A Look at the Gaming Industry’s Influencer Marketing Challenges

YouTube and Twitch sponsorships are becoming an integral part of any meaningful video-game-marketing campaign

Advertisers are moving away from interruption advertising and toward interactive means of getting their messages seen and heard. Nowhere is that trend more visible than in the growing popularity of influencer marketing.

According to Launchmetrics’ 2017 State of Influencer Marketing Report, 62 percent of the marketing, public relations and communications professionals queried said their companies launched at least one influencer marketing campaign in 2016. Over the past two years, influencer marketing has steadily grown in popularity and has just closed the gap with video advertising.

Comparing “influencer marketing” and “video advertising” on Google Trends illustrates the steady increase in popularity of influencer marketing. Note (see above) that the gap is now closed.

This is especially true for the gaming industry. YouTube and Twitch sponsorships are becoming an integral part of any meaningful video-game-marketing campaign due to a massive following by engaged audiences. And this is why: 90 percent of gamers turn to YouTube at least weekly for a gaming advice, while 64 percent of gamers download games after seeing them on YouTube.

We recently spoke with marketing experts from leading game publishers and independent studios to identify the top challenges they face with influencer marketing on YouTube. You’ll find value in their experiences, even if the vertical you serve isn’t the gaming industry. Let’s get started:

How can you find the right influencers?

Although YouTube influencer marketing has significantly matured since its early days, there’s still a long way to go for its full automation and optimization. With the ever-growing number of YouTube channels and limited targeting options provided by the platform, finding the right talent can be difficult.

InsomniacGames chief brand manager Ryan Schneider said:

There’s a lot of leg work that goes into finding the right influencer; the information isn’t readily available. If I were a PR person, and I was trying to find the right reporter at The Wall Street Journal, I could do that … probably within one Google search or two mouse clicks. Targeting the right influencers can be a lot more complex.

There are third-party tools available to assist with talent selection, but they’re rather generic. When promoting a video game, publishers are looking for the most relevant niche audiences. Finding an influencer for a specific game platform, genre or theme can make you feel like the farmer tasked with finding a needle in a haystack.

Along with the channel’s relevance, publishers need to evaluate its historical performance and conversion metrics. Given the lack of available data, that, too, is problematic.

Here’s one example of a creative way to analyze campaign results, from NCSoft public relations and influencer marketing manager Eleni Sagredos:

We look at the previously sponsored videos by that influencer and, if there are any bit.ly links in the description, look to see how many clicks they’ve received. You can put a bit.ly link into the Google search bar, add a plus sign at the end of the link and it will tell you how many people have clicked on that link.

How can you engage and recruit the right influencers?

Gaming influencers often play hard-to-get. As their popularity increases, there’s no easy way for publishers to get noticed within the barrage of opportunities popular gamers receive. Schneider said:

Influencers don’t necessarily make it easy for us to reach them. Maybe they offer an email address you find through either a general web search or through the platform, but they may not be checking that address often. Even if you find the right person, getting to speak with them and having a productive conversation is still not a given.

Another challenge with YouTube influencers engagement is the cutthroat pricing competition for popular talent. With the lack of transparency in pricing and no guarantee of a successful outcome, it’s often impossible for a marketer to justify those eye-watering budgets.

Access poses another problem: Marketers often end up working through several layers of brokers, which can muddle communication and make expenses skyrocket. Sagredos said:

I prefer reaching out directly to YouTubers. Agencies typically don’t have direct access to the influencer—they’re working through the influencer’s manager, so you’re paying twice the overhead: the overhead for the agency and the overhead for the direct manager’s cut of the deal.

Despite all of the obstacles, recruiting a few influencers is manageable, but bringing the process to scale is resource-intensive.

Publishers would love to see their games reviewed by influencers worldwide, but with the currently available tools and methods, that’s still a dream for most.

How can you know your content is right for the influencer’s audience?

Another hurdle that marketers face is finding a secret sauce for creation of authentic, engaging and relevant content. Gaming YouTubers upload new video content every single day, so breaking through all of this noise requires an effective content strategy.

Here, again, marketers turn to data analysis. Electronic Arts global head of community and engagement Adam Tanielian said:

There is so much competition, so how do you break through all of the other content that is out there? We use data to see what worked and what didn’t, to inform our creativity and help shape the content. To analyze content performance, we look at retention rates, watch time, shareability and appearance in search.

In an attempt to produce effective content, marketers are also trying to understand the channel’s audience, its expectations and its turn-offs. Each channel brings together a different crowd of gamers. It takes time and effort to analyze the demographics, unique dynamics, relationships with influencers and reactions to different types of content. Blizzard Entertainment global community engagement manager for Overwatch Kiki Aitken said:

It’s really about the quality of the content. It does take a lot of time to get to know the content that someone is producing, and also to go back and do some historical content analysis: What were they doing before, and how did it shape their community?

How can you measure results from influencer marketing?

One big caveat of YouTube influencer marketing is the lack of precise data tracking. While it’s easy to measure reach and engagement of an influencer campaign, performance and user-quality metrics can be difficult to capture and attribute. With 62 percent of mobile click-backs and 47 percent of desktop click-backs taking place via “dark social,” attribution remains the industry’s main challenge.

Since YouTube can’t adequately attribute views to sales, marketers often have to choose conversion over value attribution. Emma Larkins, former marketing lead at DreamSail Games and current freelance marketing specialist, said:

I guess one of the biggest challenges is that we have to sacrifice a little bit of trackability and attribution for just getting people straight to our content. We push users straight to our Steam page because we are concerned that with having a landing page we would get too much drop-off.

Marketers are trying to plug influencer marketing metrics into existing standards, but there’s a lack of standardization around their measurement. Even within the video-game industry, marketers have very different goals.

Moreover, there’s often no alignment among stakeholders on what exactly should be tracked and measured. It’s important right from the beginning to set expectations and methodology. Be clear about what you’re tracking, why you’re doing it and how you will do it accurately.

Wrapping it up

YouTube Influencer marketing is essential for the gaming industry, but it has also become a primary tool in many other industries.

62 percent of respondents in the Launchmetrics study said they expected that their budget share for influencer marketing would soon increase, while only 3 percent expected decreases.