Video gaming is big business. By some measures, it is the biggest form of entertainment on the planet. In 2015, U.S. video game industry revenue was $23.5 billion (compared to just $11 billion for Hollywood). One thing that sets video gaming apart from other media channels is the control consumers have over the product. Oh, you didn’t realize players had any control over things? Let me explain.
While the biggest growth in gaming may be happening in mobile and casual games, the industry is rooted in big budget AAA titles that can reach gigantic global audiences. Franchises like Grand Theft Auto (which generated $800 million in its first 24 hours), Battlefield, Call of Duty and others attract millions of players and movie opening-level hype. For some, playing the base game isn’t enough - they want more than the often hundred+ hours the publishers intended. This is where mods come in and things can get interesting.
Serious gamers know that mods can really enhance the play experience. Mods (short for modifications) allow almost any aspect of a game to be altered. Mods can range from graphical improvements to new creatures or equipment to whole new maps and quests. For some games, there are tens of thousands of fan-created files. Many of them are cool and many are just absurd (imagine dragons in a game being replaced by characters from Thomas the Tank Engine and you get the idea).
Some marketers might blanch at the idea of giving fans control over their content but it’s not that crazy an idea. First, because only a small fraction of players actually take the time to mod games (though a much larger number are using mods) and second, because mods keep players engaged with the experience far longer than they would be otherwise. There are games out there that have tens of thousands of mods that have been downloaded millions of times. (The most modded game out there, Bethesda’s Skyrim, has nearly 50,000 mods files that have been downloaded more than a billion times.)
The world of modding extends the life of the content, increases the engagement of the community and deepens and enriches the game experience — at essentially no cost to the publisher. So what lessons can marketers take from gaming?
Be open minded — for virtually every product there are rabid fans and these fans frequently want to put their own stamp of the products they love. Don’t fear these fans! They love you and want to have fun with what you’ve created. Let them.
Be collaborative — modding works because publishers let it happen. Not every publisher, mind you, but many either turn a blind eye or actively encourage the creation of mods. Your fans should be given the same consideration. Don’t lock them out, welcome them in.
Be careful — modders are often monkeying around with the guts of a game in ways that can screw things up. The modding community learns from its mistakes and has created tools to help ensure players have a quality experience.
While it’s important to get your own story straight when marketing to teens, it’s also important to recognize that many in this audience aren’t satisfied with being passive consumers. That’s the whole point of mods to begin with. Players want to make their games more than the publisher intended but they are often doing it with the publisher’s knowledge and even encouragement.
Marketers, too, should be more encouraging of customers wanting to modify and enhance their own experience. Teens, in particular, want to make more of what they see and experience their own and will do it with or without permission. Rather than coming down hard, marketers should find and celebrate the good with taking measured and appropriate steps to manage the inevitable bad content out there.