I have an idea for a video game. Actually, I’ve been making it for about six months now.
My video game is a rhythm-based game. It’s also an American football game. To play it, you choose between plays, just like any sports game … but your play only succeeds if you push the buttons in rhythm with the music. (The other player plays as the defense, and they will be trying to send you the wrong notes, to distract you.) My friend, well, ‘co-developer,’ he’s writing all the music for me.
Do you think this is a good idea for a game? Will you play it for me to see if it’s any fun? I actually don’t have a lot of money left, and neither of us are really sure what to spend the rest of it on…also, when should I announce it? And where? Can you help me figure all this stuff out?
None of the above is true. (Sorry, there is no rhythm football game.) However, it’s exactly scenarios like these where many of your favorite video games have once found themselves; games big and small often face all manner of practical budgetary, creative, and big-picture marketing dilemmas. What many people don’t realize, however, is that video game developers often never solve these problems themselves. That’s because there exists a maven industry that’s centered around fixing these problems for them.
And frankly, you might never have played some of your favorite video games had these companies not existed.
The former Nintendo employees who now fix games
From 2013-2021, Kit Ellis and Krysta Yang hosted a news and entertainment show for Nintendo that ran for over 400 episodes.
For those eight years, their micro-show, ‘Nintendo Minute’ (with its oft-repeated tagline reminding viewers its running time was “never a minute”), ran the gamut from behind-the-scenes game developer updates, hands-on gameplay, and irreverent silliness.
To fans and casual observers, Kit and Krysta were Nintendo’s signature hosts. Their gentle demeanors, comedic timings, and hair-brained adventures fully embodied the mold of a typical YouTube influencer, a vocation that rose in popularity alongside Nintendo Minute’s run, such that you could hardly make a distinction between the two.
It should be forgiven, then, that most people didn’t realize Ellis and Yang were deeply embedded into Nintendo of America’s senior team alongside other notable employees, such as former COO Reggie Fils-Aimé and Vice President of Player & Product Experience Bill Trinen. They also had frequent contact with the biggest figures at NCL in Japan.
What Ellis and Yang lacked that their co-workers had were business suits which insinuated their extended roles. They were most frequently filmed dressed in — and surrounded by — company merch. They sparred with each other over personal gaming opinions. They projected a persona of being a fan. Yet in reality, while it’s true they are both, in fact, massive fans of the company they once worked for, their actual titles at Nintendo were Director of Social Marketing and Original Content (Kit) and Senior Manager of Creator Relations (Krysta). Before those titles, both were long-time PR managers at Nintendo.
“We both were leads at Nintendo shipping games that sold 30 million copies. I did Breath of the Wild, (Krysta) did Super Smash Bros. Ultimate…I was managing a team of 12 people,” Ellis tells us at PAX West 2023. “Our main job was to launch games,” adds Yang. “It’s funny that externally people know us for Nintendo Minute. Frankly, if you look at our time spent at Nintendo, Nintendo Minute was [a] very small portion. I’m gonna say [it was] probably less than 5% of the work we did.”
And yet, there aren’t too many Senior Managers of Creator Relations whose departure would receive as much widespread mourning and positive fan outpourings, as was the case when both Ellis and Yang announced their nearly simultaneous departures from Nintendo back in January of 2022.
While they publically billed their exits as reasonable due course after a long stint at the company, shortly afterward, the two started a Patreon for The Kit and Krysta Podcast, a show that borrows the sensibilities of Nintendo Minute, but with fewer restrictions, and with an industry-wide scope.
Then on August 3rd, 2023, the two announced the public opening of Never A Minute Consulting, their very own video game consulting agency.
Reggie is the biggest individual reason we started consulting.
“When we left Nintendo,” says Ellis, “we were very careful to not get our heads underwater with too many things without first getting comfortable…so the first step was, ‘Alright, we can start with the Kit and Krysta Podcast, that feels reasonable.’”
The two still express some sensitivity in how they’re perceived by their past employer and former colleagues. “I imagine there’s a wide range of interpretations of how people at Nintendo view what we do now,” says Ellis. “Some probably like it, some probably don’t. And that’s fine. It’s been almost two years since we left now. It’s natural that there’s a moving on process [laughter].”
