Video games, like all media these days, have a problem focusing on existing IPs, ranging from reboots and remakes to endless sequels to offshoots nobody wanted. Movies do it (hello, female Ghostbusters and the Universal Dark Universe). TV shows do it (Marvel’s ABC shows that aren’t exactly as popular as the movies). Video games do it (Call of Duty has so many sequels, WWII is now a necessary subtitle instead of an assumption).
There’s a logical reason as to why these exist. And it’s related to marketing. The thinking goes that there is a built in audience for these IPs already and you’re marketing to that already existing segment of the population, saving you from having to do extra heavy lifting at a lower cost. And even if the end product ends up being a disappointment, you’re going to have that segment investing in the product, which you wouldn’t have with a new IP that doesn’t come in with that built in audience.
New IPs can succeed though, obviously. Bright, depsite criticism from nearly every critic, has done well (just based on buzz since Netflix doesn’t release numbers as far as I can tell) as a new intellectual property. The Young Pope, as ridiculous as it was, was new and pretty much everyone knew about it thanks to its marketing. Horizon Zero Dawn was one of the top selling games of 2017 according to Forbes.
Good! Great! Who doesn’t love new IPs? The bigger problem, obviously, is that 0 of the top 10 movies are new IPs. Only two of the top 10 games are. Not great!
Movies, at least, have the built in trailers before other movies to market themselves. You can put over a new IP you’re excited about by putting the trailer ahead of Star Wars or whatever plate of the same thing Marvel is serving this month.
TV networks can make pilot episodes for new shows free to stream online to build buzz.
Video games don’t really use channels like that anymore. Back in the early days of the Xbox 360, one of the best features was the use of demos prior to game release. Aside from the very few, those don’t exist anymore in any meaningful sense. Even back in the 90s, you’d get Playstation Underground discs in the mail and you could sample games like Medieval or Tomba.
Now? You basically have to seek out new games and properties.
I knew what Bright was before it comes out. I know about new TV shows from watching during sporting events. But how do I learn about new video games? I have to go seek out that information myself. Isn’t that what marketing exists to prevent?
AdBlock and similar softwares obviously don’t help much here. You used to see banner ads for other games on sites you’d read about games on. Like, if I wanted to learn about the Windwaker, oh there’s an ad for Eternal Darkness coming soon or something similar on the top. That kind of targeted marketing makes me aware.
But just as an example today, I had no idea in April 2015 that The Witcher III: Wild Hunt was coming out a month later. I wanted to buy a sequel to the second Witcher, having a PS4 but not having owned a 360 myself. But the only way I found out that sequel existed? By randomly searching Amazon for new game releases to see if anything was coming out and then seeing it.
Even then, I didn’t even realize it was a full sequel since I’d heard zero about it.
For Indie and really all non-AAA games, this makes sense. They don’t have large marketing budgets, if any at all, and have to rely on word of mouth for you to find out about Golf Story or, the most successful recent example, Rocket League. You find those from talking to or listening to other people online talking about games they’ve tried out. They bit the bullet so you didn’t have to in their hunt for new games.
That’s especially relevant with so much mediocre content, at best, on Steam and again, there’s really nothing they can do with such smaller, relatively, budgets.
For AAA games, I really don’t get how the marketing can be so subpar, in my opinion.
Demos, obviously, weren’t providing enough ROI or they would’ve been continued. But Matthew, doesn’t that refute the whole point of this article? I don’t think so, or I would’ve stopped writing to do something else.
I think the problem is they’re not putting it out there enough and pushing it to us. PR and press releases and game reviewers talking about the latest news and demoing games is neat, but again, you have to go looking for that content unless sites promote it themselves.
Most publishers, especially at giant companies like EA, have blogs that release all news for games and spread that via Twitter and other areas. But again, the only way to find that information seems to be going to look for it.
That’s more niche information, obviously, but when it’s key in determining if I or someone else would be excited for your game, much less figuring out it exists, it’s the company’s job to to make me know that information.
Even for sequels this is a problem. I bought the last Madden purely out of habit but not until weeks after it came out and only because I was bored. There’s a very realistic scenario where if my budget were tighter next year, I wouldn’t buy it. And do you know why? I knew nothing about the game last year besides the 3 hour Longshot story.
That story was neat, but that appeals to only one segment of your audience. You have to appeal to more than that to get more people to buy your game. But this is a whole different article entirely. Back to new IPs, which have a more fundamental problem than losing people who bought the last ones.
For new IPs, as opposed to those sequels, you have to push that information at me more. You can’t rely on sites liking a game and promoting their content.
Video games aren’t niche products anymore. Saudi Arabia has a gamer prince! Tell me Barron Trump isn’t playing PUBG right now. So promote them to wider audiences in similar fashions to more “accepted” mainstream entertainment.
If you’re investing all of these funds into creating elaborate trailers, maybe a new method would be to put trailers before your latest games’ intros. To market a new IP, maybe Activision puts trailers you can’t skip through the first time you boot up a game before the Call of Duty title screen. Maybe EA puts a new IP’s trailer before the Star Wars Battlefront screen (provided people buy the next one).
Video games want to be movies, in some sense. So why not promote the trailers you’re creating in a similar fashion? You have TV ads but they won’t last as more and more of the younger generations leave cable and go to streaming.
Rent out theaters in big cities for E3 press conferences. Get a bunch of people to come watch the press conferences and learn about new games they previously didn’t know about with the promise of a free Zelda lanyard or something dumb that people like me will in fact go to just for the lanyard. Put the Sheikah symbol on it and I’m yours.
And how do you get people to go to those? Go guerrilla if you have to, with flyers everywhere posting about the event. Get the local university to send out a promotional email about it. Work with college clubs to get people aware. You could use Meetup.com to setup a meeting and event to get people aware in big cities and college towns.
There are other things you could do, like having essentially your company having its own journalistic wing focused on your company’s games. Much like how NHL.com employs its own writers who are allowed to objectively look at the team, employ independent writers who write objectively about what they produce. They’ll then use their built in audiences to spread the word more effectively. The point is you’re guaranteeing coverage of your items while also being able to promote what they say that you prefer.
Even sending goods to more high profile writers with larger mainstream followings who could then tweet about how “wow my kids love this new X game!!!” and get more parents and people who follow that person aware. Like maybe Jonathan Chait or someone of that ilk. That’s just an idea off the top of my head to market to affluent parents, but hey why not. It’s not like it’s super costly.
Anyway, I wrote about games in a past life and launched this site to share my opinions about games and marketing and other areas. I think there needs to be a change in gaming marketing as the companies realize they aren’t niche products anymore. Enough people want these products that they can be advertised like movies and TV shows.
But you can’t keep doing what’s presently going on. You have to push that information to people, not hope they can find it.