The US is one of the leading markets for video games, projected to be worth more than $106 billion in 2023. According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 65% of Americans play video games at least once a week. The most favored devices for gamers are mobile, console and PC/laptop, but with millions of games available across these channels, unless you’re one of the major players, it’s becoming increasingly tough to stand out from the crowd.
Marketing ahead of a release is therefore imperative, yet knowing the best way to advertise your game isn’t always straightforward. While there’s a deluge of information advising mobile game developers on pre-launch marketing - 780,000,000 pages based on Google search - it’s a whole different story when it comes to marketing console and PC/laptop games. Hard data on marketing success for these channels is somewhat elusive and it’s having an impact on the growth of the market. Many investors are reluctant to place a stake in these types of games, seeing them as “hit or miss” opportunities that are successful only by chance.
So, how can marketers of console and PC/laptop games better measure the success of their marketing pre-launch to maintain faith and financial backing on these platforms?
In a bid to ensure titles are as successful as possible, games marketers typically invest heavily in marketing prior to a launch. For bigger gaming companies this generally starts with showing a teaser, creating brand awareness at industry events, such as E3, Comic-Con, Gamescom, TwitchCon, and sharing early access with leading gaming figures and influencers. Closer to the launch date, companies will start paid media advertising including search, social, CTV, linear TV, cinema and OOH, often spending millions of dollars in pre-launch marketing.
Marketers take this spray and pray approach in the hope that at least some of the ‘noise’ they create will pay off, but without the ability to measure the impact of various channels, campaigns, tactics, and creatives, it’s unclear whether budgets are being wasted. Inability to measure results, also means gaming companies have no option of optimization or calibrating ad spend to channels which produce better future results than others. It’s easy to see why this method of marketing isn’t foolproof in its approach and why investors are turned off by the lack of tangible analytics.
The decision on where to spend, will often come from the same marketing playbook, but given the lack of ability to measure results, companies would have no option of optimization, or calibrating ad spend to channels which produce better future results than others.
User-based attribution, a method that served mobile companies for the past decade, was not available for a company where the delay between ads seen and conversion point (game purchased) is weeks or even months away from one another.
Methodologies such as MMM are also irrelevant to solve this challenge, as MMM relies on a large set of historical sales data.
With privacy regulations enforced by law makers and platforms (Chrome, Safari, iOS, Android) - individual user level data is becoming impossible to obtain. But we do live in a world where data is available, in aggregate form. Soft KPIs such as landing page visits, clip views, and wish lists, which gamers use as a reminder of a game they may want to play, can be a great early indicator to predict future marketing performance. And those KPIs are all available, but not on an individual user level.
(Images: Steam “top wish list” games ; YouTube analytics video views by country)
Whereas gaming companies, among many other industries, previously utilized user-based attribution, many of these solutions are not privacy safe and moreover they don’t work when there is a delay of weeks or even months between an ad seen and the conversion point (game purchased). Methodologies such as marketing mix modeling (MMM) are also irrelevant when it comes to solving this challenge for gaming companies, as MMM relies on large sets of historical sales data, which the majority of businesses in this industry do not have.
Recently, several of the mobile attribution companies announced console games marketing performance tracking, but again this relies on user-level data and only represents digital sales. Considering that retail and Amazon sales represent a sizable chunk of where sales happen, console tracking won’t provide the measurement answers the gaming industry is looking for.
So, is there a way that gaming marketers can achieve a comprehensive view of their activity so they can successfully market their products before and after launch?
Measurement methodologies which focus on measuring incremental value can utilize data sets in aggregation, helping companies measure the impact that TV ads had compared to YouTube views, or digital store wish lists for instance. This level of insight both online and offline is crucial, as it allows gaming marketers to optimize their ad spend by allocating more budgets to the channels, and campaigns that drive the most performance.
In order to utilize this type of measurement to its greatest success, gaming companies whose games are available on cross devices such as PC, PlayStation, Switch, Steam, EPIC, XBOX, and others – should measure both soft KPIs such as wish lists, as well as hard KPIs such as digital and retail sales.
Using incremental measurement platforms also enables gamers to go into more granular detail to see what external impacts might be positively or negatively impacting engagement, such as the weather, the day of the week and major announcements of other gaming industry news.
(Images Source: INCRMNTAL - Results for a Facebook campaign promoting a console game)
For games titles to be successful in a swarming marketplace, successful marketing both pre and post launch is a must. No longer can games companies rely on methods that breach consumer privacy or fail to provide the level of insight needed to encourage investment. Marketers need to have a better level of attack against the competition and ensure a healthy lifespan, otherwise it could be endgame before a title even hits the shelves.
Once the product is out in market, gaming companies will shift most of their marketing attention towards performance marketing. Swapping the goal KPI from wish list to sales.
However, this is not a good approach to marketing.
Gamers use wish lists as a “reminder” of a game they may want to play, waiting for this game to have a price discount or a promotion before they make the final decision to purchase it.
When optimizing purely based on sales data, marketers often forget that user-based attribution will only credit the last touch point a user had with an ad before converting. Using only this data point, marketers may come up with the wrong decision. The price discount would not even be considered as a factor in the measurement.
Having attributed the sale back to the campaign that made the user “wish list” the game, would be the way to measure and repeat success.
This is why gaming companies who’s games are available on cross devices such as PC, PlayStation, Switch, Steam, EPIC, XBOX, and others – must utilize both soft KPIs (wish lists) as well as hard KPIs (digital and retail sales)
INCRMNTAL is a cross platform measurement solution that does not rely or require user-level data, allowing marketers to measure the actual incremental value of marketing activities over soft and hard KPIs. INCRMNTAL works with companies measuring marketing performance over digital and retail game sales across platforms like Steam, EPIC, XBOX, PlayStation, Switch, and retailers globally.