Engaging new game audiences through influencers is easier and more rewarding than you realise

Adrian Kotowski, General Manager, Influencer Marketing, at Flexion, argues that brands who are brave enough to divert marketing spend from advertising to influencers will reap the rewards.

Game publishers overestimate the effectiveness of advertising and underestimate how easy it is to get going with influencer marketing. Including more influencers in the mix delivers a more engaged audience and a reliable ROI

Back in 2014, game developer Konstantin Elgazin came up with a cunning plan. He faced a problem that has only got worse since. Gaming is a huge market (more than $300bn in 2021 by some estimates) yet it’s crowded, with tens or even hundreds of thousands of very playable games all vying for attention. Finding a way to make your game stand out has become a perennial problem.

Elgazin’s 2014 offering was a new version of the cartoon-like practical joke game ‘Trollface Quest’. As he’d done in the past, he sent the game to Felix Kjellberg, a YouTuber who built an enormous audience videoing himself playing games. You’ll know Kjellberg better as Pewdiepie, perhaps the biggest influencer of all time. In 2014, he had 40m subscribers to his channel. Today, he has 111 million.

The stunt Elgazin pulled was to put a cartoon representation of Pewdiepie himself in the game. The surprise and delight of the YouTuber as he discovered the joke certainly caught his subscribers’ attention. It was a genuine YouTube moment.

Copycats did not always reap the same reward. The idea had got stale very quickly.

This kind of story has given many game publishers the impression that influencer marketing is a kind of chancy strategy. High rewards, potentially, but a little hit and miss. In fact, this is a misconception. If you get your approach right, influencer marketing can give you just as reliable an ROI as advertising, possibly more so.

The best approach is to never rely on a single channel, even one as big as Pewdiepie’s. Mix different types of marketing. Don’t rely on a single influencer – you’re better off spreading your investment across a number of smaller personalities.

Word of mouth is still best
Back in the day, word of mouth was king. Your grandmother probably played ‘Angry Birds’ on her first smartphone because everyone was talking about it. But since then, the business has consolidated, has become more serious. It remains important, but you cannot rely on word of mouth alone to make a game successful.

But some are getting their calculations wrong, putting too much emphasis on advertising, and forgetting that a recommendation from one friend to another can have a much bigger impact on revenue.

For example, one analysis showed that brands were overestimating the effectiveness of Facebook ads by 4,000 per cent. That’s quite a big miscalculation.

Forbes notes that millennials (a vital demographic for game revenue) are a particularly challenging market. These digital natives respond in a different way to information, especially targeted advertising.

Millennials go to their friends and social networks to see what people think before they make any kind of purchase choice. They use a kind of collective filter using internet research and word of mouth to reach smarter decisions.

Influencers fit into that landscape more seamlessly than other power marketing approaches. Influencer marketing is much closer to word of mouth and so tends to be rated more highly.

Including your audience
Even when a millennial is aware that they are seeing promotional material, they tend to respond better because it is coming from someone they are already following, someone they feel they know a little. Someone they like. Instead of being talked at by a corporate voice telling them “buy this game!”, millennials are used to having control over the information they receive. They like conversations, rather than lectures. They respond to coupons and offers. They expect to be rewarded for even a like, let alone for spending money. They want to feel included. 

There is clear evidence that a click coming via an influencer gives you a more engaged player, likely to spend longer with your game, more likely to make in-app purchases and so drive revenue. According to
Morning Consult, 50 per cent of millennials trust influencers they follow on product recommendations, compared with just 38 per cent who trust their favorite celebrities.

It makes sense. If they arrive thinking ‘my favorite influencer tells me this is going to be a great game’ they are in a more positive frame of mind than if they are thinking ‘the maker of this game tells me it’s going to be great (big surprise!)’.

Globally, 23 per cent of young men aged 18-34 follow gaming personalities (according to YouGov) making this type of influencer their most popular. The same report shows that gaming influencers are the second most popular type (36 per cent) among all US teens, after music influencers (38 per cent). Influencers are already big for game players. It is a space game marketers simply must inhabit.

The answer is to spend less on advertising – which is increasingly difficult to measure and to which people are increasingly resistant – and more on influencers. This approach will give some in marketing the jitters. It can become a nightmare managing a bunch of sensitive egos and coming up with a constant stream of innovative content. The kind of overhead this involves can throw your RoI straight out the window.

Let an agency take the stress
But the solution is easy. Just like you’d use an advertising agency to get you the best out of your ad budget, use a specialist influencer marketing agency to handle the chaos of managing a portfolio of influencers, keeping track of the best channels and helping you create up-to-the-minute content suitable for the job. You should be setting budgets and measuring results. That way you get a reliable RoI and build an engaged audience for your game.

A programmatic approach is also possible with influencers. German start-up Liteup (full disclosure, Flexion has a 20 per cent stake in Liteup) has an app that attracts micro-influencers on TikTok. Games can be marketed across tens of thousands of these influencers at the push of a button. You only pay for each click you get, so your ROI is guaranteed. This may well be the future of game marketing – at the very least it is something to include in the mix.

Influencer marketing, particularly in games, has become more mature. Smaller influencers welcome well-thought-through content from publishers – offers and giveaways help them build their audiences and therefore their businesses. In return, they are more likely to understand the marketing viewpoint and deliver engaged new customers for games.

And your potential audiences will welcome a switch too. After all, it’s much more fun to browse through posts from your favorite personalities than it is to put your life on hold while you wait for an ad to play out. We’re all getting a little sick of the ads, aren’t we? It’s time to stop annoying our audiences and start engaging them. Long live influencers.