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

Production Line Marketing: Balancing out the factors

Not marketing the game…but marketing *in the game*. As You may be aware, my car factory sim Production Line got its first taste of marketing as a feature in the last patch (1.26). The current setup is very simple, you can research marketing, then place down marketing facilities that generate ideas, but nothing else (yet). In the next patch, the games marketing system will be fleshed out more, introducing marketing campaigns which you can use to generate brand awareness. here is a screenshot of the resulting new dialog box:

This is all in, coded, tested, and works. So hurrah. SHIP IT.

Maybe not yet, as it requires balancing, and when considering how best to do this, I made the following list of potential balancing factors I should consider to get things right first:

  1. The research cost of marketing as a base research item
  2. The purchase cost of a marketing facility
  3. The running cost of a marketing facility
  4. The idea requirements of each campaign
  5. The idea generation rate
  6. The cost requirements of each campaign
  7. The effects of each campaign and the variability of those effects.

Obviously this is effectively a system of counterweights, where increasing or decreasing one will impact all the others. There are reasons for/against changes to any one of these. Ideally marketing campaigns last long enough that they are not too ‘needy’ in terms of interrupting the player. The effects should be noticeable and strategic, but not unbalancing or sure-wins. Marketing will work great as a mid-to-late game feature, so it shouldn’t be attainable too early. It should be something that requires an investment, but not a crippling one, and one that generates a positive ROI in general.

Thinking about the real world, a marketing campaign is essentially a fixed cost, one that you hope makes a positive ROI when spread over a sufficient number of sales. I would like to engineer a system that means it makes sense to run a $500k print campaign if you are selling 10X cars, but maybe not worth it if you are selling just 1X. To put it ion car terms, if you have a single showroom in one city, spending $500k to increase footfall in that showroom by 50% wont be worth it, but if you have 10 showrooms and 10x the potential customers, it will be.

Right now we have a system where there are 3 car body types and 4 price points, so 12 customer categories. Those categories have no fuzziness, so if I want a mid-range compact car, no amount of bargain pricing or marketing will change my mind on that basic fact (I may introduce some fuzzy logic to this later). What this means is, if I have a single car model, then 11/12 of my customers are wasted anyway…

With a general ‘brand awareness’ campaign (the only type I’m working on this month), it will not make any sense (hopefully) to do this for only 1/12th of your customers. In effect, I’d be generating even more footfall from people who come into the showroom and say ‘I keep hearing about positech autos, but they don’t make SUVs in my price range’. A waste of money… If I have a fully kitted out range of cars, that calculation changes.

Lets examine my test numbers:

A print campaign lasts 24 hours and costs $500,000 to run. It boosts brand awareness (and thus footfall) by (on average) 10%. Current footfall is 5 customers per ‘sales interval’ (which is 4 seconds, or 4/120 of an hour) That means we get (on average) 150 customers per hour, and this campaign will mean a bonus 15 customers per hour. 24 hours means a bonus 360 customers. This means its cost us $1,388 per customer through the door.

Assuming that we offer cars to 50% of the possible market (note not all of the 12 categories have the same market share), then we have to double that to $2,777 per customer. Assuming an average car sale of $20,000, we are selling cars with a 13% marketing spend. That actually sounds pretty reasonable.

Of course, the real strategy for the player comes in when they have cars piling up in stock, or not. When you have excess stock building up, you can ALWAYS shift them by dramatically lowering the price. The strategy will be in knowing whether or not it makes more sense to lock in $500k to bring in *more* customers to view those cars, or to lower the price.

I like the way this is balancing out, because without explicitly saying “this is a late game feature”, it becomes evidently true because its not worth advertising to the mass market without having a mass-market range. The real problem is how I convey that to the player. Player-feedback is something that production line is currently bad at, and something I need to work on. I could maybe have a pop-up from your head of marketing that runs through those numbers… a dialog saying “our campaign has resulted in X new customers, so $X per customer, but only Y% of them found a model in our range they would consider. Maybe we need to expand the range?”

As usual; in complex sim games, it becomes a case of 25% code the feature, 25% test the feature, 25% balance the feature, 25% explain the feature. I guess I’m half way there for brand-awareness marketing…