The Golden Rule of Marketing in Gaming: Listen to the Fans

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By Michael Murphy O’Reilly, Head of Business Development, Dexerto

Over the last decade, brands have rapidly increased their share of investment in gaming, ranging from esports team sponsorships, digital investment across media properties and increasing work with creators and influencers. This represents huge strides in the industry when at first the hardest part of starting out was convincing executives ‘Why Should Our Brand Care About Gaming?’ For many, the idea of people watching others play games or an ‘Influencer’ being someone who spent all day inside playing games and talking into a microphone was alien. To shift advertising dollars or investment capital into this space was seen as a foreign and unproven concept.

Since then, and especially on the eve of the pandemic, there’s been a shift as many senior leaders started to see this change evolve in their own homes. As teenagers began socializing through Fortnite and pre-teens watched Minecraft videos on Youtube and wanted Robux instead of pocket money, the conversation turned from ‘Why’ into ‘How’ and significant marketing and capital investment flooded into the market.

But as we have moved past these barriers, marketing teams and agencies face a new issue. We are seeing a breed of those who believe that because they know gaming they ‘understand’ the gaming audience. Indeed, this challenge isn’t just for brands and marketing teams. Just over a month ago gaming focused TV channel and digital network G4 closed its doors (again) after failing to attract significant audience reach. Dexerto CEO Josh Nino noted that it’s ‘Not just executives who don’t understand but even genuine gaming ‘veterans’ are failing to understand the market because they believe what they want to see is what fans want to see.’

So how can the industry not fall victim to this sense of if you play games, you understand gaming from a business POV? First, it’s crucial to understand the end game here, which is the fan audience. Each game is a unique ecosystem, and marketers cannot apply a one size fits all approach. Some game communities thrive on Twitter, some on Youtube, others are starting to emerge on Tiktok. The demographics of those fans change across games and they can play and consume multiple areas in gaming culture and then move to nothing at all. We’ve seen games appear with huge popularity and then be gone within weeks.

As brand marketers, how do you know which games to work with, which platforms to spend money on and which games will stick around or be gone in a matter of weeks? The best advice is to listen to the fans and don’t think you know more than them. The biggest mistake you can make in gaming is thinking you understand everything about gamers rather than going right to the source to ask the fans themselves what they want.

Marketers need to understand that success will come if you listen to what the fans want to consume, rather than what you want to create. But also understand that what works works in some communities might not work in others. Part of understanding gaming is knowing that now not everyone is a ‘Gamer.’ The best way to do this is to be active in the conversation and within relevant communities. Pay attention to chatter on Twitter, Twitch and Discord. Move quickly and be able to pivot but make sure your decisions are based on concrete evidence or research rather than just responding and being reactive to a flash in the pan.

It’s also important to think about how you can directly add value. Yes this is a tired statement but it’s true and will tie back to connecting your brand to fans.  Can you do giveaways of your product? Can buying your product or service offer enhancements to their game? Uncover what the community will find helpful whether that may be gifting subscriptions to a Twitch Channel or even offering chances to engage/play with their favorite pros and/streamers.

Lastly, know that it’s OK to fail. The sentiment across LinkedIn and Twitter would have you believe that doing something wrong in gaming can lead to end of the world consequences. The truth is most brands fail or trip up along the way. So long as the basics are done right and with good intent, then there’s always room to improve.

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