In many ways, the rise of video games parallels the rise of the internet. Initially, both were associated with sad geeks alone in their bedrooms late at night, entering another dimension…or maybe that was just me.
Now videogaming is the fastest growing entertainment industry sector in the world: worth over £12billion (IDG Datamonitor predict that by 2008 this will reach £20.4billion). Which makes gaming more popular than the movies.
And the internet…to even call it the internet now seems a little ‘1990s’ – something a digital immigrant would say (pretty much anyone over 25) rather than a digital native (pretty much everyone under 25). The internet is now...well...it just is.
Marketing to gamers presents several unique challenges – most gamers are young and technology literate, and they are used to having things when they want, and how they want it. They want to be engaged, informed and entertained.
In recent years the focus has shifted from the retail space to the online space. As we shall see, the future – as with movies – is moving towards a download format, reducing the need for packaging and retail marketing.
Knowledge is power
The cornerstone to any good e-marketing strategy is good customer data. But equally important is making that data easy use. Making it easy to use, means it is actually used.
Building on a clear eCRM strategy, the key is to integrate data from a variety of sources: product registrations, news signups, promotional campaigns (such as competitions etc).
Over the years we have implemented email marketing campaigns for some of the biggest releases – including the Spider-Man, Call of Duty, and X-Men franchises.
Tracking technology allows us to know – in real time – how many people open, click through and forward the email. We regularly see double digit click through rates, one campaign even achieving a whopping 66 per cent.
These campaigns vary in purpose and content – many being driven around the release of new content to download for the fanbase. Often retailer partnerships drive sales, by deep linking into sites such as Amazon.co.uk. Play.com, or Tesco.co.uk.
By gaining more knowledge via targeted and trackable campaigns, future marketing can be even more targeted – a virtuous circle built on good data and a trackable technology infrastructure.
We all know that online, communities matter. This is especially true in the gamer community.
As with user generated content sites such as Trip Advisor, gamers get involved in the review process – so good press may not be enough. Online awareness of gamers’ interests and ability to stimulate buzz around them are increasingly important for games brands.
One interesting example of the power of a good database – and a strong community around a brand – was seen at this year’s BAFTA Games Awards. Football Manager, the football management game published by SEGA, was up for the PC World Gamers Award (the only award to be voted for by the public). Leveraging its database the Football Manager marketing team encouraged fans to vote. And the BAFTA went to…? Well, three guesses who! (Clue: it was a football management game published by SEGA).
Wider virtual communities are becoming the lifeblood of the online experience, with facebook, myspace and bebo allowing users to create their own communities while virtual worlds like Second Life provide rich new environments for them to explore.
These communities also provide games marketers with new platforms to gain access to large demographics of relevant users. Running video billboards in virtual worlds and creating custom applications to sit within communities are just the tip of the iceberg. Viral marketing is being reborn within these arenas.
Experience the brand
One great benefit of working in the games industry is the fantastic imagery and creative punch achievable. Everyone loves Spidey leaping out at them!
Link this great imagery with new technologies for high resolution video content delivery and you have a recipe for high impact advertising.
Supplementing the more traditional banners and skyscrapers, dynamic overlay advertising really jumps out and grabs you – and has effectiveness ratings to match.
For the launch of Spider-Man 3: The Game, we had Spidey slinging his web around the screen. Similarly, for recent smash next-generation console game Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, helicopters flew around the screen, with streaming video of gameplay alongside.
It is now quite common to see expandable banners with interactive features such as audio, streaming video and screen shots. All of which creates theatricality, and adds impact to the message.
The changing face of retail
As more and more people are buying ‘traditional’ physical product online – a web presence is vital to have visibility in the online space, operating in the same way as Point of Sale does in-store.
This presence becomes increasingly important when targeting ‘gifters’ - parents, uncles, aunties and grandparents. Often there is a lack of information about a product in store (in your average supermarket) – so parents are researching online to make sure that they don’t buy little Johnny an adult-themed release by accident.
Reacting to this trend, tie-ins with major online retailers (we are currently running a long standing programme for Activision on Tesco.com) are important to educate the consumer, in terms they understand, about the brands they plan to buy.
The nature of retail is also changing, mirroring trends within the movie industry. Product is now available to download, via outlets such as Xbox LIVE, meaning less need for in-store promotion as gamers go online to purchase the entire game.
Sony PlayStation’s “Home” virtual world includes publisher virtual spaces (which can be fully customised) for creating online stores and promotion of games in a virtual environment connected directly to console owners.
Digital promotion meets digital product
The compelling nature of the online distribution model – driven by digital promotion – was proved on a recent campaign we ran.
Call Of Duty is one of the most successful franchises in interactive entertainment. The highly anticipated Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is no exception; gamers were dying to get a sneak peak at this new release, and through the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare ‘BETA Programme’ they were able to access and play advance game code.
100,000 unique consumer codes were made available via key retail and promotional partners, which were then redeemed on a dedicated registration website. Once registered, fans got to play the BETA version of the game for Xbox 360 through Xbox LIVE.
Massive uptake saw tens of thousands of new opt-in registrants within a few hours of launch, with a dedicated hosting package allowing the site to process upwards of 25,000 unique visitors per day.
Stats like these can’t be – and aren’t – ignored by the client and their management teams.
The future is online
Gaming has broken into the general consumer entertainment market in a big way in the last few years and it is growing into being one the largest players, having already overtaken film in annual earnings.
Trends show that the internet is now more attractive to many users than just sitting watching television. With games consoles now offering web browsing and game downloads directly to user living rooms, online tools are now an essential part of any marketing strategy.