The video game industry is booming. With a market size of over $400 billion globally, some estimates claim the gaming industry is bigger than movies and music combined. As gaming continually grows year over year, game developers have innovated and mastered numerous marketing tactics to attract new players while keeping their existing audiences engaged.
Even if you’re not in the gaming space, these valuable marketing lessons can be taken from the video game industry and applied to any industry. Here are 5 of the most effective video game marketing strategies that can help any business level up and boost its success.
1. Build a community
Gaming companies invest heavily in online communities where fans can gather to discuss their games. By using platforms like Reddit, Discord, and Facebook – in addition to the hundreds, if not thousands, of gaming forums – game developers can have direct conversations with players and receive not only immediate feedback, but also suggestions to improve the gameplay experience such as new features.
This tight-knit atmosphere fosters an emotional connection where gamers feel attached not just to the game, but to the culture and brand surrounding it, which turns them into passionate ambassadors for their favorite games who actively spread the word and defend the titles they love. For example, ‘Fortnite’ has built an immense community by actively engaging with players on social media and through their own forums, creating a loyal and interactive fanbase.
You can cultivate the same fervor by dedicating resources to build an engaged community around your brand on social platforms. Keep hubs active with exclusive content and feedback opportunities to incentivize deeper connections with customers.
Doing so organically multiplies your reach as devoted brand advocates voluntarily spread the good word to their own networks, and it’s powerful marketing that money can’t buy as 64% of marketers say that word-of-mouth is the single-most effective advertising method.
Sandbox games like Roblox and Minecraft have massive communities with millions of people but thriving communities have sprung up around all kinds of genres including fighting games, first-person shooters, sports, MMORPG (massive multiplayer online role-playing games), adventure games, and so much more.
2. Work with influencers
Gaming heavily leverages influencer sponsorships across YouTube, Twitch, and other platforms to hype new releases while cultivating and maintaining interest in existing titles. Early access gameplay demos for influencers with millions of engaged followers drives tremendous interest. But micro-influencers are equally as important, especially for those on a budget as influencers with smaller accounts (think follower counts in the tens of thousands versus millions) are much more affordable to work with while providing laser-targeted promotions to hyper-engaged audiences.
To find the perfect influencers to work with, identify the most prominent and relevant voices in your vertical, regardless of following size and look for creators who are open to brand partnerships. For mid-tier influencers, you could try product seeding (i.e. sending them free stuff without obligation) or branded overlays to increase brand awareness in a more natural way than traditional advertising.
Consider how ‘Among Us’ skyrocketed in popularity through strategic collaborations with influencers such as PewDiePie, Markiplier, and Mr Beast on platforms like Twitch and YouTube, demonstrating the power of influencer marketing.
Another method is doing paid sponsorship deals with creators and providing them with unique tracked links to measure conversions so you can identify which influencers have the strongest conversion rates for future collaborations.
Even micro-influencers with remarkably few yet highly targeted followers can provide precision exposure to amplify your niche marketing efforts. For more examples of effective influencer marketing in video games, check out our collaborations with PUBG Mobile and Call of Duty: League.
3. Referral programs
Gaming companies build referral programs that offer virtual rewards to gamers who refer their friends to play the game. This leverages players’ social connections to raise awareness of game developers’ titles while leveraging word-of-mouth marketing in a different way.
Sometimes, the person who made the referral is the only one who gets any rewards but other referral programs also reward new players for the simple act of signing up or making their first purchase.
The virtual rewards include things like in-game perks (such as unlocking new levels, getting power-ups, or getting special items) and aesthetic customizations (like new character models or skins) that tap directly into our ingrained psychological motivations for things like achievement and self-expression.
But you don’t need a video game to create these kinds of referral programs and perks for your customers as businesses can provide discounts, gift cards, giveaway entries, or early sale access to encourage existing customers to refer their friends. Blizzard, the game developer behind ‘World of Warcraft’ and ‘Hearthstone, ‘ has a successful referral program known as ‘Recruit a Friend‘ that offers in-game rewards to players who bring in their friends
Just make sure to clarify the referral conditions and track them via unique URLs to prevent misuse or exploitation.
