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Social Media and Influencer Marketing for Video Games

Hello, today I’m going to help you with marketing for video games. My name is Matt Olick, a generalist and director within the Indie Video Games industry. I’ve worked on about two dozen published indie games with a median sales/download-equivalent of between $1 to $2 million. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about marketing. I also am one of the marketer/developers behind Ecommerce Academy and @ecommerce_mentor on Instagram, where we operate a masterclass on launching and marketing ecommerce stores – our personally-branded Instagram is the largest worldwide on this specialized subject.

There seems to be a lot of questions in the indie-industry about how to do marketing for video games. While I do not have all the answers, I certainly love offering my insight and experience. Today, I’d like to write about advertising for video games, both using paid ads and let’s play influencers. Let’s start with the beginning phases of production, and the common formula for success:

Marketing for video games (first steps)

For a successful marketing campaign, your game has to first be marketable or at least contain marketable content. No amount of advertising dollars will save a product when no one will ever have interest in it. If you plan on making sales, I do not recommend developing a game for just yourself. Unless your interests are currently trendy, this strategy is bound for failure.

I do, however, recommend building a game you would have interest in playing yourself – while also respecting what your target audience wants. The general public does not honestly know what they want, but you can still make educated guesses about what that might be, while resisting temptation to pander to their direct requests.

Advertisements for games work very well when the gameplay is completely understood from a single screenshot or video clip. Don’t show elements that will confuse the viewer. In fact, if it looks confused, such as an overly-complex or unintuitive UI, consider cutting or revamping the feature. Stereotypes and genres can have a huge helping hand here, as well – conversely, being too far ahead of your time can really stop the conversation. To drive sales, it’s best to be on the edge of evolution regarding current trends.

Game Business - Marketing For Video Games
Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash

Competition = Valuable Data

So let’s say you have your game. You know it’s marketable. How do you focus down on the exact target audience, identify them via demo-psycho-behavioural-graphics, and serve them ads through Google and Facebook ad tools? There are multiple ways of gaining insight into this problem.

First, identify your competitors. From your competitors you can gauge basic demographic information about your core audience:

  • Backlink Analysis via ahrefs.com
  • Sharing Analysis via Buzzsumo.com
  • Website visitor demographics via Alexa.com
  • Keyword Trend analysis via Google Trends
  • TF-IDF Analysis via Seobility.net
  • WayBack Machine analysis of previous webpage iterations
  • or the good old manual way by looking at the Facebook profiles of people who like the competitor’s pages content or fan-groups. If you’re feeling ballsy, try even sending some of them a friend request. But don’t friend-request en-masse, or else Facebook will stop you for 24 hours.

Using this data, you can use Facebook’s ad tools to target people who like the competitors pages, and then also other shared interests/behaviors that your golden audience seems to like or do (this is why it can be handy to friend request some of them, and TF-IDF analysis can help as well).

If you have some content that you are willing to share, try throwing it out there to Groups, Forums, Reddit, Twitter or Instagram posts with hashtags, or just some regular paid ads, etc. Before you do this, apply a Facebook Pixel to your website, so you can track and match visitors to your game’s website with their actual Facebook Profiles. Using this Pixel data, you can now create Look-A-Like audiences to further find similar people who match those who are already responding to your game.

Now that you have a good grip on who is responding to your game’s content, and able to use Facebook’s tools to automatically find more people like them – what comes next? How do we test these ads, measure them, and refine them? While I don’t want to write a book for free, let’s give a brief overview of some common refinements that can really boost engagement and conversions.

GameBusiness - Marketing For Video Games
Photo by Stephen Dawson on Unsplash

Testing testing 123

Find the platform, place and time where your audience is most receptive to being interrupted by your ad. A/B testing is vital to the process. Test different placements (such as inside Messenger versus an in-feed placement), different platforms (such as Instagram instead of Facebook), and different times of the day and week.

While great content and copywrite is important, sometimes you may just be advertising to the wrong country. I’ve known other projects, and have even had personal experience, where advertising to America resulted in below-average engagement – but when I switched to another country, say for example Brazil, my engagement rates increased by over 500% at 1/3rd the Cost-Per-Impression. That’s 15x the return on investment!

