Marketing in Gaming: Are Developers Out of Touch With Fans?

Appropriate marketing is integral to the success of any product and video games are no exception.

Entire divisions of companies are set aside to focus solely on marketing strategies and policies. Identifying you’re key demographic and what appeals to them is the key to a strong advertising campaign.

Adverts are everywhere these days, TV, the internet, billboards, buses, stations, we are overexposed to marketing. Meaning the vast majority of us will pass by without paying any attention to the product in question.

Marketing teams need a device to hook our attention and draw us into their advert. Chances are any fans of a particular gaming series will buy new releases regardless of advertising. So the challenge is to grab the attention of others through a blanket appeal that applies to most gamers.

But with companies investing millions on marketing do we really pay attention to the adverts? Do game developers understand what hooks their audience or are these adverts just good money after bad? Are developers today so out of touch with fans that they no longer know who we are or what we want?

What Are The Best Marketing Tools?

Developers are putting bigger budgets into their marketing strategies with high production trailers. Live action epics or in-game stories are commonplace in trailers these days to ramp up the excitement.

Showing a fictional representation of action can often seem more appealing and offer fewer boundaries than the gameplay itself. But developers still need audiences to engage in this fiction and the best way of doing that is through humor and celebrity cameos.

Who doesn’t like to laugh? If a trailer can give you a chuckle in the first 5 seconds, you’re much less likely to click that skip button. Intrigue works just as well but is harder to create in the space of 5 seconds, some manage to strike a good balance between the two though. The series of Cayde-6 previews and trailers for recent Destiny 2 is a great example of humor and intrigue in tandem from the outset.

Likewise celebrity endorsements; people are always going to buy things their favorite celebrities enjoy. It’s not really our cup of tea but different strokes for different folks; celebrity endorsements are a killer. If you choose a celebrity popular with your target audience, you are definitely going to increase exposure to your game. Call of Duty provided a good example of this, mixed with humor, in their popular ‘The Vet & The Noob’ trailer, featuring Jonah Hill.

What do they get wrong?

Like many major companies, people at the top tend to share a particular dynamic of aging male representation. While we’re sure they are fully qualified for their jobs, not coming from a gaming community can make them out of touch with their audience.

There are several marketing pitfalls companies fall into, with the most significant being not knowing their audience. Much like all classifications of humanity, gamers are stereotyped. The idea of a greasy, overweight, cellar dweller, is an outdated cliche but one still marketed to. The most frequent omission from video game marketing is not reaching out to a rapidly growing female audience.

With the use overly sexualized women in trailers such as Game of War. Footage of Kate Upton being bathed by two other women or using sexually ambiguous phrasing like ‘will you come and play with me?’. Topped off with a gratuitous shot of her wet, naked body, carefully framed to show nothing too risque. It’s a hard miss for us, it alienates a large part of the audience and showcases nothing of the gameplay.

Speaking of having nothing to do with gameplay brings us to our second common pitfall. With all the high production value, developers occasionally forget to leave out the most important thing: actual gameplay. Maybe it’s just us speaking but personally, we like to see the actual game footage or at least at an in-engine cutscene.

That way we know what to expect when we buy it, we all remember bad box art Mega Man. Your trailer might be impressive but we’re going to be less likely to follow up with a purchase if we still have no idea what the game is about.

What can they do?

Another thing marketing teams should stray away from is wasting money on archaic formats. We’ve never bought anything based on those roadside billboards, there is a whole new world of advertising. Assuming you are targeting a younger and technologically adept audience, Youtube should be a primary target. Youtubers are the latest generation of celebrity and we can’t count the number of gaming Youtubers. How about some sponsored Let’s Plays?

Allowing independent gamers to cast a keen eye over it will allow fans to get an exclusive look at gameplay. Trade shows are a great way to showcase new games but not all fans are going to make it. Making more footage available in lieu of trailers and posters would allow gamers to make a balanced decision. If developers have confidence in their games, gameplay footage should speak for itself.

Also avoiding the aforementioned pitfalls, be open to an ever-changing world and a diverse audience. Call of Duty again showcases a good example of a tastefully represented female gamer in their WW2 trailer. No marketing team can be in touch with their audience if they don’t understand who they are.