Commentary

Reaching Core Gamers Through Social Media

Part of the reason in-game advertising is seen as a medium of interest is because it provides potential access to a hard to reach demographic: the core gamer.  However, the games for which in-game advertising fits appropriately are few. There are many games that take place in fantasy or sci-fi worlds, where a contemporary advertisement just doesn't work.

How then, to reach the gamers that play these games?  There are two places that offer a decent chance of reach.  Game news and review sites are a surefire destination for core gamers, and have partnered well with advertising.  The other is currently lacking in sufficient ad optimization: game-related social media.

Just recently, the gaming-themed online series "The Guild" won its category in the YouTube Awards.   I spoke with creator Felicia Day about the series, and she mentioned the difficulties of launching what was perceived as niche entertainment. Indeed, it would be an unlikely fit for a prime-time network slot.  However, at 4.6 million aggregate views, it presents a highly targeted potential delivery vehicle for a relevant brand message.  Yet, while the show has been received some offers from producers, I got the impression that there weren't many advertisers taking the initiative.  The first season of the show was supported by viewer donation.

Donations aren't a rare business model for gaming-related social media, actually.  I recall one small online comic that subsided on donations, Penny Arcade.  Eventually they did pretty well, and had to stop letting people give them money.  They have since become one of the premier advertising slots for reaching core gamers -- often hired to work on game marketing material, precisely because of the positive relationship forged with their audience.

Just like general social media, gaming related social media isn't always safe for advertisers -- consider Athene, a "Chris Crocker" of gaming (an online personality built largely on an exaggerated persona, loved by those that get the joke, and hated by those that don't - and, warning, both links contain cursing).  But for every volatile media experience there are a handful of other, tamerexperiences.

Perhaps the biggest peril for advertisers is the issue of trademarks. Machinima and cosplay are other social media consumed by core gamers, but both of these rely inherently on what might be considered direct trademark infringement.

However, despite the perils, I would suggest pioneering advertisers with a desire to reach core gamers consider gaming-themed social media.  These are avenues of largely untapped branding potential, and if executed correctly, offer the opportunity of high impact results.  If gamers are willing to pay to support the media themselves, an advertiser stepping in to sponsor these efforts would be part of a positive brand experience that would be difficult to match.  While social media can potentially be dangerous ground, in this case it may prove well worth the risk.

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