The bedrock of any video game or console launch is its marketing.
Only with an eye-catching campaign and memorable messages can any games blockbuster hope to draw in the millions of consumers required to make it a success.
But the days of just targeting gamers through specialist channels are long gone. It's a new world, one of trailers that are broadcast through everything from console dashboards to online banner ads. A world of constant conversation with avid fans and uninformed consumers alike through social media. A world of following potential customers throughout their daily lives – at work, at home and in transit – via mobile apps, billboards and coverwraps on freesheets.
In such a diverse, crowded and at times confusing market, the best marketing practices have evolved beyond anything we could have predicted even five years ago. With that in mind, MCV looks at the most crucial truths behind the art of marketing games today.
RULE 1: YOU MUST BE EVERYWHERE
The entire landscape of video games marketing has changed.
No longer are promotions centred around games magazines and shops, nor are they only about selling titles. Now they are about ‘engagement' – and not just promoting big reveals, but establishing a constant presence in consumers' lives.
We've completed the transition from push to pull marketing, from a one-way broadcast to a two-way conversation around content,” says marketing firm An.x MD Jon Sloan.
We're at a point where even well-designed and well-positioned ads that extort the consumer to ‘buy now', however subtly done, are not effective anymore.”
Bruce Kennedy, creative director at design agency Kennedy Monk, adds: Where once the salesman set his stall up in your street, now he's in your house and he knows a lot about you. In the case of mobile, he's constantly by your side. So it's our job to understand the customer even more personally than ever, so the ‘visitors' we send into this very personal digital space are charming, attractive and most of all, welcome.”
"Companies are beating their brains
out to keep abreast with changing
trends in consumer tastes."
Katie Rawlings, Gem Creative
This has been made possible by the widespread adoption of smartphones and tablets, meaning consumers are never away from a screen and a potential canvas for advertising.
According to IGN research, over 75 per cent of their audience are smartphone owners, with gamers over-indexing for tablet ownership and it is this sort of insight which is really shifting attitudes of marketers within the sector,” says Nick Shadbolt, account director at mobile ad specialists Candyspace.
A trend we're seeing a lot of is publishers starting to use mobile to integrate various channels. For example, using QR codes and augmented reality – such as Blippar – mobile search and SMS to ‘activate' press and outdoor ads.”
RULE 2: ONLINE ADS ARE MORE ACTIVE
In the early days of the internet, web ads were merely digital replications of those found in magazines and newspapers: colourful but static imagery with basic information, albeit with a link that leads to an appropriate website.
But the possibilities have grown faster than anyone could have expected and marketing firms are racing to keep up with new ways they can use space on websites.
Gem Creative's head of marketing Katie Rawlings says: While online advertising began in the form of banner ads on websites, it has now taken the forms of viral videos, blogging, promotional campaigns on social networks and forums. Agencies and publishers are beating their brains out to keep themselves abreast with the changing trends in consumer needs and tastes.”
Even download games have transformed online advertising. With more and more consumers buying download games, marketers can follow potential customers from announcement right up to the point of purchase through the same online ad channels.
And that's without taking into account the opportunities afforded by the now-established social networks such as Twitter and Facebook (see ‘Social Skills', below).
Digital routes to market which were in their infancy five years ago have now developed and matured,” says Lu Digweed, marketing and PR boss at ads and packaging firm Fluid.
One-to-one marketing via granular channels such as Facebook, or the explosion of DLC mean companies know exactly what consumers want. Clients are increasingly looking to combine the huge reach of, say, TV with the very personalised approach of Twitter and Facebook.”
RULE 3: CONSIDER CONTENT MARKETING
Companies have embraced the relatively new strategy of raising awareness of a retail release through the creation of original, separate content in addition to traditional advertising.
For example, Microsoft built up to the launch of Halo 4 with the popular Forward Unto Dawn webseries, which racked up 5m views per episode. That show exists largely to promote the new Halo, and yet few consumers would identify it as an ad.
Ubisoft had similar success with its Far Cry Experience, a webseries that drew in 500,000 people per episode. Meanwhile, EA's regular video show Pwned is essentially a platform for promoting new games.
Should this content marketing activity be compelling enough, consumers will even share it with their friends via social networks, further spreadingthe message in a way that is far more subtle than any homepage takeover.
There are even opportunities in marketing around content that consumers have created, such as regular video shows and podcasts.
For gaming the biggest game changer in recent years has been the massive increase in YouTube sites,” says PR agency Indigo Pearl's director Caroline Miller.
Videos from Yogscast tend to get over 1m views, 3.7m subscribers on the main channel, and its front page is amongst the biggest channel pages in the world. Approached correctly these outlets can show a tremendous benefit for brands.”
RULE 4: RESEARCH YOUR AUDIENCE
The proliferation of consumers on social networks and other online forums means that marketing firms and publishers can constantly compile information on what their fans want, helping to dictate the direction of future campaigns.
The internet has proved to be a reliable source for gathering data,” says Gem's Rawlings. Anyone can research the target market through surveys, polls, and focus groups via online media. This has enabled the consumers to contribute in the decisions pertaining to product offering thus enhancing sales.”
"Where once the salesman set his
stall up in your street, now he's in your
house and knows a lot about you."
Bruce Kennedy, Kennedy Monk
An.x's Jon Sloan adds: Where we are both blessed and cursed now, especially in the digital sphere, is in the availability of data, data and more data.
Previously, customer insights came in fairly limited ways: internal sales reports or POS data, consumer behaviour r