When creating your ad, don’t make your ad feel like a cold sell. Please. Ads feel less interruptive if they tell a story, or focus on tapping an emotion. If your game has moments that evoke emotions and expressions of, “so satisfying”, or “haha omg”, or “wow savage”, or “woah! Cool!”… these are the moments you want to capitalize on and advertise. They are viral grassroots content, and encourage sharing with other people. They also get influencer’s audience to stay watching episode after episode, and give the influencer themselves something to be excited about while talking to themselves.

Game Business - Marketing for Video Games
Photo by Raj Eiamworakul on Unsplash

Marketing for Video Games Through Influencers

For influencers, create and give influencers in-game tools to build memorable moments, such as pausing the game and giving independent control of the camera. Another valuable thing to offer them is clip-art content, for the creation of custom cover-art for their videos. Provide clip-art relevant to the game or episodic content you are promoting which can be mixed and matched creatively, stuck next to their face, etc.

How do you find influencers that would be interested in playing your game? Look back at your list of competitors. Use Youtube.com to search for let’s plays of those games… but don’t look for the celebrities. The best return-on-investment will come from micro-influencers, with view-counts between 5,000 and 50,000.

While celebrities can fit into a long-term marketing plan and especially a launch-strategy, viewers are less engaged with them. Micro-influencers have a more personal connection with their viewers, and for good reason – their viewers can stand out and communicate with the micro-influencers! These highly-engaged viewers are more apt to trust the influencer and buy your game.

That being said, you want to thoroughly analyze your micro-influencer before approaching them. Are they currently growing rapidly, or has their audience been in decline? What is their engagement-to-views ratio like?

Engagements are likes, dislikes, comments, and shares combined into a single number. While share counts are not publicly available for Youtube videos, you can likely make some sort of guess by somewhere between 1/10th or 1/3rd of the likes. As with all social media, here is a small handy guide:

0% to 1% = below-average engagement

2% to 4% = average engagement

4% to 6% = above-average engagement

6% to 10% = fantastic engagement

10%+ = WOW!

Game Business - Marketing for Video Games
Photo by Leon Bublitz on Unsplash

Calculate Engagement into Dollars

Using this above guide, you can determine micro-influencers worth contacting. But when you contact them, what price should you offer? Engagements can be likened to a CPC bid, and can be priced similarly. But, unlike celebrity influencers, micro-influencers are happy to even be offered money to endorse your product. Celebrities may charge you $0.20+ per engagement, while a micro-influencer may be happy with as low as $0.03 per engagement.

So if they micro-influencer averages 50,000 views, and 3,000 engagements, you can offer them between $100 and $150 to play your game, and they will likely be happy to talk to you about this offer! However, JackSepticEye may want $10,000 or more. Getting a celebrity on-board is a big financial decision, and definitely one worth considering if you know your product-launch and marketing-strategy would benefit from it.

Photo by Sharon Mccutcheon on Unsplash

As a final point before the end of this article, I’d like to dive into the over-all marketing plan for any product. Your marketing planning for video games is essential. Do not wait until the last moment to figure it out. The most successful products I have worked with, had a marketing ace up their sleeve – whether it was tapping fast-growing platforms/distributors where there was low supply and high demand, or they had celebrity influencers in their pocket to get the engine started (either paid, as employees, or free as friends).

When in early launch or pre-launch, focus on single portals in each department, such that you do not spread your audiences too thin and reduce social-proof or charting. A great example of this, was when I worked at Clone Drone in the Danger Zone. When we first launched, we launched on Itch.IO before it became over-crowded. We advertised our IndieDB listing everywhere we could reasonably put it. Then, when we got JackSepticEye involved, this allowed us to shoot straight to the #1 spot of Itch.IO’s popular charts and IndieDB’s popular charts. This maximized the value of our investment in Jack. Then, when we were ready for a 1.0 release to launch on Steam, we already had a significant following ready to transfer their game from Itch to Steam – and once again, this put us onto the #1 spot on Steam’s popular new release charts.

I suppose that’s enough for today 🙂 I hope everyone enjoyed this article and learned some new things about marketing for video games. Please share it with your friends!

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