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The Evolution of Video Game Marketing

Over the last few decades, pop culture has made an almost 180-degree turn. Where once geek pursuits were discouraged, they are now entirely en vogue. We only have to look at the highest grossing movies of the last several years to see how comic book properties dominate our cultural landscape. By the same token, the way we embrace video games has echoed this geek culture shift.

The kids who made video games their niche obsession in the 1980s and 1990s have become major consumers. They have also become significant contributors to entertainment industries, influencing production in ways that have revealed these properties as capable of engaging a wider audience. Advances in technology have also made a difference to how video games are consumed, opening the marketplace to a more diverse demographic.

So what effect are these cultural shifts having on video game marketing today? There are certainly challenges — given how vital it is to plan campaigns in advance, marketers need to gain a deep understanding of this more varied, mature audience and what drives them. High-profile mistakes have been made by marketing teams who neglected to put enough consideration into the cultural diversity of video game consumers (remember PSP White?). We’ll take a look at a few ways in which video games have evolved, and how marketers can meet the challenges this presents.

Crushing Stereotypes

If we look at video game marketing of the 1980s and 1990s, we can see a very distinct stereotype for gamers. Usually boys, either with a nerdy slant or — with the introduction of the Sega Genesis onward — a brash edge. This just isn’t appropriate for today’s marketplace. Video games have become a pursuit for all ages, genders, and narrative preferences. While this is an awesome development for the industry and culture in general, it doesn’t always make for easy marketing.

The way in which we’ve adopted technology provides tools that offer more useful insight than simply relying on tired stereotypes. Consumers all over the world are using devices that harvest information regarding their behavior and preferences. We have already seen significant creative companies, such as Marvel Studios, use big data generated by websites, apps, and other online activities to make more nuanced and successful marketing decisions.

While it may have been convenient in the past to play to type, audiences today put a premium on personalization. Intelligent data analysis allows marketing teams to understand what is important to the video games industry’s diverse audience, and plan accordingly. Teams can create interesting, personal journeys for customers and deliver content that helps provide vital representation for women and minorities who have been neglected in the past.

Evolving Environments and Behavior

One of the challenges that face video game marketing teams is the sheer breadth of ways in which we engage with gaming. It used to be relatively simple: we played our consoles at home, and perhaps we had a Gameboy to take on trips. Today, we don’t just play in our bedrooms, we take to our smartphones on the bus, or even hop on a console in the office break room during our downtime. Our gaming habits are much more in tune with our lifestyles than they used to be.

What use can this evolution be to marketers? Thanks to the connectivity of devices, use can certainly be made of data received on gaming habits. We can see what types of games users like to use in specific geographical locations and use this information to target similar products. We can find out how long users tend to play for and utilize this vital marketing information in the development process.

How wholeheartedly gamers engage can also be used to enhance marketing campaigns. Games today are often designed with collectible attributes, with new levels or items only available upon undertaking certain tasks which can serve marketing functions — such as the playing of ads, or provision of data. This completionist behavior can allow marketers to gain insight into usage trends, or pitch other products that may be of interest. In fact, a recent report showed that 41% of respondents paid more attention to ads in mobile games than in traditional media.

Interaction and Media

One of the most significant changes in video games in recent years has been the way in which gamers can interact. Multiplayer experiences can now be shared with other users on the other side of the planet, achievements can be posted to social media, eSports events and conventions are providing opportunities for community growth. In much the same way that Marvel and DC have utilized social engagement in movies and TV, teams focused on video games are making the most of our digital interactions.

When utilizing social media for marketing, teams should be conscious of which platforms are most widely used by gamers, and the specific purposes they tend to use them for. Twitter is one of the more popular networks among gamers, but primarily for updates — such as opportunities for new downloadable content (DLC) and events. Instagram, as a primarily visual medium, can be used for behind-the-scenes footage and convention correspondence. Even Steam can be a useful platform to share news-based content.

Streaming has become a significant industry in and of itself, with platforms such as Twitch providing platforms that have made gamers into celebrities. Marketers have recognized the value in teaming up with video gaming influencers to enhance campaigns. Aside from anything else, young consumers have a tendency to trust influencers more than traditional celebrities. There is also the opportunity to do more than insert ads into videos, by producing interesting sponsored content that drives engagement.

Over the last few decades, video games have developed into a rich, diverse medium. This is reflected by its varied audience base, attracting people from all walks of life. Marketing teams face challenges with this broader demographic and must be careful to avoid mistakes made in other spheres of geek culture. By intelligently utilizing big data, embracing complementary media channels, and being wary of inaccurate and harmful stereotypes, successful campaigns can be developed.

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The Author

Jim Napier

Jim Napier

Lover of movies and The Big Lebowski.