Gaming companies could be wasting their time (and a lot of money) pouring their efforts into the wrong channels. A study released Tuesday indicates that the core gaming audience has a limited tolerance for messages directly from the publishers of games. In fact, the audience is even suspicious of "expert" reviews (such as those on IGN.com and Gamespot), which they perceive as biased because they are highly commercialized and subsidized by advertising from the publisher. [After this story was published IGN contacted Online Media Daily to dispute Blitz's claim. Please see note below.]
"The heavy gamer really disregarded the majority of publisher advertising and marketing; their preference was to go to the purest sources they could find," says Ivan Todorov, CEO of Blitz. "One thing that kept coming up in both the study and in the focus group was that they preferred to go to YouTube to watch game-play footage over the marketing or the destination Web sites, or even the content on Gamespot or IGN."
YouTube was an unmediated source, where other gamers had posted game play, that respondents trusted. "They tend to think that publisher content has been touched up, or sweetened up, in post-production to make the graphics look better," says Todorov. "They really prefer peer content." Another outlet that gamers went to for information was Wikipedia -- even before they went to the publisher site -- or sometimes, elsewhere after, avoiding the publisher site.
The top three sources cited as "one of the most important factors" in determining gaming purchases were talking to friends, having friends who played the games, and online peer reviews, with people citing friends as being twice as influential on their decision as expert reviewers. Surprisingly, only a small percentage said social networks were one of the most important factors.
This leads Todorov to conclude that social networks like Facebook are severely under-utilized. "Which really presents a good opportunity for game marketers to really enable those tools and platforms that allow gamers to become influencers," he says. On of the key way of doing this would be incorporating social platforms into game play, such as challenging friends to be high scores, etc.
The study also found that television was one of the biggest drivers of interest in games, but was most effective when featuring actual video of the game, something that Blitz found was often overlooked. Another obvious mistake that gaming marketers make, according to the report, is neglecting to clearly state what is new in a sequel, which can be a key buying-decision-making differential.
In an effort to better understand what types of marketing and what channels influence avid gamers Blitz, a marketing agency that has working with top video game publishers, commissioned Mintel to conduct a study of 1,000 gamers between the ages of 13 and 35 (with a 60/40 split between male and female respondents), supplemented with additional focus groups and research. For the purposes of the study, an avid gamer was one who played a minimum of 7 hours a week on either consoles or portable game devices, and buy at least 9 titles a year. The white paper that resulted, "Pulling the Trigger to Purchase," can be downloaded here.
"While this study focused strictly on the techniques used to market video games, targeting the 'avid gamer' is similar to targeting other key audiences that can act as influencers for brands. These groups help carry the banner for a brand, in a way that can often be perceived as more genuine than the brand pushing the message by itself," says Todorov.
Blitz is an integrated marketing agency that has worked with many video game publishers, including Activision/Blizzard, Atari, Bioware, Eidos, Electronic Arts, Lucas Arts, Midway, Nintendo and Vivendi Games.
Update: [3/10 2:22 p.m.] "We haven't seen the [Blitz] research yet, but we agree that people ask their friends which games to buy -- often their most influential friends are on sites like IGN.com, reading our reviews to form an opinion -- 64% find our reviews 'very' or 'extremely' important to their decision to buy a game," said Charlie Barrett, SVP of Sales for IGN Entertainment, citing "internal research." In additio, Barrett referred to an Insight Express study conducted on IGN's behalf that found advertising on IGN.com lifted unaided brand awareness by 50 percent for the title "Fallout 3."