The gaming industry has come a long way ever since it moved from arcade game machines to the Personal Computers that nearly every person had in their house. Nobody really expected that this form of entertainment, which was primarily designed for children would reach the levels of profitability it is currently holding.
Companies like Nintendo that pioneered the mass adoption of video games in every household, after the introduction of a console could have been the ones that introduced this craze for various forms of entertainment without having to leave the comforts of one’s house.
Ever since then we’ve been getting console after console, game after game, but some sell much better than others. In fact, some games don’t even need extensive marketing, all they need is just a small announcement that the game is coming out next week, which is more than enough to generate enough sales to cover the costs.
How do these developers manage to be successful in their business while creating a product only once a year? Furthermore, that product is not a necessity in contrast to smartphones or various other products that also come out on a yearly basis.
Let’s try to dive into the marketing strategies of these video game studios to find out what they use in order to build a community, or simply sell their games to people that have never even heard about them.
The Nostalgic value
The primary target for video games has gradually shifted from kids to teenagers, to young adults and in some cases fully-fledged by grown men and women. This shift was designed purely for monetary purposes, as the developers knew that highly violent or complex games would either be much more appreciated by a mature audience, or at least a mature audience would have the means to buy it themselves.
However, that shift quickly shifted as well. Even though there are dozens of developers right now that focus on introducing the next big video game, there are multiple others that try to re-work their most iconic franchises that came out as early as the 90s or the 80s.
This is what we call Nostalgia marketing. Back when these games were targeted at kids in most cases are now somehow redundant in their design and gameplay mechanics. However, the nostalgic value with the kids who played these games, that are now adults is still there, meaning that the community around the game still exists as various Reddit users tend to remember the “good old times”.
Most of these developers focus on that keyword “the good old times”. With daily responsibilities and almost no free time, introducing a game that takes a person back to the days they could have fun all day is an amazing way to awaken emotion. And we all know that people buy products mostly based on emotions rather than practicality.
Things like the re-worked Mario games, Zelda games and etc are the primary examples of such marketing strategies. In the adverts we can always hear “remember your childhood?”, they’re mostly directed at the people that are now all grown up and want that hit of nostalgia and hindsight of their childhood.
Variations of nostalgia
Although it may seem that nostalgia-based marketing campaigns are targeted towards kids that are now adults, there are several segments in the gaming industry that targets adults that were adults when they played it.
Although it’s not the best kind gaming segment, it still has its fair share of the gaming market share. I’m speaking about wagering and those slot machines that you see in casinos.
In fact, you’ll notice that most of those machines have moved to the digital space now, which opened up millions of opportunities to revamp them, and most developer studios did that exactly. But simply taking a look at almost all of them, we’ll see that they have at least one game released which is a “throwback” to the 80s and 90s where the rolling reels of 7s and fruits were all the craze in Vegas.
According to Sergei Brisnov, a senior developer at one of the Australian gambling software providers uniqueness isn’t necessarily what will get you in the “topmost played slots” list at all:
“We’ve had moments where we designed a truly revolutionary game, it would have dozens of features, animations and overall much better entertainment value than any other game in the market. We’d make sure that nearly every attempt at trying to win something would lead to something. But it wasn’t the “similar” games that were the hardest to beat in terms of competition, it was the ones based on the 80s and 90s slots, you know the ones with 7s, bars, and fruits.
Those games had 10 times less the features our modern game used to have, but the nostalgia still forced older players to transition into those games.
We once tried to make a similar game, based on nostalgia and everything with very little effort, it was like a 2-week project. That game is still one of our best-performing ones so far. It truly is hard to understand why people shy away from the new and cling to the old, but numbers are numbers”.
One very important detail Brisnov mentioned in his comment is the failure to cope with the new when there’s something from the old days available. It’s true that people fear change, which is capitalized on by many developers.
Another important “niche” for marketing a video game is when the developer tries to tackle some kind of drama or social unrest issue. However, there are examples of how-to and how not to tackle these issues. It’s important to note that the core product of the company is the game itself and the entertainment value that it provides. If there is something “inserted” in the game, and the word inserted is important here, then the general public is not going to react well to that.
But let’s shy away from the game itself and focus on the marketing aspect. These days, most games are expected to be inclusive and politically correct. Some studios event hire professionals in these fields to guide them through the development process. But no matter how one may try, there will always be somebody who’s upset. In this case, it’s important to differentiate who is the person you’re upsetting. Are they a potential or current customer? Or are they just a heckler seeking attention.
In most cases, those who heckle games for their lack of diversity or alleged small hits on racism are not regular consumers of gaming products themselves. It’s usually several media outlets that try to drive the controversy and make a topic out of it. This is the moment where developers need to take a stance. They either cave into the demands of the non-customer pool and try to seem much more PC that way, or they can side utterly with their fan-base and garner much more customer loyalty.
It may seem like a no-brainer to go with the extra customer loyalty, but it’s important to note that growth is the goal of every company, therefore alienating potential future customers is also a major loss as well.
However, statistics show that developers stayed by the side of their consumers did much better on their video game sales than those that caved into outsider demands and altered the game.
It’s not only about the product you bring forth, but the image you create of your brand. In the latter’s case, it’s creating the assumption that they’re ready to alter history or pretty much anything the moment somebody becomes upset, and that’s a hit to the stability and reliability of the company, which neither the customer nor the investor is fond of.
Influencers and showcasing
It’s easy to say that a large chunk of the entertainment industry is slowly starting to move over to YouTube. TV shows are just a few years away from becoming absolutely redundant, and news channels are slowly dying as well.
Therefore, advertisers need to find completely new ways of influencing their audience, but why influence their audience alone? Why not somebody else’s?
Multiple YouTubers are starting to have millions of subscribers and views on their videos if they simply mention a brand’s name or play their game, that’s exposure to millions of potential buyers, which is much more effective than an ad roll on TV, or an ad banner on one of the blogs.
However, there needs to be some kind of direction in how the influencer promotes the game. If it’s just blatant promotion where they don’t enjoy what they’re playing or seem to be forced to do so, it’s not going to generate any sort of sales.
That is why most developers conduct their influencer marketing campaigns just a few weeks before the official release. This is handed out to the biggest YouTubers who then play these games and either showcase the gameplay or come up with a comprehensive review before the release.
However, it’s important to note that influencer marketing alone is not enough in this case. The influencers themselves need to be interested in the game, which is achieved through traditional digital marketing means, or just community marketing and management.