By David Getson
Video games inspire a level of engagement and fandom that most brands would kill for. Successful game brands are more than a recurring touchpoint in a fan’s daily life; they can become a meaningful part of a fan’s identity. As we look at current trends in games marketing, some emerge as critical indicators for other brands looking to build passionate fan communities.
Community, not customers
Marketers often view their audiences as consumers to move through a sales funnel towards a purchase transaction. With games, the goal is different: we need to transform customers into fans by inspiring passion. And when fans are connected as a community, the power of that passion becomes unified and magnified. This is when a brand begins to take on a life of its own and becomes part of culture.
Building these relationships requires transparent, continuous two-way communication and a willingness to listen and react. This is in contrast to traditional advertising strategies that are more one-way in nature.
This approach suggests a rethink on traditional key performance indicators, timing, and channels. Beyond reach and frequency, engagement and sentiment become more important markers of a campaign’s progress.
The always-on model
Game publishers are releasing fewer stand-alone games per year and moving away from annualized sequels. Instead, more games are pursuing an “always-on” model, rolling out an endless stream of updates, expansions and new content. Often, the initial product is free or low-cost, and the longtail of microtransactions is where the financial upside is found.
This “live-service” approach requires a more continuous cadence of communication with the community, and more creative ways of ensuring that fans remain informed and excited about what’s happening next. But, when successful, this shift results in deeper, more sustained engagement; larger, more active fan communities; less churn and lapsed users; and ultimately higher revenue for brands.
Brands including TV series, film franchises, and OTT platforms have an opportunity to consider how the always-on model might apply.
Power of events
Marketers of always-on game brands are getting increasingly savvy about curating “can’t-miss” shared experiences. These events can be both in-product, as with Fortnite’s in-game Marshmello concert (“attended” by more than 10 million Fortnite gamers); or “IRL,” as with Blizzard Entertainment’s annual gaming convention, BlizzCon (which pulls nearly 50,000 together locally while reaching millions who stream it online). Events like these drive FOMO, deepen the fan-brand connection, strengthen the bonds of the community and ultimately result in invaluable organic sharing potential and earned media.
The creator-fan connection
Digital evolution continues to reduce the need for middlemen like publishers and retailers, enabling creators to deliver their product, content and dialogue directly to fans. In the games sector, this means that development studios, which once relied on publishers to handle marketing and distribution, are increasingly able to transition into publishers themselves (as Epic did with Fortnite and Bungie is doing with Destiny). Similarly, flattening ecosystems across other media sectors—from TV and film to pro sports—unlocks new options and new upside for creators and talent to have a more direct relationship to fans.
Game marketers continue to lead the way on how to effectively engage, resource and support influencers. Game brands that leverage influencers most powerfully are cultivating relationships that are significantly more entrenched than simply paying fees and staging promotions. This results in influencers who become trusted insiders capable of providing a unique and meaningful sense of access to their viewers.
David Getson is CEO of gnet. This article is published in collaboration with Adage.com.