From the first time I used my Gameboy, I’ve been a fan of video games. While my hand-eye coordination could use some work, I remain a true fan of video games. The story lines, characters, graphics, and marketing have all peaked my interest. From what I've gathered, video game marketing is a whole new artform in it of itself. Not only does it have to be creative, but it also has to be captivating, engaging, exciting, thought-provoking, and fun all at once.
When it comes to video games, there's so much to it than just launching a new game. Each launch is treated as an event. Video game marketers are faced with questions such as: what makes people want to take part in this? What are we doing to get people excited? How can we outshine the other launches that happened already or are happening around the same time? With the size of the gaming community and the potential for new gamers, marketing tactics need to be absolute game changers (ha).
By now, just about everyone has heard of Fortnite. In 2017, the game launched as a free player vs. player game. Part of what made it so popular was the fact that this game was free to download, and free to play. Popularity continued to rise with the release of fun costumes and dance moves that characters could either purchase or unlock by playing and completing in-game challenges. In 2018, Fortnite decided to take their marketing efforts to the street. The famous Loot Llama started showing up in cities across Europe for people to take pictures with and, in some cases, ride. For those that don't know, the Loot Llama is a semi-rare pinata in the game that has a lot of helpful items in it if found.
Obviously, this stirred up quite a lot of conversation. Current players wondered if this meant something new was going to be happening with these llamas, while those who never heard of these before were curious as to why they just found a giant llama in their town. The tweets were trending and the photos were going viral. Not only did this get people from inside the community talking, but it tipped the scale for those that were on the fence of trying out Fortnite. This was the turning point in Fortnite's marketing efforts. From there they took on riskier stunts, such as the now famous 36-hour "blackout." On October 13, 2019, Fortnite season 10 ended by the entire map being sucked into a black hole. For 36 hours, their social media was silent, the game featured nothing but a black hole, and their website was nothing but a live feed of the event. Players patiently watched, hoping that this black hole would let up, or shoot out some hints for the upcoming season. This stunt became one of the most talked about gaming events of the year.
Red Dead Redemption 2
While Fortnite aimed their stunt at everyone, Rockstar Games aimed theirs at the Red Dead community. The first Red Dead Redemption game came out in 2010, and 11 years later is still considered one of the most esteemed games of all time. Fans patiently waited for six years for even a sliver of more RDR, and a sliver is exactly what they got. Rockstar rolled out with the art of creative simplicity. They tweeted out a photo of their logo with a red backdrop in 2016. No context, no frill, no over the top dramatics. Just their R with a star and some red. That was all they needed.
Creativity doesn't always mean extravagance. Just doing something that others didn't think to do is creative. This one post got the entire community talking about whether this meant another game was coming soon. Little did they know that this was just a teaser, and the game wasn't coming out for another two years. The next time Rockstar hinted toward the game was nearly a year later, with an image of the silhouette of seven of the characters. In 2018, they rolled out their official release date. Bus ads, billboards, posters, the sides of buildings, were all spots Rockstar used to promote their game. Let’s not forget the trailers. Video game trailers allow for players to get a sneak peek at characters, scenery, and graphics. The release of these movie like trailers left much to be desired, and with the gaps in release dates, gamers waited for whatever bit Rockstar would give them. What made this brilliant, was the ability to cause such a stir for two years before the game was out, and keep people wanting more the whole time. That probably explains why it made $725M in the first three days of its release.
Grand Theft Auto
Even if you have never played this game, you've definitely heard someone say "stop driving like this is Grand Theft Auto." One of the most popular games in the world is also top tier at advertising. This game also comes from Rockstar games, however, the audience GTA has built requires a bigger marketing strategy. Everyone can post on social media and put up billboards, but GTA has so much more behind it. Wanted posters are posted up well before the release to create buzz about certain characters. The painting of a mural of the GTA artwork not only gets people excited, but gets them engaged. People take to the internet to find out what it all means, and with GTA, it doesn't stop there.
Billboards and posters with interesting imagery is fun, but not enough for GTA, so they took to social media. Their own social media to be exact. Lifeinvader was created as a parody social media page set in the world of GTA. Protagonists each have an account, and references to the game pop up all over. Accounts can be created to engage with the site. As if one website wasn’t enough, another was created based on a feature in the game. The Epsilon Program is a cult-like group in the game for players to “seek the truth.” Rockstar took this and created a unique page for players to register for the program. Don’t worry, this didn’t sign people up for a cult, but it did however keep people entertained. Not only does it have people engaging with the game when their console is turned off, but it keeps the community growing.
Marketing a video game isn't a simple task. With the amount of games out there, there needs to be something that sets yours apart. Fortnite didn't have an established fanbase when they came out, so a lot of the marketing needed to be geared toward current gamers and those interested in gaming. It needed to get as many people engaged as possible and it did just that. Rockstar, on the other hand, had an established audience for their games for quite some time, so what they needed to do was keep them interested. Spending at least two years to build up the excitement of their audiences gave people just enough to wet their tongues. These tactics had people taking to social media, causing the conversations to continue, making their names bigger each and every day.
The art of storytelling is an art best used by video game marketers, because they are not only able to get people interested in the game, but the whole story. Players are just as interested in the new characters and their part in that world as they are in the game they are playing. These three games have always come out the marketing doors, guns blazing. Whether you play or not, watching their creative genius at work is entertainment enough.