4. Discounts and rewards
Game releases often come with launch discounts and bonus in-game rewards for early adopters. This incentivizes fans to purchase right away and helps convert gamers who are on the fence. Another way to dial up the pressure is offering limited-time discounts and rewards to create an even greater sense of urgency and a fear of missing out if they don’t act quickly enough.
For example, the release of ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ included early bird discounts and exclusive digital content, a tactic that generated significant pre-launch buzz and sales.
For any product launch, using discounts, coupons, contests and giveaways will stimulate excitement and sales. Come up with creative rewards your target audience would value that also make sense for your business. If designed well, the initial spike in customers could lead to sustained growth long-term.
Livestreaming allows gamers to broadcast gameplay in real-time while providing commentary. Fans feel connected watching someone play, joke around, and react authentically to the game as they also imagine what it’s like to be playing the game themselves. This helps audiences evaluate games before purchasing and developers cater to this by offering early demos to influencers with millions of engaged followers and the added visibility can drive exponential hype and sales.
Another bonus of livestreaming is that it’s user-generated content (UGC), which not only helps build a community around the game but it also makes players feel more invested in the growth and success of the game. UGC is also seen as more authentic than other marketing methods and it’s great for brands because it’s so much cheaper as it’s the users creating the content, not them. It’s also unique to the individual creators and allows them to present the game in the way that makes the most sense for their audience.
ChocoTaco is a great example of a popular gaming creator who’s always livestreaming PUBG: Battlegrounds and he stands out from other streamers due to his more laidback personality and ability to talk through his strategies as he’s playing the game.
Compare that to your typical influencer collaborations where the influencers are reading off a company-provided script. Most people can see right through it and if you’re working with dozens of influencers reading off the same exact script, it becomes even less effective.
Brands can similarly stream raw behind-the-scenes peeks at products or processes. Going live fosters transparency and resonates with the less polished, authentic vibe audiences favor today.
Maintaining an ongoing stream presence helps build thought leadership and trust over time as viewers connect with real employees in your company. Games like ‘Minecraft’ have seen a surge in popularity partly due to live streaming by popular gamers, highlighting the effectiveness of this marketing strategy.
If livestreaming isn’t a viable option for your business, consider the massive potential of unboxing videos to give people a sneak peek at your products. Much the same way that livestreams allow viewers to vicariously play the game, an unboxing video gives viewers the chance to see what it’s like to receive, open, and play around with the products before they decide to buy it.
6. Leaks and surprise drops
A prime example of the power of leaks and surprise drops is the recent ‘GTA 6’ trailer leak. Although it leaked a day earlier than planned, it created immense buzz and has dominated the conversation for days.
Leaks also generate intense interest and discussion, ranging from those who wonder whether it was a legitimate leak or a marketing ploy, to fans who are simply happy to get an earlier-than-expected peek into a game they’ve been anticipating for years.
Tacticalgramma‘s recent post about Call of Duty: Warzone is another great example of how strategically dropping new info on upcoming games can continue to build buzz in the lead-up to launch.
Unplanned leaks can threaten to disrupt an entire game’s go-to-market strategy but if that happens, it’s better to look at it as a golden opportunity to turn an unexpected situation into free publicity. The key is how companies manage the aftermath of such leaks and turn potential setbacks into massive marketing wins.
Leaks and surprise drops demonstrate the unpredictable yet potentially lucrative nature of viral marketing tactics, and they’re extremely effective at dominating the conversation for days, even weeks, and it can even move markets. By navigating these scenarios skillfully, businesses can capitalize on the heightened public interest but this approach requires a delicate balance of spontaneity and strategic planning to ensure that even unplanned events contribute positively to the brand narrative.
7. Conventions and award shows
The gaming industry capitalizes on annual conventions to build hype for upcoming games. These events vary from large industry-wide expos like Gamescom to developer-specific conventions such as BlizzCon. These kinds of conventions provide an unparalleled platform for developers to engage with fans in real life, unveil new products, and generate excitement.
Then there are the video game award shows like The Game Awards that have happened every December since 2014. The most recent show was last week, and there were some wild promotions that utilized AR and VR technology in a stunning way. And while The Game Awards may have the highest profile, there are plenty of other award shows that honor video games, such as the DICE Awards (which some consider to be the Emmys or Oscars of gaming), the BAFTA Game Awards, and the Golden Joystick Awards, to name a few.
