The gaming industry has truly come of age in our modern media landscape. Once a niche market with a small net worth, now the gaming industry is arguably the dominant entertainment category of our age.
In a sign of the old order being turned on its head, even the largest and most ambitious movie franchise in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe, cannot match the revenue of Activision’s Call of Duty franchise. What has led to the rise of the games industry, and what crucial marketing strategies have been employed in order to catapult this phenomenon from immature pastime, to high art, in the eyes of the consumer public?
In the early days of gaming, each platform had a flagship game franchise and accompanying mascot. These characters came to represent the values of the platforms they were promoting. Mario represented a fun and approachable nature, in alignment with Nintendo’s broader marketing strategy. Sonic the Hedgehog, Sega’s counterpoint to Mario, was devised to appeal to an older audience, and his characteristic speed was meant to parallel the superior performance of the Sega Genesis console.
When Sony’s PlayStation came on the scene, Sony endeavored to create one of the gaming world’s first virtual celebrities: Lara Croft, the voluptuous adventurer heroine of the Tomb Raider games. The presentation of the character and accompanying franchise was supposed to differentiate the PlayStation as a more mature console designed to appeal to adult audiences. Over time, these characters, and the many that followed in their footsteps, led to the rise of extremely strong intellectual properties that were eminently recognizable and marketable.
In the iGaming sector, reputable platforms host offers on their popular titles, such as free spins on slots games, or daily jackpots. These types of promotional specials are an effective way to let prospective patrons develop familiarity with your service, making them much more likely to return in the future. Traditional promotional models such as this further add to the aura of accessibility around gaming that sets it apart from other, more gatekept, media formats.
One of the longest running methods in the game industry’s marketing playbook is the demo. Due to the way games are laid out they can be segmented, similar to chapters in a book or acts in a play or movie. Whereas locking 3/4ths a film behind a paywall after offering the first quarter for free is only likely to aggravate customers, with games there is more leeway for this approach.
This is due to the fact video games often combine narrative storytelling with novel gameplay mechanics. Whereas someone may only want to read through a chapter of a book a certain number of times before becoming bored, in a game there exists an opportunity to grow more skillful at navigating the content.
The drive to reach a higher score, or complete a level in a shorter time, increases the replay value of gaming content. This makes demos, or limited trials of video games, a compelling marketing strategy. A gamer that has put time into playing the same content-bound segment of a title frequently, is ultimately more likely to want to buy the full game in order to get access to new challenges.
Game demos first came to prominence with the arrival of the first CD based games consoles, such as the PlayStation 1. This is due to the fact CDs are relatively cheap to produce, when compared with cartridges. Demo CDs became a mainstay of video game magazine circulation in the mid to late 90s, with each CD hosting as many as 30 demos of various games. Nowadays, demos can be downloaded directly onto consoles and PCs, streamlining the process.
The nature of games as interactive opens up a range of possibilities that traditional media cannot access. For example, the multiplayer modes in video games hold out the promise of games as social events unlike the more passive experience of watching a movie. The multiplayer element can be successfully marketed to a whole spectrum of potential customers, from casual gamers who want to play with their friends, to Esports hopefuls looking for the next competitive challenge to engage with.
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