As the debate about the role of professional content on the Web rages on, some of the constant questions are: How much do "experts" matter compared to users (or friends)? And what exactly makes content premium? Videogames provide a perfect case study. There's plenty of raw material available online, a wide variety of opinions and a passionate fan base that unearths every nugget of information and opinion. Evidence shows that expert content about videogames turns out to play a crucial role.
In the games business, like any other, word of mouth matters. People ask their friends which games to play, and the most influential friends post on forums and boards, share status messages about their opinions and more. But unlike other media, the most influential friends in videogames are often the game journalists themselves, who (typically) love the same games as the general public.
A recent report claims that avid gamers perceive expert reviews and publisher content as 'biased,' and 'heavily commercialized.' These sound like exaggerations that don't reflect the opinions of the vast majority who play videogames. While of course some rabid fans may be above anyone suggesting what to make of a game, millions and millions read professional reviews every month.
For editorial staffs at gaming sites, credibility is on the line with every review. Videogame fans will remember for years the one game they hated that got a great review -- because they spent $60 on it and were disappointed. And if an editor, over time, seems to be letting bad games slide by, that editor and the outlet for which that editor writes will soon be left unread.
Sites that publish professional content are also often the hosts of broader discussions between users -- debates with professional editors and one another (did the reviewer get it right?). And if a user of a game site can produce content that is as good, as thoughtful, as knowledgeable and as entertaining as the content written by a paid editor, then that user's content should get higher billing than the "professional" content.
As trusted voices, premium content sites sit on top of a social funnel for recommendations. Traditional core gamers will be the some of the most powerful influencers in that funnel, and premium content sites have to empower these users to be great advocates for great games in every medium.
Even with the advent of YouTube, the iPhone, MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and more, premium gaming sites continue to deliver numbers that keep users and marketers coming back - in February 2010, gaming information sites had more than 58 million unique users.
So what's the right way for an advertiser to get its message across? Premium gaming media sites are a phenomenal way for a marketer to reach its audience. There simply aren't many places on the web where a marketer can reliably reach a large (but targeted) audience in a buying state of mind - and have a flexible enough palette to deliver a truly innovative campaign. Advertisers should jump on these opportunities in a way that not only respects - but enhances - the user experience.
Marketers can't just buy "inventory" - impressions alone won't get the job done. Visitors to premium gaming sites are thinking about buying games, but they're also inundated with facts, images, words, and messages. Clever campaigns and creative matter. And game publishers know their advertising has value regardless of how their games score with reviewers.
The new media universe has opened discussions about everything from toys to technology, and it's difficult to cut through the clutter - without a little guidance. As videogames burst out of their shrink-wrap and the number of games available at any given time catapults from hundreds to millions, it'll become even harder for people to find the games they want. Gaming media sites will have to focus on discovery in parallel with product review - but, if it's done right, premium content sites will still be the eye of the storm for all discussions swirling around the world of games.