In 2015 the global video-games industry grew by 8.5%, to a value of $99.6 billion. To put that in context, in the same year the movie industry earned just $38 billion . Games aren’t just for geeks any more — they’re bigger than Hollywood. For advertisers, this is a massive opportunity.
But to be relevant, we need to work collaboratively with game publishers to help the industry adapt to a changing market. The number of games being released is growing explosively. For instance, in 2016, the number of games released for Windows increased by 43%. For Xbox, the increase was 7%, for Playstation 6%, and for Mac 13%. And for iOS, more than 600 games were released every day . In such a crowded market, how can games studios find their audience and deliver their message?
Influencers and the data dilemma
The primary audience for games are young men, under 25: a notoriously hard audience to reach. Increasingly, game publishers are responding to this challenge by partnering with influencers — usually young people, often teens, with YouTube or Twitch gaming channels.
This delivers the audience. According to Google, 90% of gamers watch a YouTube gaming channel at least once a week , but it comes with a downside. The influencers themselves own the relationship with their viewers and most content platforms restrict the type of data advertisers can gather. This makes it difficult to maximise the value of your audience.
Many games publishers also take an old-school approach to media buying — purchasing inventory by site, prioritising publishers with gaming content, rather than by audience. This guarantees relevance but is expensive. And relying solely on media buying through insertion orders limits the scale and reach of the campaign and the opportunities for retargeting. Based on Xaxis’s experience working with clients from the games industry, we believe there’s a better way.
A different approach to games marketing
In 2016, Xaxis along with GroupM agency worked with a leading games publisher on one of the year’s biggest releases. The studio was about to launch a new instalment in an existing franchise. The last couple of years have been tough for mid-budget AAA games, with many met by the market with a feeling of ennui. Our client needed to find its game’s audience and get gamers excited by the new release.
The first thing we did, was place website tracking tags on the home page and the buy page for the game franchise. In the run-up to the campaign, we tagged some of the publisher’s pages and did
preliminary work defining and building the audience. Then for 65 days, we anonymously tracked the online behaviour of more than two million users, from six major markets, who visited both pages.
What we discovered confirmed the client’s understanding of its audience but provided additional insights that it would have been impossible to gain from the client’s own DMP, which only contained data from the gaming vertical. Using our insights, we could segment by age, interest, geography, and online behaviour. We then scaled each segment by matching its characteristics with user-interest profiles in the Xaxis audience data management platform. This gave the game studio a far larger potential audience for its release.
The campaign delivered over 68 million impressions. It hit or outperformed its target of 75% video completion rate (VCR) in all major European markets (already around 10% higher than the average for the vertical). In the end, the campaign outperformed even this ambitious target. Taken across all markets, the average VCR was 84%.
A foundation for continued success
This is just one difference between this campaign and one built primarily around influencers and traditional media-buying. Collaboration with our partners, such as GroupM agencies is essential and we were able to use client data from their own site to understand their audience — then expanding and scaling that audience by enhancing the client data with intelligence from the Xaxis DMP (data management platform).
Insights gained in this type of media-buying operation can be used to inform all other aspects of the campaign, whether content marketing, influencer marketing or PR. The same is not true in the other direction. An audience built on a closed platform cannot be reused on other sites and targeting media buying just at gaming sites yields relatively little new audience insight.
We believe that this data-led and scalable approach could successfully be replicated by other major game publishers. It would help them reach their audience and achieve — or exceed — their campaign targets. And by targeting the audience across a range of sites, rather than only on premium gaming sites, this approach can help significantly improve return on investment.
One thing that’s certain — the gaming industry is in flux and game studios are working hard to innovate their way to a new marketing model that works. A data-led approach that works across channels and devices has the potential to greatly increase the industry’s marketing reach, its ability to target its audience, and the effectiveness of online, cross-device campaigns.
. 2016 Global Games Market Report: An Overview of Trends & Insights, Newzoo Games, June 2016.
. Global 2015 Box Office: Revenue Hits Record $38 Billion-Plus, Pamela McClintock, The Hollywood Reporter.
. Pocket Gamer App Store Metrics.
. The Rise of Avid Mobile Gamers on YouTube, Google, March 2016.