Written by Andrew Shahmirian
So you’ve got a big budget title in the pipeline that has an equally big marketing budget. It’s part of a developing franchise and the higher ups have decided that this is the one that’s going to be big. So naturally, you want to position your game as a blockbuster hit and bill it as a huge cinematic experience to catch the attention of the mainstream market. How do you do that? You might decide to take a page from the movie industry. Buy big billboards, slap an enticing tagline on them, a release date, and a character from your title. Maybe something like this:
Job well done right? Well, not quite. If Darksiders II is anything to go by, your title’s sales will be far below expectations, despite having double the marketing budget of the first title. The Darksiders games were both quality titles, the third-person action genre is healthy, and the marketing budget was more than enough. So what went wrong? I’d venture to guess that the problem was in the direction marketing took. Here are 3 reasons why you can’t market a game like a movie:
1. Video games have a higher barrier to entry in both cost and perceived time commitment so consumers seek more information than a typical movie-style advertisement provides before making purchases.
Advertising campaigns for movies are typically meant to entice and intrigue. They are not required to go into too much detail because consumers are willing to spend $8 and 2 hours of their lives upon seeing a dude with a gun in a poster. All they need to know is the title and the release date if they’re convinced by the tagline and creative that it’s their type of movie. Videogames cost $60 a pop and depending on the genre could take 10 hours or more to complete. This makes impulse buys much rarer. The impression of “that looked kind of cool” that consumers get from movie-style billboard advertisements simply isn’t enough to get them to make the purchase.
2. Movie-style advertisements often rely on the iconic value of their actors and directors to sell.
How many times have you gone to the movies to see that one Russell Crowe movie or maybe that new Scorsese flick? Often consumers will see a movie based on the merits of the cast rather than finding out if it’s actually good. A videogame title doesn’t quite have an equivalent. Mainstream gamers don’t particularly follow which publisher or development team works on a project so it’s difficult to leverage a team’s track record when advertising a game.
3. The video game industry lacks prominent publications that the mainstream audience trusts.
If you told me Roger Ebert and the New York Times loved a movie, I would probably be fairly convinced to see that movie. If you told me that Gamespot and IGN loved a game, well… let’s just say they don’t carry the same weight. The movie industry relies on publications and critics to build hype leading up to a release and to give a film legs after its release. While the videogame industry does the same, it is not nearly as massive, influential or reliable because videogame journalism hasn’t found an audience outside hardcore gamers.
So what can you do? Consider a multi-pronged digital approach. Instead of trying to appeal to a big demographic with one message like movie-style advertisements, use a digital heavy approach that allows you to hit a variety of smaller demographics through numerous media channels.
For example, take Ubisoft’s initiative with what they call “companion games”:
“Our companion gaming strategy is focused on allowing players to play games based on the same IP universe across a number of different platforms and devices and to have those games provide some residual value or inter-related benefits” Source
With their Project Legacy Facebook game, Ubisoft set out to engage gamers before their big title even hit by offering in-game rewards in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood for their progress in the Facebook game. Coupled with an ARG and a making-of miniseries to reach the truly hardcore gamers and a couple of trailers and a flashy lore codex to entice and ease in new comers, you’ve got a better chance of actually converting impressions into sales through digital and social initiatives.
Gaming is an interactive medium so taking cues from Hollywood doesn’t always make sense. We should take every opportunity to engage customers in ways that reflect the nature of the medium instead of trying to emulate what works for other industries.