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August 23, 2023

Video Game Marketing - Targeting Players

One Game, 3.38 Billion Players?

Newzoo’s 2023 Global Games Market Report states, “The number of players worldwide will reach 3.38 billion in 2023, a +6.3% year-on-year increase.”  

What type of game would be required to delight all 3.38 billion players?  

It would have to WOW Dark Souls players AND Candy Crush players.  Each genre would likely have at least one player that is exclusive to that genre.  You’d need to appeal to players of every genre.  

You’d need to make the game feel great on mobile, PC, consoles, and handhelds. Maybe even VR and AR devices!   

How would you monetize all 3.38 billion players?  Likely, many players would never spend a penny on a game.  Paradoxically, ads, loot boxes, and other freemium monetization strategies may dissatisfy players wanting a one-time purchase.


What about competitors? Your game would likely have to compete with at least one game from every genre.  It would have to steal players' attention from several top-performing games.

You’d need to find an efficient way to make all 3.38 billion players aware of your game.  That is a lot of tailored ads and social content where you have 5 seconds or less to grab attention.  Fine-tuning and optimizing these campaigns would take a lot of time and effort.

This “One-For-All strategy” is not realistic!  It would require many experts, a ton of time, and a boatload of money to turn the entire market into your playing customers.  

One Game, One Player?

What if your game only had to delight one player?  What if you could hit your financial goals by producing a game for, say, Mark Cuban?

The first thing you’d probably do would be to research the hell out of Mark Cuban.  Figuring out what he wants and needs in a game would become your top priority.  You’d want to know all there is to know about him before even thinking about potential game designs.  

It would be smart to pitch Mark some ideas to see what he liked the best before starting development.  How invaluable would his feedback be?  It could certainly save you from building a game based on bad assumptions.

Let’s say you build the perfect game for Mark.  He LOVES it!  How much do you think he’d be willing to pay for the game?  Do you think he’d cover the cost of producing it?

This “One-For-Each” strategy is unrealistic.  Games simply cost too much money to be tailored to individuals.  This cost is greater than the amount an individual would be willing to pay.  This strategy is certainly not a sustainable approach to making games for a living.

Middle Ground: One Game, Some Players


The compromise between a “One-For-Each” and a “One-For-All” strategy is the essence of a marketing concept known as targeting.  Targeting allows you to treat a similar group of players as though they were a single customer.  It’s the best of both worlds.

Targeting is the process of identifying customers for whom the company will optimize its offering.  Simply put, targeting reflects the company’s choice of which customers it will prioritize and which customers it will ignore when designing, communicating, and delivering its offering.” (Strategic Marketing Management - The Framework, 10th Edition by Dr. Alexander Chernev)

Many indie developers seem to have a “make the game first, then worry about marketing afterward” mentality.  

What they don’t realize is that marketing was already happening in their ideas phase.  Picking a game genre is targeting, and targeting is marketing!  They’re just not doing it intentionally.

Because of their lack of intentional marketing, game developers take a tremendous risk when they produce their games.  They don’t consider their players' preferences nor how well the competition is currently satisfying them. This is the opposite strategy one would likely take when producing a game for Mark Cuban!

Targeting can help drive game design decisions.  It Takes Two and A Way Out are two great examples of this.  Hazelight Studios targeted players that wanted co-op. They ignored players that wanted a single-player experience.  The result was two non-watered-down co-op games that were overwhelmingly successful!     

Dr. Chernev talks about two approaches to targeting; strategic and tactical.  Strategic targeting is focused on customer needs and their ability to create value for you.  Tactical targeting deals with how to reach strategically targeted customers.  They go hand in hand and are discussed further below.

Strategic Targeting

Dr. Chernev says, “Strategic targeting identifies customers whose needs the company aims to fulfill by tailoring its offerings to fit these needs.”  

According to Dr. Chernev, “[...] strategic targeting starts with identifying the specific customer need(s) that the company aims to fulfill with its offering.”  Your game fulfills players’ needs.  The word ‘needs’ is used loosely here and represents players’ desires, preferences, and wants.  

A tradeoff must be made between the specificity of the players’ needs and the size of the target segment.  Your game should deliberately focus on who not to delight just as much as who it should delight. This allows you to focus your time and resources on being the best at fulfilling a specific need for a specific group of players.

Dr. Chernev also explains the offering must satisfy these needs better than the competition.  This makes logical sense.  If two identical games are released at the same time, the only way they can compete for players is by discounting.  This drives the value of both games down.

Beyond the competition, you must also consider your available resources to meet players’ needs when deciding who to serve.  Do you have the skills, people, know-how, capital, collaborators, and/or access to licenses to satisfy the needs of the target segment you are considering?  Are these resources enough to beat the competition?

Finally, you must consider the value that the target players can provide as it relates to your goals.  This player value does not just have to be based on sales!  The player value can be strategic as well.  Take strategic social value as an example.  Perhaps the players you target can influence other players to purchase another game you offer. 

