Fandoms, Franchises and Flux: Addressing Audiences Amid Gaming Acquisitions

A closer look at the narrative unfolding in the gaming world through the eyes of the players

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Fandoms are forged in experiences, not contracts. While it’s easy to become transfixed by the billions being shuffled by tech and entertainment powerhouses to acquire game studios, they are akin to damage numbers flying across the screen in a fighting game. Yes, they are impressive, but they are merely indicators of a much more powerful mechanic at play: gaming fandoms.

Any brand marketer would be wise to yearn for the type of energy a gaming fandom can generate. The audiences can empty shelves, fill stadiums and create so much demand for a game that publishers are forced to suspend sales.

Why is this? At their core, games satiate the emotional and psychological needs of their players. Whether providing an immersive story, gratifying challenges, the thrill of competition or the camaraderie of online communities, games provide experiences that most brands can’t.

As brands and platforms explore the engagement potential of virtual and augmented realities, it’s no wonder that companies are clamoring to stake their claim to established digital communities with millions of ardent fans. Gaming audiences are consistently the first adopters of what’s next.

However, brand loyalties aren’t bound to companies—they’re bound to experiences. As such, when studios switch hands, the order of concern for players is often the inverse of the headlines.

Audience affinities are not transferable stock. For fans, the size of the deal is inconsequential relative to their experience, the franchises they love and the creators—not the suits—who make it possible. So, let’s examine the impact and narrative through the eyes of the players—and the messaging that marketers must convey when vying for attention and trust amid acquisitions.

Address availability concerns

The most common question that emerges around any game’s acquisition is how the move will affect availability. Will Overwatch still be available on PlayStation? Will Destiny still be available on Xbox? Will Wordle still be available without a New York Times subscription? The list goes on.

Fans want to know if they will still be able to enjoy a beloved experience in the way they are accustomed to.

—Barbie Koelker, vp of marketing, Spiketrap

Fortunately for their fans, some publishers choose to immediately reassure players that their mode of franchise enjoyment will persist (fans of both Destiny and Wordle may rejoice). However, other publishers are either too coy or too ambiguous to quell player unrest.

This draws consumer attention away from the source of brand affinity—the game itself—and puts the acquiring party in the limelight. Will they capitalize on their acquisition and make a multiplatform title exclusive in future generations? Or, will they foster goodwill and continue to support cross-platform distribution?

Fans want to know if they will still be able to enjoy a beloved experience in the way they are accustomed to. The longer they go without answers, the more apt they are to assume the worst.

For marketers at these studios—and at any tangentially related brands—communicating early and often about ways the game’s availability and experience will be maintained or heightened will be key to maintaining goodwill.

Highlight creativity amid change

Beyond immediate concerns about gameplay availability, gaming audiences also care about the treatment of both franchises and their creators. 

Will a studio known for excellence and artistry maintain its creative control through an acquisition, or will the team be rushed by a parent company known for excessive crunch? Conversely, will an acquisition by a financially solid organization provide much needed support and pave the way to greenlight new IPs and projects?

Whether seeking to maintain faith in a studio or infuse the fanbase with needed optimism, assuring that creativity will thrive amid change is key.

In this regard, Bungie has been clear in its declaration of creative independence amid acquisition by Sony, and Blizzard quickly and uncharacteristically announced the existence of a new IP via blog post.

Show positive steps

In instances where the acquisition may signal a fresh chapter for a brand in crisis, showcasing positive change is essential. However, just as progressing from neutral to exalted reputation with a faction in a video game takes time, brand revivals do not happen overnight. 

For instance, consider Blizzard Entertainment. It was once a brand whose individual franchise fandoms bolstered credibility and brand affinity for the studio more broadly. The mere presence of the blue logo could move boxes off shelves, cross-pollinating audiences. However, those franchises are now encumbered by the now-public tribulations of the Activision Blizzard organization.

While its road to reputational recovery is long—both as a creative powerhouse and a safe workplace—its acquisition signals a new chapter for the company. Provided it can reconcile the cause of its internal turmoil, early improvements in audience sentiment since the acquisition news—and particularly since a new IP was announced—suggest its playerbase is cautiously optimistic for its future. Consistently communicating true, positive progress will be key for the brand’s revival.

Be patient

Acquisitions aren’t magic wands or wish spells. Hype cannot restore a brand, shift allegiances or move millions of consoles overnight.

Depending on the reputation of the acquirer among fans of the acquired, the acquisition may either feel like a beacon of hope or an ominous fog. How these gaming powerhouses choose to engage their fans and provide clarity over the months to come will determine the health of their franchises—and the halo effect on their studio brands—moving forward.

After all, fandoms are forged through experiences, and faith is restored through action. These organizations may have acquired treasures in the form of franchises and fandoms, but their quest to captivate new audiences is only just beginning.