How video game marketing works and what are the tips and tricks

Although many wouldn’t expect to see the video game industry grow into the size it is currently today, it’s a fact that these gaming studios are one of the most influential corporations on the new and even old generation as of today.

The content that these companies are able to produce is one of the if not the most in-demand products in the current market reality. Due to such growth, many entrepreneurs were able to notice the growing trends and joined in on the fun as fast as they could, but the introduction of venture capitalists and the attention the industry is garnering from investors opens up the playing field for pretty much any developer from any country.

In order to stay on top of their games, developers need to adhere to quite a lot of social taboos, gamer demands and the value of their games. Although all of that comes into play when the game is officially released and is ready to sell, the prerequisite marketing tactics can have a life or death situation for these products.

The fact is that games don’t sell as regular products, they have alternate strategies, simply based on the fact that they have a very unique market to cater to.

Let’s look at some of the most common industry tactics that game studios use and some alternative strategies that were controversial at first glance, but managed to shine through regardless.

Nostalgia

There are several game studios that have been around for quite a long time. Brands like Nintendo hinge on selling their products based on nostalgic feelings for their players, simply based on the fact that most of them have grown up and started their own families ever since the Nintendo golden age.

There are multiple content creators today who based their success on playing old school Nintendo games and the company managed to catch that unique selling point with great accuracy. Every time we see them promote a new game, it will always have an easter egg or a hint in the trailer to the good old days, which flares up emotions in grown-up customer bases and prompts them to purchase the game “just this once”.

Although there is just one case like this in the industry currently, we need to consider what will happen 10 or 20 years from now, where most of the “new” gaming studios will be a thing of nostalgia for games in their early stages of life.

An example of this marketing strategy can be seen not only with video games but with games of chance as well. Much like video games like Super Mario or Pacman have a long-standing history in the gaming community, so do some games of chance with actual adults now.

For example one of the Australian gambling software providers always models their wagering games on iterations of age-long traditions and tastes. Although the industry has progressed much further than a very simplistic game design of just a couple of outcomes, there are many veterans out there that enjoy the classics of wagering games, like the ones we’ve seen in Hollywood movies featuring Las Vegas.

Anne Solberg, a lead designer of one of these software providers has mentioned:

“It’s astonishing how sometimes a very low effort game can captivate a lot more players than a game that took months to make in terms of design, development and overall gameplay mechanics. I’ve seen games that have just one action or one combination that can lead to a win be more in demand than games that have thousands of possibilities for players. 100% of those simplistic games were always based on the ones seen in Vegas in the 70s and 80s.” 

Overall, this comment from Solberg sets the stage that gamers purchase their games based on emotions.

Added value

An example of added value could be games about solving puzzles, history or any other science or additional knowledge that the player can receive while playing them.

Games like these usually come through the genre of Strategy. Marketers always use the opportunity to promote these games like promising players immersion in a time period they will be playing in if the game is based on historical facts.

One such example is the Total War series, which markets itself based on this one important aspect. They always use catchphrases like “change the history” or “play as your ancestors” which gives additional intrigue to the players and a desire to play around with reality.

Needless to say, these two examples were largely based on the design of the games rather than universal marketing strategies. Let’s now move into more controversial decisions that studios have made in the past.

Tackling controversy

The video game industry has been the target of criticism multiple times, especially when the topic is about social issues. There have been numerous cases where journalists bashed a studio for not including enough diverse characters or disregarding instances where the game teaches about social values and issue plaguing modern societies.

Most of these allegations were met with prompt updates to the game which catered to the “demands” of these media outlets and the “so-called” outrage. One thing that companies didn’t notice in these cases was that the people making this allegation and claiming a violation of social norms were not customers that they should be targeting, therefore most updates were in direct contradiction to their audience, who wanted the portrayal of truth and facts, rather than fiction and fantasy.

One such example is Battlefield 5, which was bashed by all sides of the political spectrum due to manipulating history and telling a biased story of an event which should respect and remember the heroes that layed down their lives.

The marketing from the developer also came in as a detriment, when they directly attacked their player base, saying that it’s either their way or the highway. Needless to say, Battlefield 5 was one of the worst-selling games of that company.

The other side of the spectrum is Cyberpunk 2077, which was bashed due to inappropriate images during its promotional trailer, however, the marketing team managed to handle it much better in this case.

The arguments were based on facts that the resource material was indicating how it needed to be, and they were going to do it justice no matter how many social taboos they broke. This garnered much-needed support and respect from the gaming community, which is absolutely essential for a good sales campaign before the game’s official release.

The difference we see between these two examples is pretty clear. One’s marketing was based on emotions, while the other was based on logic. Although both of these are essential for a game to develop brand loyalty, it’s important to note that Cyberpunk 2077 focused on their actual client base, while Battlefield 5 focused on conforming to the norms of social activists who are rarely the customers of such companies.

The lesson here is quite simple. As long as you focus on your target audience and don’t cater to external demands, you’re going to have brand loyalty and admiration.

The use of influencers

Let’s now stay away from politics and popular culture a bit and focus on the brand ambassadors that are absolutely essential for video game developers to sell their games, especially if they’re a new company.

It’s no secret that most of the video game content is consumed on YouTube, where content creators thrive and drive some traffic to a popular streaming service, Twitch as well.

Due to so much traction, it is absolutely essential for gaming studios to have both large and small influencers play and recommend these games to their audience.

It has been proven multiple times that an overwhelming majority waits until the gameplay footage before buying the game, that’s why reviewing packages are a thing.

But the thing to note here is that popular reviewing brands such as PC Gamer and whatnot are starting to lose trust from their player base as they’ve become much more generous with their ratings over the years, while YouTubers go to bigger lengths to review the games and give them fair ratings, which makes them much more influential.

Overall, as long as there is a large resource of influencers that are ready to take a look at your game, it should be an absolute no-brainer to allow them to do so, as long as they publish this content on one of their channels, be it Twitch or YouTube doesn’t matter.

So what are the essentials of video game marketing?

From the examples above we can say that the most essential thing about selling modern video games is to focus on the client base and the client base only, to model the game around their preferences and not one’s own.

If you’re making a “retro” styled game, then it should focus on awakening nostalgia in gamers. The best way to do so is to make the game a platformer, which is sure to remind thousands of players of their childhood.

And when it comes to public outrage, it’s best to stick to your guns as long as your fan base shares your opinion.

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