But it was, in fact, someone paramount from their professional past that gave them the confidence to work on games again: Fils-Aimé himself.
“Reggie is the biggest individual reason we started consulting. When we were leaving Nintendo, he was literally the first person we spoke to. We said, ‘Here’s some ideas of things we think we could do…’” Fils-Aimé talked them through their options and encouraged the switch of careers. “We were unsure of ourselves at that point, and he really pushed us over the edge and gave us confidence.”
“He inspired us, in a way, to build this consultancy…everything we do is based on our time with him,” adds Yang
Because their hybrid careers as game marketers and boots-on-the-ground content creators are so unique, they felt there was a major opportunity. “We thought, ‘Gosh, we do have these very valuable skills,'” says Ellis, “and there is a real need within our industry for people who don’t have a way of acquiring [marketing skills]. So we were like, ‘Let’s do this.'”
What is video game consultancy, exactly?
The world of video game consultancy is relatively small, but varied, and it’s often marked by specialty.
There are service-based companies like Popagenda that specialize in “boutique-style publishing services,” which is in addition to consulting on a client’s work in progress. There’s NPD Group, a long-running agency with billion-dollar clients that also happens to service a large portion of the video game industry. They offer everything from detailed pricing analytics, to mock reviews, which is where their in-house writers provide hypothetical written and numerical review scores for still-in-progress games. This helps inform both creative and business decisions.
Those are just two examples. A basic Google search for “video game agency” will net you a couple of dozen companies of various reaches and sizes. And their ranges of services can be a godsend for someone whose strongest skillset might only be engineering, animation, or writing. Hiring one of these companies these days is “very common,” according to Yang, even for smaller game developers.
The three things marketing solves
After setting up an appointment and scheduling a survey assessment, the first step of the process is typically just finding gaps. “It’s almost like a process of us interviewing them,” explains Ellis. “Because we need to gather a lot of information, and there’s a lot of nuance and detail.”
After your game and workflow get audited, then they teach you what you probably don’t know to do to make your game seen.
“There is a big educational component that happens with smaller developers,” says Yang, “in terms of how marketing works, why it’s important, [and explaining] what we mean by ‘marketing strategy’ and ‘brand strategy.” Both Ellis and Yang stress the importance of separating out the specific ways that a video game will get noticed.
“We need to get people to know what this game is, what makes it unique, and who you are as a developer. Those are the three main things that you are solving with marketing.”
Coming up with the core message about your game is a common consulting service.
“You need to have an elevator pitch. You need to have two sentences that can describe what makes your product unique and special and be able to communicate that very easily across the board. In marketing, that’s called a ‘key proposition.’ We actually lived through a lot of this challenge with Wii U. We never had a key proposition, ever, so that’s why that product failed.”
Once you’ve got your core messaging, you definitely need to get your timeline assessed. Perhaps it’s prioritizing finding a potential publisher, or a platform. Whatever they assess, consultants build tent-pole events around whatever timeline makes sense with where you’re at, and what your resources are. Of course, that’s provided you even know how to get ahold of a publisher or platform in the first place. (There’s a line item for that, too.)
at Nintendo; the company became very data-oriented in ways that it was not in the dozen years before
Key propositioning, brand messaging, and tent-pole events are just a few of the fundamentals covered by a video game consultancy company. Never A Minute’s website offers plenty more, too, such as career coaching, and how to interact with the media. They even once took an HR-style role and helped with hiring.
Large corporate developers are certainly game for consulting, too. Beyond just the foundational tenets of marketing, they may benefit from an outside opinion as much as anybody.
“(With bigger companies), I’d like to get my hands on as much data as (they) have, and talk to the people there who are experts with the data and see how they are interpreting it,” begins Ellis. “Because maybe it could be interpreted a different way…that was a big part of our job, especially near the end, at Nintendo; the company became very data-oriented in ways that it was not in the dozen years before.”
Witnessing a titan of the gaming industry operating from the inside means they are able to help clients sidestep common pitfalls.
“One piece of advice from our experience, is avoiding any sort of knee-jerk, short-term decision-making,” explains Ellis. “That was something that Nintendo was so good at avoiding, even during hard times. They were like, ‘Let’s take the long view, let’s understand what the actual opportunity is if we really zoom out.’ Sometimes you do see companies in the industry that get in a bad position because they run after the wrong thing or went after something that didn’t have staying power.”
