World of Goo: an America's Hottest Brands Case Study

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World of Goo
Without money for an office, support staff or marketing, Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel, creators of World of Goo, were forced into a tactic most big, experienced marketers have yet to master: getting the product and its fans to do the talking for you.

The pair of ex-Electronic Arts employees have become indie gaming's poster children. After branching out on their own under the guise 2DBoy, and using WiFi-enabled coffee shops in San Francisco as their studios, they launched World of Goo in late 2008 for Nintendo WiiWare; it's also available on Windows, Mac and Linux. In its first six months, it sold almost 200,000 copies at $20 a pop, per VGChartz.com.

The physics-based game, which requires users to create structures using balls of goo, is the right product at the right time, as casual gaming is soaring. But the pair chalks up their marketing success to a combination of "common sense and creative ideas." A promotional strategy focused on word-of-mouth and giving bloggers and media something to write about went into everything from the design of the game's levels to the platforms for which it was developed. For example, Messrs. Gabler and Carmel knew the Linux community was exceptionally vocal—and that fewer game developers release versions for it. So they built a Linux version and got props from the community and sites such as Slashdot and Ars Technica.

Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler
Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler
The game's early publicity, explained Mr. Carmel, "seemed to happen on its own, we just had to not stop it from happening. We'd take every interview opportunity we could and send out free copies to everyone who asked. We were paranoid about it at first—should we do that?" They were worried, just like their big-developer counterparts, about rampant video-game piracy. "But then we realized every game gets pirated and the fact we are means there's demand for it."

More recently, the pair drummed up chatter around the game's one-year anniversary, launching a two-week "pay what you want" promotion that racked up 83,000 more sales. (The average price paid was around $2.)

Despite the success, don't look for them to get snapped up by a giant publishing house any time soon. "One of the driving forces behind the indie-gaming movement is creative control," said Mr. Carmel. "Selling the game to a publisher, getting funded by a publisher is the old way of looking at things."

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