Four issues shaping the future of video game marketing
A view from Andrew Cook

Four issues shaping the future of video game marketing

As we approach the 20th birthday of Sony's game-changing consoles and we see the next generation of platforms released, it's interesting to reflect on how much gaming and gaming marketing has changed and predict what its future might be.

What’s clear is that, although gaming is more widespread than ever before, we are seeing a clear split in the gaming market. On one side we have the traditional gamers spending their free time playing mainstream online multiplayer titles, and on the other the new breed of casual mobile gamer – driving expansion of the gaming market and monetisation via micro-in-game purchases.

But what of game marketing? Over recent years we have seen big changes, perhaps best illustrated through the changing nature of our work with EA Games and specifically their Battlefield and Harry Potter franchises.

From a display led, destination/microsite led approach, EA has moved to a focus on building a strong social community and using this to deliver data-driven insights with which to give their marketing greater efficacy. It’s this approach that has helped Battlefield become the number 1 social brand.

Thanks to an audience of early adopters, gaming companies were some of the first to understand the power of building and harnessing large communities. However, as their audience evolves beyond the hardcore gamers and the gaming landscape becomes increasingly crowded with both titles and platforms, how do they retain cut-through? We believe four key issues will become increasingly important over the coming years:

1. Data informing creativity

The gaming industry has access to huge amounts of customer data, covering everything from purchase to how consumers actually play their games. This data can be used to generate powerful insights. We recently used in-community insights to great success to inform the creation of a piece of video content for the latest DLC release for Battlefield 3 (pictured) celebrating hugely popular Battlefield Moments (in-game stunts uploaded to YouTube).

Gearbox also looked to their communities when developing DLC for their Borderlands games. They interacted with and listened to their communities to determine which elements of the game were loved and began to create pieces of narrative driven DLC about these loved characters and mechanics. By doing this they made players feel valued and drove interest in the DLC.

The wealth of data available to the games industry will continue to increase, particularly through advances such as the Xbox One’s ability to use Kinect to observe player reactions to games, media and marketing. By embracing data points like this, the games industry can revolutionise the way that marketing delivered by tailoring it to the behaviours of individuals.

2. Moving from single hit marketing to 365 engagement

There will always be a place for launch marketing, to drive awareness of a title’s impending release, but as the gaming lifecycle evolves and extends beyond a 10 hour single player experience it is imperative that marketing can continue to engage. While titles like Battlefield will offer DLC content to keep players engaged, single-hit titles like FIFA have to find other ways to maintain interest.

Obviously the nature of sports games like FIFA mean they have a longer lifecycle, but by working with EA we managed to create a mechanic to leverage and amplify the engagement within social. One of the most popular pieces of content was when EA staff pulled together goals uploaded by the community into a Goals of the Week video, however the process for both fans and EA was labour intensive and difficult. 

We focussed on formalising the activity and making the process simpler and more intuitive for fans to enter their goals and EA staff to manage the process. The end result was the Goals of the Week Facebook app, which is now into it’s second season, having already accrued over 20m video views.

As broadband increases in speed and becomes more robust we will see online gaming increase even further and with it the natural lifecycle of games begin to diminish. The longevity of online games is fundamentally dependent on keeping large volumes of gamers playing, so retaining interest will become of increasing importance.

3. Adopting and evolving the freemium model

The sheer volume of games on offer has led to a very crowded marketplace which makes it critical to get players hooked on the premise of the game in order to get them to hand over their money. 

Freemium titles such as Clash of Clans generate huge amounts of money every day by getting people to try for free and them banking on the quality of the game to make them so invested that they want to upgrade their experience through payment.

Although trials exist for console games they are limited in their scope and due to still being in development can often generate a negative experience. To rectify this more studios are turning to mobile in order to drive familiarity and to ensure the player has invested enough to go on to purchase the console version. WB Montreal and EA have released free mobile versions of recent titles while others have used mobile to explore alternate narratives for their titles, such as EA with Mass Effect: Infiltrator.

Sooner or later console titles will shift this model even further by fully attempting to adopt the freemium model and giving away a basic version of their game for free and purchasing additional content to extend their experience. Through this players can build their own experience, purchasing any additional content they desire such as characters, narrative gameplay and even the option to play online.

4. The rise of immersion…

As the next generation of consoles and are released and titles like Grand Theft Auto V show there is still life in the current generation of consoles, it is clear that we are we are reaching a new level of immersive gaming. 

This is an area where traditional console gaming will always have an advantage over mobile gaming, so showcasing the power of the game engine in an interesting way will always achieve cut-through – as long as it’s actually representative of the finished game.

Two years ago Deep Silver achieved huge amounts of interest in their game Dead Island through an incredible trailer combining amazing graphics with a haunting narrative which played out backwards.  To promote Crysis 2 we took its theme of urban warfare, projecting the game on buildings around London and Paris, and inviting passers-by to play in these unusual situations. We created a video intertwining gameplay with the real-life footage we shot which emphasised the nature of the gameplay, and received amazing cut-through with the fans.

Over the next five years we will see immersion in gaming taken to the next level as devices such as the Oculus Rift change the way we experience games whilst the potential of the next generation of consoles is unlocked. Studios will use greater depths of immersion as the differentiating factor between their title and others’, so marketing becomes increasingly important in selling this experience.

Gaming marketing has led the way for a very long time, but now as with film, the traditional marketing channels and formats and beginning to feel tired and lose their penetration in the market.  As the audience continues to grow and diversify, there is an incredible opportunity for gaming studios. 

Gaming will increasingly become a central part of our culture, and greater accessibility to games combined with greater levels of immersion will lead to people more willing to spend their hard-earned cash on games. Marketing will become increasingly important to make titles stand out in a crowded market and drive continued engagement after purchase, but it needs to evolve at the same rate as the rest of the gaming industry to deliver this.

Andrew Cook, planner at digital agency, Collective London

This article was first published on The Wall Blog