Strategic targeting is only half the battle.  This is because often, customers’ needs and the value they can provide to you are not well known and utilizable in terms of being able to reach them exclusively.  This is where tactical targeting comes in.

Tactical Targeting 


Dr. Chernev states that “[...] tactical targeting aims to identify an effective and cost-efficient approach to communicating and delivering the offering to already selected target customers.”

Tactical targeting is especially relevant for advertising efforts.  Many advertising platforms allow you to specify the characteristics of the audience to which they show your ads.  Often, they charge you per thousand impressions of your ads.  Trying to reach all the 3.38 billion players would not be cost-efficient or effective.  

In a perfect world, you could rely solely on the needs-based target segment you identified with your strategic targeting efforts.  Unfortunately, you can rarely rely 100% on strategic targeting.  Conversely, you risk misidentifying the target market if you rely 100% on tactical targeting.  The goal of tactical targeting is to get a good enough overlap of your strategic target with your tactical target.

Tactical targeting involves grouping players based on demographics, geolocation, psychographics, and behavior.  You do this in a way that maximizes the inclusion of your strategically targeted market while also maximizing the exclusion of the players you chose to ignore strategically.


Demographic factors include characteristics such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Income
  • Social Class
  • Education Level


These characteristics describe where the player is.  It can include a permanent address, city, state, or country.  It can also include where a player shops, dines, or drinks!


Dr. Chernev explains that “Psychographic factors reflect facets of an individual’s personality [...]” and include:

  • Moral values
  • Attitudes
  • Interests
  • Lifestyles 

He cautions that “psychographics are often not readily observable and instead are inferred from a customer’s observable characteristics and actions.”


These characteristics typically describe actions that players have taken.  Some examples that Dr. Chernev mentions are as follows:

  • Is the customer new to the category
  • Is the player your current customer
  • Is the player one of your competitors’ customers
  • Purchase frequency
  • Sensitivity to your promotional activities
  • Price Sensitivity
  • Loyalty
  • Typical mode of purchase (online or offline)
  • Ways in which they learn about new products
  • How they socialize
  • How they spend their free time


Dr. Chernev defines segmentation as “[...] a categorization process that groups customers by focusing on those differences that are relevant for targeting and ignoring those differences that are irrelevant.” 

The principles for strategic and tactical targeting apply to segmentation as well.  Segmentation is also broken down into strategic segmentation and tactical segmentation.  

According to Dr. Chernev, “Strategic segmentation groups customers based on the value that the company can create and capture from these customers.” and it “lays the groundwork for strategic targeting which involves selecting one (or more) of the identified segments that the company will serve by tailoring its offering to the needs of targeted customers.”  

Further, he explains that tactical segmentation “lays the groundwork for tactical targeting, which identifies the specific channels to be used to reach strategically viable customers in order to communicate and deliver the company’s offering.”  Additionally,  “Tactical segmentation groups customers into segments based on their profile characteristics: demographics and behavior.”

Segmentation and targeting go hand in hand.  Targeting informs a strategy for segmenting.  Segmenting then informs the strategy for targeting.  This is an iterative process. 

Before segmenting the market, you should know who your target players might be and what value you and your company can provide them.  

A segment must be defined appropriately to be selected as a target.  There are three fundamental segmentation principles.  

First, a segment should be relevant to your targeting strategy.  There are nearly an infinite number of ways to group the 3.38 billion players.  Jumping right into segmenting without a north star will likely result in wasted effort.  Your targeting strategy should drive this segmentation so that groups of players will respond the same way to your offering.  

Second, a segment should include players with similar needs. The more segments, the more similar players are to each other within a segment.  This also reduces your target market size.  A balance needs to be found such that the granularity of your segmentation allows a large enough target market size to hit your financial and strategic goals. 

Lastly, your segmentation should divide all the players into segments and not exclude any player from the overall market.  In other words, it is comprehensive.  If it is comprehensive, you can avoid excluding players from even being considered as a target segment.

Take Aways

  1. Video game marketing typically starts in the ideation phase, even if developers are unaware that they are beginning to market their games.
  2. Targeting involves making decisions about which groups of players to serve, and which to ignore.
  3. Start by evaluating yourself, your collaborators, and your company to determine what unique games, mechanics, and features you can use to satisfy your players' needs better than the competition.
  4. Strategically segment players based on their needs and the value they can provide to you and your collaborators.
  5. Strategically target a segment by deciding which segment you will create a game for and which you will ignore.  Refine your strategic segmentation, if needed.
  6. Ensure you have a rough understanding of which communication channels you can use to reach your strategically targeted segment and what criteria you can use to target your communication.
  7. Tactically segment your strategically targeted players by using demographic, geolocation, behavioral, and psychographic characteristics.  Ensure that there is a good overlap between your strategically identified segment and these new segments.
  8. Tactically target your segment to determine how you will reach your players.
  9. Use your strategic and tactically targeted players as a filter to build a game as though they were one player, like Mark Cuban!

Hopefully, this article has shined a light on how you can start intentionally marketing your next game!  Best of luck to your future game development projects!

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