What’s Next in Games Marketing?

We know what’s next in the world of video games. Sony will be releasing the Playstation 4 this holiday season. Microsoft is likely releasing the next Xbox console. The OUYA Android gaming console made a big splash on Kickstarter and will be available this summer. But what’s next in video games marketing?

At the DigitalMediaWire LA Games Conference recently, some of the brightest minds from companies like Zynga, Activision, Electronic Arts, and Rovio shared their thoughts on the future of digital games.

Video is king

One of the fastest emerging trends in gaming is the skyrocketing popularity of video – and not just standard YouTube videos but live video, streaming video, and produced content. Video streaming services like Twitch.tv are immensely popular with “eSports” games like League of Legends or 360PR client, Turbine’s, upcoming game Infinite Crisis, where viewers watch teams of skilled players battle each other – much like any other professional sport.  In fact, the world of “eSports” has spawned professional gamers that make a living by playing in events like Major League Gaming’s numerous competitions.

Fans of games don’t just want to consume content, they want to engage and contribute. Produced video content from providers like Machinima can garner more viewers than the latest NBC comedy (not that that’s hard these days), because gamers crave content about their favorite titles and brands. Machinima videos received 2 billion views in March 2013 alone. Live news shows like Up At Noon from IGN have also found a home on the web. Recently, cable network G4 moved away from its traditional gaming-focused programming and changed its name to the Esquire Channel – the gaming audience would rather find their content on the web rather than on TV.

Free-to-play and the future of game monetization

In the past, video games were designed to be a one-time purchase. Pay $50 or $60 for the game disc, and you owned the full game. Certain game types, like Massively Multiplayer Online Games, required monthly subscriptions. But PC and console games are starting to take a cue from mobile games, moving to a “free to play”  model, which allows you to play the game for free and purchase items or upgrades in an in-game store. This changes game publishers’ marketing strategies immensely, because if you’re offering a piece of the game to players for free, you need to hook them and prove that the game is worth spending money on. Rob Dyer, the VP of Partner Publishing at Zynga, said that “User acquisition is expensive even in the mobile and free-to-play space, and that won’t change. How do you get users to become players, and players to become payers?”

With a traditional console title, game publishers want to drive as many sales as possible on launch. The latest Call of Duty title pulled in $500 million in just 24 hours. Bioshock Infinite has shipped 3.7 million copies since it launched in late March. But with a free-to-play title, the focus isn’t on getting as many players into the game as possible, but keeping your core playerbase happy.

Marketing to smaller, more focused audiences

Keeping that core playerbase happy is what Riot Games has done with League of Legends. Chris Enock, VP of Central Publishing at Riot Games, says the majority of their user acquisition is just word of mouth – many players spend hours playing the game each week so they’re heavily invested in the game and become evangelists. The Riot team speaks to players directly on social media and their website, and the players feel like they’re connected with the folks making the game. Turbine does the same thing with their games Lord of the Rings Online and D&D Online. Community managers have to understand players’ perspectives, understand the game, and keep people engaged. When you’re talking to players that are so enfranchised in your game, says Activision’s Jonathan Anastas, “Any time you’re not 100% authentic, you’re toast.” Certain games have more niche communities, but they are enthusiastic. Instead of an audience of 5 million casual players, it’s more like 15,000 passionate fans that truly care about the game.

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