February 20, 2024

3 min

Video Games

Juan Jimenez

Marketing Manager

How to market a video game?

In the early days of gaming, marketing was an afterthought. As arcade game machines started becoming a usual sight in bars, restaurants, and amusement shops in the ‘70s, marketing stayed primarily within tech magazines and journals, with the rare poster or two breaking the mould. It was an era of large, bombastic designs and vibrant colours, where an arcade’s exterior and size were the only things a game needed to achieve some renown.

When video game consoles became ubiquitous, however, the market exploded. Print ads in tech and gaming magazines, bombastic and intense TV commercials, and collaborations with food and beverage companies were commonplace during the ‘80s and ‘90s, with some of them achieving classic status — although for a decidedly male young audience.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the video game industry is an entertainment behemoth, forecast to be worth $257 billion in 2025. Game launches can equal movie premieres in revenue, with specific video game sagas surpassing them comfortably.

Therefore, marketing in video games nowadays can be a true deal breaker. It can turn average games into blockbusters or doom awesome, innovative games that should have earned cult status at the very least. But how does this get done?

If you want to learn a little about how proper video game marketing makes this happen, keep reading.

Show me the money… I mean, who follows you?

Finding the ideal niche for a product and positioning it well is one of the first efforts every marketing campaign tries to get right, and video games are no exception. Usually, video game studios announce their newest games through a mixture of social media and the specialized press; each has its particular caveats and rules, but the objective is always the same: to create a community and foster hype—expectation to play the game—around it.

The usual way of doing this is by releasing either a teaser or reveal trailer on social media and gaming websites. Small, indie, or AA studios often resort to a short gameplay trailer, which fulfills the dual function of showing a brief vertical slice of the game and interpolating art assets into a compelling first look.

AAA or more established studios can also afford the luxury of going the cinematic trailer route. By hiring a dedicated animation studio—such as Axis Studios, Blur Studio, Digic Pictures, and Platige, among others—more prominent gaming companies can showcase the worldbuilding and setting of their games in a more impactful way.

Combining both strategies with a formal announcement on a gaming or specialized press website is an excellent first step to getting the attention of a sizable audience. Creating specific social media profiles for the game and generating buzz around these first marketing materials should come next.

Considering we now live in the age of Internet communities and discussion forums, social media networks like Twitch and YouTube have become instrumental in building customer trust and loyalty. Dev diaries, community showcases, and playing sessions can create meaningful relationships between developers and players with tremendous effect.

These facts can and will lead us to the next step.

Players at the forefront

In 2022, influencer marketing grew to $16.4 billion, with an average of $5.2 ROI, according to Influencer Marketing Hub. It's safe to think it will keep growing in 2023, and a considerable part of that growth could happen precisely thanks to gaming.

After all, there are abundant examples of how teaming up with the right influencer at the right moment brought substantial profits to video games and their makers. Finnish mobile game development studio Supercell drew 5 million new registrations during their influencer-based launch campaign in 2018. Pro player and influencer Tyler "Ninja" Blevins almost singlehandedly brought Fortnite to mainstream audiences. Israeli mobile game developers Moon Active put Coin Master in the spotlight thanks to the endorsement of celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez, Cardi B, Khloe Kardashian, Terry Crews, David Schwimmer, and even the Spice Girls.

Not all budgets can access this level of lead magnets. But sometimes, all studios need is to establish healthy relationships with less-known streamers and content creators who play their games from the beginning. Second Dinner's mega-hit Marvel Snap largely benefitted from streamers such as Cozy Snap, Alexander Coccia, Jeff Hoagland, and many others.

Discord and Reddit have also become fantastic tools to bring players together and keep them updated about games—particularly in early-access or crowdfunded offerings. Titles such as Cold Symmetry's Mortal Shell, Supergiant Games' Hades, and Obsidian Entertainment's Pillars of Eternity series all used Discord at some point in their game development cycle to enhance and nurture relationships with their player bases.

Similarly, the biggest free-to-play and games-as-a-service (GaaS) titles have taken advantage of this. Riot Games is one of the finest examples, with League of Legends, Valorant, and Teamfight Tactics having their own subreddits and Discord servers. Respawn Entertainment's Apex Legends, HoYoverse's Genshin Impact, Epic Games' Fortnite, and Ubisoft's Rainbow Six Siege use these channels with a clear objective: to keep their massive player bases in the know about future updates, patches, and other gameplay additions and events.

If nobody broke it, don’t fix it!

Although critical, the emergence of digital marketing and social media in successful video game campaigns hasn’t magically erased the gaming marketing tactics of the old. If anything, these channels have also maximised and streamlined what worked so well during the golden age of gaming.

Gaming conventions and events are still the places to go if you expect to see world premieres of the latest video games available. Investing in stands, posters, merchandise, and more is still a keen strategy — if a bit unfair, given the wildly differing budgets between starting game studios and the behemoth AAA developers.

Award ceremonies and industry events have become increasingly popular platforms for game marketing purposes. Canadian journalist and gaming personality Geoff Keighley has made a career for himself using this tactic, with The Game Awards evolving into one of the most successful and prestigious venues available to promote new launches and release dates.

And those juicy brand collaborations and in-game advertising which were commonplace during the ‘80s and the ‘90s? They are still happening today, although they are mostly limited to some markets — North America and Asia, for instance — and don’t carry the same weight as before.

It’s important to clarify that neither of these strategies will work without adequate market segmentation and careful planning first. After all, gaming marketing usually falls prey to the same standards and fluctuations asany other sector in tech.

Nevertheless, they are an enticing look at how the video game industry has expanded during the last few years. With such large budgets and expectations behind each new release, it’s fair to say marketing is now crucial to any game development — and will continue doing so far into the future.

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