How Gaming Marketers Innovate to Reach a Changing Audience

Gaming influencers have sway, and brands know it

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From Atari to Nintendo 64 to Xbox Series X, the gaming industry has spent the better part of 50 years evolving and innovating to reach new fans.

In recent years, platforms led by Twitch introduced a way for game players to grow their community and for brands to reach new and very lucrative customers by livestreaming their gameplay.

Of the $21 billion influencer marketing industry, gaming is the second most popular vertical, according to Influencer Marketing Hub, making up 12.9% of the market, trailing only fashion and beauty with 25%.

“Working in the gaming space is very broad,” said Reza Izad, co-founder and co-CEO of talent management company Underscore Talent. “You have family creators like young people doing Minecraft and Roblox content for younger demos, people doing first-person shooters and more professional esports guys,” Izad continued. Twitch, which has an enviable 31 million daily visitors and brought an estimated $2.8 billion in revenue to parent company Amazon in 2022, is far and away the leading platform of choice, said Izad.

A winning strategy

Gaming publishers are increasingly finding ways to work with influencers toward mutually beneficial outcomes in the $400 billion (and growing) industry.

For the most popular gaming influencers, their first step is getting the attention of game publishers like EA, Activision Blizzard and Take-Two Interactive. That happens through live tournaments and competitions. The publishers are watching the competitors as much as they are the audience to see how fans react to players.

“You go to the tournaments, you see who’s winning, and that’s who you’re trying to sign. It’s no different than trying to sign an athlete in the NBA,” said Izad.

Once a publisher has a marketing concept together, it has to figure out which type of creator makes the most sense: a casual gamer or a professional from a league like League of Legends or Overwatch.

“I think with a pro you get a slightly different product than you do with a casual lifestyle gamer,” said Izad. “Most marketers tend to be looking to reach a hard-to-reach audience. I don’t know if they care so much about performance as much as they care about reaching a demographic that’s critical for them to be engaged with their brand,” he continued.

Take-Two Interactive’s 2K has found a way to combine such concepts that have been separated by pro and leisure gamers through its creator program, NextMakers.

“We always start with the human and try to understand who they are,” 2K global CMO Melissa Bell told Adweek.

What works for influencers

NextMakers allows creators and publishers to create a long-term partnerships in lieu of one-off relationships. “Too often, publishers and creators work together in a transactional way. We’re changing that by focusing on the process just as much as the product with our creator community,” Bell said.

The program offers perks like direct access to the 2K creator team, revenue-generating opportunities and access to information about upcoming launches. These open lines of communication allow the creators to feel like they are not just KPIs to an influencer marketing team, but truly partners in the game’s success.

“When you’re talking about a game that you’ve been playing since the infancy of it, you never [imagine] you will be working with that game,” said gaming creator Uncle Demi, who started streaming during the Covid-19 pandemic. “It was pretty amazing to see that people at 2K were reaching out to up-and-coming streamers and creators that they thought had potential.”

Most creator programs require creators to have a certain amount of followers and engagement before approaching them. 2K, on the other hand, puts a premium on authenticity over numbers. “It’s about understanding our product offering and the values that that product delivers … connecting that with the player, and then bringing it all to life in the most creative, interesting way,” said Bell.

“It was like they naturally saw my content,” said gaming creator Lele Genkai. “They saw what I brought to the table.”

“It is about relationships with those content creators and understanding what they love,” Bell added.

Take-Two recently held a community-day event at the NBA’s New York office ahead of the launch of NBA 2K24. Adweek was there as creators and streamers from all over the world gathered to play the game, give initial reactions and offer firsthand feedback.

“When we do them, we want them to be fit for purpose and not just tick the box,” said Bell. “It is a tremendous effort to do it, not only on our part as a company, but the investment of time from a creator or person attending the event.”

Bell, who spent much of her marketing career in the automotive industry, said she’s learned one valuable marketing lesson through the mostly online, somewhat in-person platform: “The biggest advantage is really about relationships and spending time in real life with people.”

This story is part of The New Dynamics of Marketing Innovation special feature.

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