Rhythm Football, anyone?
So, with all this in mind, remember our football-rhythm game? Here was their assessment:
Kit: “I think one big bucket would be around branding and messaging, because it’s such a unique proposition: rhythm football. Being able to clearly communicate it through a number of mediums, whether its visual or written…what is it, and what makes it interesting? I think that’s a very fundamental question [and] is actually harder to answer than you might think for people who have been making this game for months, years even, to concisely say, “What is [this game], and what makes it cool”?
Krysta: If people don’t care or they get confused about what it is, everything else is for naught.
Kit: (And) would it even make sense to launch it in certain markets where football is not popular?
You mentioned you’ve been going for only a few months. I think, talking about when the right time is to announce a game, and how you would do it; if you’ve only been developing it for six months you might actually have quite a bit more development to go. You might need another year before it even makes sense to do an announcement. Maybe there’s other opportunities with platform holders you might want to consider? If you could get into an Indie World, that’s obviously a very big, impactful way to do an announcement. [This is] talking through all the different scenarios; no two game studios will always have the same opportunities.
You do see games that unfortunately get announced too early, there’s an initial bit of hype, and then people forget about it.
Krysta: I think the other thing that would be important is to know your near-term and long-term goals.
Is your goal in the next three months to grow your social media presence maybe so you can start to share some of your internal development stories around creating this really unique rhythm football game?
Is your goal to learn more about publishing or understanding how aspects of it work, like how to get connected to big platform holders? Maybe you have big long-term goals? Maybe you want to eventually launch that game on every platform out there? Or maybe it’s launching in some amount of time with a partner and you want to build a strategy that will lead you to the most impactful launch? Understanding your big tent poles and your big moments would be something that I would ask.
‘Never A Minute,’ together inimitable
It’s worth noting that this marketing duo is just that: two people.
But they’re two people who have worked directly with multiple CEOs of many international corporations. They’ve worked intimately with passionate yet tiny indie game developers. They’ve both been marketing leads on generational game titles, as well as full-time podcast hosts uploading thumbnails to YouTube.
She could tell me, ‘That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard in my life,’ and I’d go, ‘Oh, that must be a bad idea because I completely trust her
“I’d be hard-pressed to say that there is any other company offering what we offer, where there’s the long-term experience in the industry servicing all sorts of different games, but also has that very practical hands-on approach that we have as well,” says Ellis. “We are doing these things that we are also going to be helping you with. It’s not based on our experience from 10 years ago, it’s based on something we did earlier this morning.”
“Being on both sides gave us a really unique perspective on how we market games,” Yang agrees. “We really had a deep understanding, a deep connection to the community of people who were playing the games, as well as the marketing strategy side. And being able to marry those two…gives us a unique perspective on how to ship games.”
And if they think your game needs a specialization they can’t offer, they’re happy to refer out to a consultant who can. “That’s kind of a classic trope of a big agency or consultancy,” says Ellis. “You bring in the very seasoned person to do the pitch and seal the deal, and when you actually get to work it’s like, ‘Oh,’ you don’t get the person with experience that you thought. But again, we are a two-person organization.”
“When someone works with us, they get both of us,” says Yang. “There is a lot of, I think, value in that. We are able to bounce ideas off each other, use each other as inspiration, and that really helps to come up with the best plan possible.” On the unique synergy, Ellis explains, “She could tell me, ‘That’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard in my life,’ and I’d go, ‘Oh, that must be a bad idea because I completely trust her, and trust her different perspective that I might not have.”
“And I have,” jokes Yang, though they admit they are almost never out of lockstep. This includes a desire to keep the company relatively intimate — indefinitely. “I think [rapid growth] might be the goal of some people,” says Ellis. “Let’s make the company as big as it can be, have as many people as possible, and try and have some end goal of being bought by some other big agency. I mean, it might be nice to add some people along the way, but those are not our goals.”
On their ultimate goal, Yang concludes, “There are people who are making these really incredible games, and they never see the light of day. Because the competition is fiercer than ever.”
“I think we really just want to help people.”