by the French company Michelin for more than one hundred years. The term normally refers to the Michelin Red Guide, the oldest European hotel and restaurant reference guide, which awards Michelin stars for excellence to a select few establishments. The acquisition or loss of a star can have dramatic effects on the success of a restaurant.”

Basically it’s the go-to book for foodies. A michelin star restaurant is pretty pricey. A restaurant with two stars is VERY pricey. A restaurant with more than 2 stars is stupidly pricey. With the price, hopefully comes quality. It is basically THE goal for a chef to get his or her restaurant in the guide. In short, it’s a guidebook for very expensive high quality restaurants. And what does that have to do with marketing and selling your games, indie or otherwise?

Fuck all.

But…it is very applicable when you look at the motivation. Michelin make tires. You can’t eat tires, they don’t go well with food, there is no obvious synergy there. You don’t order a confit of duck and a side order of all-weather snow tires. There is apparently no clear link… But there is. There are two of them, neither of which is apparent.


Link one: The indirect market. When the guide was introduced people had cars, but there was frankly not much motivation to use them. The train was the preferred method for long distance travel. Michelin made tyres, so they wanted people to buy more cars, and also…use them more. That means they needed a way to persuade people to travel more. A travel guidebook is one thing, but the michelin guide is much cleverer because it introduced a ranking system. Restaurants were no longer ‘good’ or ‘not bad’, but ranked in a very specific system that was based on the top-end. The chances of your local pub or restaurant having a michelin star were practically zero,m but LOOK! here is a list of all the ones that are great, some distance from you, and here is a scientific sounding accurate ranking that persuades you that they are so good, it isn’t worth traveling to! get in the car! Don’t forget to check your tyres!


It’s genius marketing, because it is so indirect, and so subtle. On the face of it, that nice michelin company are giving away (they later charged for them) a free guide to restaurants! whats not to like! clearly they just love food and want to give something away! In those days, the technology was pretty simple, but a cynical 2014 version of the guide would probably use cookies to encourage you to go to the furthest restaurant from your house :D

So what is link two? Well if you read any of those neurosciency advertising books I like you already know, but it’s this: Association with quality. In the world of food the word michelin == quality. People struggle for years to be awarded the honor of putting ‘michelin’ next to their name, because michelin means quality…michelin means quality…. ooooh do you need new tyres? what brand are you interested in sir?

So bringing this back to indie gaming, how does it help? Well firstly it explains a bit how clever some ads are, and secondly, it shows how subtle and long term and in what roundabout ways clever marketing people think. Most indie devs will not even consider advertising, or sponsoring something, or doing *anything* that doesn’t lead to a click and a sale *right here* *right now*, but thats not how marketing works. The michelin company were prepared to start a whole sideline in promoting good food to hopefully build up a motoring culture that would indirectly boost their business. Thats really clever thinking, thats really long term.

We should be more like that when planning strategy.

10 thoughts on What the michelin guide tells you about marketing your indie game

  1. As an indie dev, I’ll consider advertising or sponsoring something when I don’t have to get a job to pay my bills. Which is likely, not anytime soon :(

  2. A very thought provoking blog post indeed.

    How does the analogy best fit with game development and indie games?

    Would you have a Michelin star game, or developer? I would go with developer, and they would earn the stars by producing consistent, quality games.

    Which company would give out those stars however? Maybe Michelin of course, but I doubt they’d be interested in rating game developers and their products. Any of the app stores, portals or web sites I suppose, but the problem is they’re all going to (and do) offer their own arbitrary and subjective rating systems. Metacritic possibly? I’m not sure they fit the mould either.

    Would a company not involved in video games (or even tech) be better suited? If starting from scratch though, I imagine you’d want a company or brand that already had a perceived quality. Globally recognised would be good too! I can think of a few, but how would they get interested enough in video games to even look in the right direction.

    1. The post is about how clever people sell tires, not how people sell food. We’re the tire manufacturers in the analogy.

    2. Steve,
      Well I think an obvious analogy from the game dev world would be Angry Birds toys, etc.
      I expect that has generated game sales from people who’s kids got an angry birds toy and then wanted to play the game.

      Although to be fair that is more expanding into existing markets rather than generating a new one.

      From the other side, Disney creating games to indirectly promote their movies through the characters in them?

      I know neither analogy is /exactly/ the same as the Michelin guide but all are brand marketing through a related audience.

      (Hi btw, long time since we last spoke! :-D)

  3. Well, Cliff’s Game Site could be seen as Cliff’s way to focus his brand as Unique, Fun, Interesting and other great things.

    Also, the Humble Bundles are on the charity side of this equation.

  4. I am guessing that most software products probably don’t last more than 10 years and most software brands don’t last more than 20. That rather limits how long term you can think.

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