Social Media Fires Up Video Game Marketing

WWE Smackdown vs. Raw

Video game developers and publishers have begun scraping insights from purchasing data, online communities and piracy to fine-tune marketing efforts for a variety of games.

Facebook and Twitter campaigns have fueled the fire by rallying communities and augmenting traditional widgets or home page and takeover ads on MySpace or YouTube. Expandable rich banner ads promoting mainstream and action/shooter games on ad networks have helped, too.

But a group of expert panelists dug a little deeper to share a few marketing secrets to those attending the Digital LA panel discussion on video game trends and marketing at OTX in Culver City, Calf., Wednesday night.

Naughty Dog Senior Marketing Manager Arene Meyer explained how the company integrated Twitter into one of its story-driven games, which drove traffic to its Web site. The in-game Twitter feature in Uncharted tweets on behalf of the player as he plays, providing status updates or bragging rights as new gaming levels are achieved. Every tweet links back to Naughty Dog's Web site, he says.

Ben Collier, connected marketing manager at THQ, says online interactive content drove six times the Web traffic for WWE SmackDown vs. Raw, compared with the previous version. THQ built a teaser site that drove traffic from the Twitter and the Facebook pages. Using Facebook Connect, the company allowed gamers to customize a wrestler.

Communities have become a great marketing tool. Collier says marketers can tap into social network communities to target specific genres, instead of buying advertising that produces mass impressions on a broad scale of age and gender. Keyword advertising and promotional videos drive the message straight to the people who play and buy the games. "I loved when Facebook made their ad platform insanely usable in terms of building out keyword groups and advertising fan pages," he says. "This past summer it became easy to swap out marketing messages."

But it's easy exposing consumers to the marketing message online. The difficulty become walking them to the last mile, which Collier calls the distance between online and the retail store. "We try and use all the tools, from our network Web sites, to Google Analytics," he says. "We provide discount codes as an incentive for consumers to purchase the product. Although you're sometimes talking about physical goods in a store, there are online tools that can convert marketing efforts into sales."

And while the marketing focus historically has been on the person buying the game, the video game industry now realizes efforts need to tie in the player. "We have a lot of data on the person who purchases the games, and for years we assumed that person also played the game," says Tracy Williams, director of global brand management at Activision. "Now, we are getting more dynamic data about the number of people who actually play the game, which is about two or three age brackets lower than the person making the purchase."

Game publishers have viewed the target audience wrong, panelists agreed. Williams says digging deeper into the numbers from demographic studies tell Activation parent buy between five and seven games annually for their kids, which can "significantly" throw off the marketing data.

When asked how much piracy influenced the marketing plan and strategy, Williams says every PC game she shipped this year has been pirated in the first week. "The good thing is, I have a really good legal team and good resources to find the sites and shut them down," she says.

Collier agrees that piracy does determine the features developers put in products. The industry has begun to find ways to monetize used and pirated copies. He says expect to see interesting marketing strategies that tie in used and pirated copies in the coming year.

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