Rolling for Initiative is a weekly column by Scott Thorne, PhD, owner of Castle Perilous Games & Books in Carbondale, Illinois and instructor in marketing at Southeast Missouri State University.  This week, Thorne looks at the history of marketing and how it applies to the games business.

Fall classes and the 2019-2020 school year start this week so with a new slew of students coming into class I figure now is a good time for a refresher look at the history of marketing, which is, if you make, distribute or sell a game, an activity in which you engage.  Marketing itself, when you look at it as the process by which a good or service moves from the producer to the consumer, dates back to ancient times with much exploration due to seeking new trade routes or access to products.  Columbus’ voyages, for example, were undertaken to find a shorter, and therefore less costly route from Europe to Asia.  Printed and clay seals used  to consistently identify the producer of such products as wine and olive oil were used in Mesopotamia  as early as the 4th century BCE while archaeologists have found marks in Pompeii indicating Umbricius Scaurus branded his own fish sauce as early as 35 CE However the term "marketing"  first applied to buying and selling products during the 16th century CE while the use of the term in its modern sense first appeared in Harper’s Magazine in 1884.

Marketing can be divided into three general areas or eras:  production, selling and consumer and, much like the development of study of marketing, all took place within the past century.

During the production era which ran from time immemorial until about the 1930s, the focus was on production.  Consumers did not have much choice, nor for that matter did producers.  If you wanted to make a product, you were pretty much limited to what you had on hand.  Similarly, if a customer wanted to buy something, they were generally limited to a very small or no selection.  The production era can be summed up in Henry Ford’s phrase "You can have any color you want, as long as it’s black," which Ford famously said in 1909.  The customer had very little choice or say in what they wanted and had to take what was available.

Over the next few decades, more producers entered the market (rather like the gaming industry over the past decade) and the focus shifted from customers having to select and purchase from the products that producers have available to a more active "selling era" in which producers, instead of merely making products available to consumers, actively started selling their products to them.  Although advertising and other forms of promotion existed before this period, their use quadrupled with the advent of the selling era, as producers competed with each other to sell their products with no consideration as to how well the product met the consumers’ needs.  The focus was on mass marketing and selling as much product as possible to as wide a group of consumers as possible.

Currently we are in the marketing or consumer era where the focus has shifted to the consumer.  Marketing firms segment and target the consumer, analyzing their wants and needs in order to make products to satisfy said wants and needs.  Markets are generally much smaller than in the selling era so less of a given product will sell but the producer has a much more satisfied consumer who will likely return to purchase from them again.  TCGs are a great example of products produced with a marketing focus as each TCG alters its positioning slightly, so that there is not a huge crossover between Magic and Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh! and Force of Will players.  Yes, there are some players who will play several different types of TCGs but the overwhelming number stick with their preferred game and are happy with it.  That’s the power of good marketing.

The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of