Over the past decade, games have become big business and lucrative media channels. What used to be a form of media reserved for teen boys has quickly become adopted by business executives and home makers alike. While the audiences for certain titles reach levels that compete with television shows, video game marketing and customer services are providing unique pulse into how brands can build better relationships with fans and get them excited about new products.
Let’s explore how video games are shaking up our notions of paid, owned, and earned media and causing us to rethink how brands add value for their audiences.
Angry Birds Space
For the Angry Birds Space launch, Rovio did something unique. They created a digital magazine to help build anticipation for the new game’s launch.
By partnering with Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily, Rovio created a digital magazine that featured exclusive content about the game and also showcased a partnership with NASA’s space program.
Lesson: Promote mobile products via mobile media. The Daily has formed a white label mobile CMS that brands can leverage to promote a new product.
OMGPOP’s Draw Something, a mobile social game similar to Pictionary, is the fastest growing mobile property in history and has over 40 million registered users.
The game demonstrates how mobile games are becoming valuable media properties for advertisers to consider. The use of in-game advertising between turns makes it easy for advertisers to buy media and integrate themselves into the Draw Something community.
Lesson: Mobile games are becoming media channels with audience numbers eclipsing those of social games like CityVille and The Sims Social and even popular daily TV shows like the Today Show (which averages 5 million daily viewers). According to AppData.com, Draw Something has the most daily active users of any Facebook app at 14.3 million daily active users.
Mass Effect 3
Mass Effect 3 is the final game in BioWare’s epic sci-fi trilogy. The game serves as an example not only in how to build interest in a new product launch but also how to deal with fans that turn into hardcore online critics of the brand.
On the marketing side, Mass Effect 3 included a campaign that launched copies of the game into space using weather balloons. When the balloons popped and the games landed on the ground, anyone who found the space-touched copy of the game could keep it. Each balloon had a GPS unit equipped so fans could track where the games were.
After the launch of the game, BioWare faced scrutiny over the game’s ending. As more users complained, BioWare officially announced that upcoming downloadable content for the game would resolve unanswered questions.
Lesson: Creative technology executions that use drones, weather balloons, and other crazy devices are becoming more accessible for PR stunt executions. BioWare’s response to fan criticism also shows how the “perpetual beta” nature of cloud-based entertainment makes it easy for content producers to update apps, games, and other content over time to meet users’ needs.
Team Fortress 2
A recent article by On the Media demonstrates how Valve has used the free-to-play version of Team Fortress 2 to drive sales over time. While many PC game companies have been troubled by video game piracy, Valve took a different approach: make piracy a less attractive option by monetizing free products over time.
In 2011, Team Fortress 2 became free-to-play. Gamers are only charged when they purchase in-game items, not when they buy the game itself. Since going free-to-play, the game’s revenue has increased twelve-fold since the change.
Lesson: Sometimes you have to beat the hackers at their own game. Piracy extends across brands, not just entertainment companies, and providing unique incentives and programs to customers who stick with the real thing can build loyalty over time. As we explore in our trend Brands as Partners, brands will need to play an active role in beefing up the services supporting their products.
Magnum Ice Cream
Last year Magnum Ice Cream created a simple Web game that took players across multiple sites and converted the sites into game levels.
The game has worked well enough at building brand affinity that Magnum Ice Cream has just launched an updated version of the game for 2012. With a tight integration with Bing Maps, the game takes users all over the world while they collect Magnum Ice Cream for points. Product tie-ins for Bulgari and other brands also make the game an effective branding tool for Magnum’s partners.
Lesson: Games can be a content vertical your brand can own within its category. Magnum’s commitment to the “Pleasure Hunt” has given the ice cream brand a clear differentiator in the category, similar to how Lifesavers’ Candystand gaming site provided branded gaming over a decade ago.
More Changes to Come?
Video games are becoming a media channel that brands have to take seriously in the years ahead. More than 100 million US consumers are playing games on smartphones, tablets, and portable media players like the iPod Touch. Brands will need to look to video games not only as places for in-game advertising and sponsorship, but also as an example for how digital media is shifting how brands reach and build relationships with their audiences over time.