It’s not just about the announcements made but also about the immersive experiences provided to attendees. This approach can be adapted by businesses to create buzz around their products or services, using conventions as a stage to connect with their audience and create memorable, hype-worthy moments in real life.
Conventions offer a unique opportunity for direct interaction with the target audience, allowing businesses to showcase their products, services, brand personality, and values. By crafting engaging and immersive experiences at these events, companies can leave a lasting impression on attendees, turning them into brand ambassadors who spread the word long after the event concludes. This tactic exemplifies the power of experiential marketing in building strong, emotionally resonant connections.
The video game industry is a shining example of how to add gameplay elements to maximize user engagement. It’s literally what video games do, after all. But instead of jumping across pits of molten lava, one-way businesses can utilize gamification by rewarding customers with points for every dollar they spend (as mentioned in discounts and rewards section earlier).
When you don’t have time to put out the fires.
In addition to points, businesses can incorporate loyalty programs, leaderboards, and even recognition programs to add more user interactivity and improve engagement.
The Starbucks app is a case study of successful gamification in how it implemented points and challenges to increase customer engagement and retention. And largely due to Starbucks’ in-app payment system, Starbucks holds over $1.5 billion, which is more than some banks and it basically amounts to an interest-free loan from its customers.
Starbucks also further gamified its app through the challenges that change regularly, which encourages customers to check back often and then try to beat the challenge, which could be buying 5 specialty coffees within a week to get a free one, or having app purchases be worth 2x or 3x the points for a limited amount of time (think of it as a temporary power-up, like getting a “star” in Mario Kart).
Video games are an art form and a powerful medium for storytelling. Some of the best games stick with us long after we’ve played them because the stories are so resonant or iconic. Some games have even been adapted into film or TV — for better or for worse.
Just this year, we saw the Super Mario Bros. Movie earn $1.3B at the box office while The Last of Us was one of 2023’s best TV shows. But in any adaptation, there are certain elements of the story and characters that you want to capture, to ensure the essence of the game is preserved in the jump from consoles to the silver screen.
Brands can look at video games for examples of how to take brand storytelling to the next level, pun intended. Start with the message first and then think about how to translate the message into a 1500-word blog post, a 60-second Instagram story, or a 160-character meta description. Businesses can also incorporate data storytelling by identifying the metrics, KPIs, or stats that add more credibility and proof to the story you’re trying to tell.
Case studies are one of the best and most popular examples of brand storytelling in business as most case studies have a built-in narrative structure with a definitive beginning (ie. what’s the problem), middle (ie. what was the solution and how was it executed), and end (ie. what are the results).
Brand storytelling goes beyond case studies because anything that you do is a potential story. In the previous point, we talked about Starbucks gift cards, and their 2020 blog, “A look back at 20 years of Starbucks cards“, is an excellent example of how businesses can turn almost anything into a story with enough creativity and the right framing.
10. Early access incentives
Gaming companies have leveraged early product access as a key incentive to drive pre-launch momentum. By providing influencers, hardcore fans, and beta testers with exclusive first looks at new titles, studios build anticipation ahead of release. Games like Fortnite, Call of Duty, GTA V have granted early access to fuel pre-order sales and word-of-mouth buzz.
Offering early access privileges makes target users feel valued as industry insiders. It grants them bragging rights for being among the first to experience the product. And it enables companies to incorporate user feedback ahead of launch to improve the final product.
Businesses can similarly provide VIP customers or brand advocates with exclusive early access to products or services before broad public availability. This makes loyal customers feel appreciated. It captures authentic user reactions for testimonials. And it lays the social proof groundwork to fuel word-of-mouth buzz.
Another way brands can provide early previews is through unboxing videos and influencer collaborations. Unboxing videos are a great way to give audiences a sneak peek at products before they’re widely available to the general public. Plus, they’re extremely effective at growing awareness and building buzz for a new product launch because it allows viewers to vicariously experience the whole unboxing process before buying it themselves.
Early product access has fueled gaming’s virality for years. Savvy studios know the power of letting select audiences test-drive games prelaunch. Consider what privileged early peeks could similarly do for your brand’s new offerings.
Applying gaming marketing tactics to your business
Now that you understand why game studios employ tactics like community building, live streaming, influencer collabs, user-generated content, and persuasive referral programs, it’s time to pick the best ones with the highest potential for your business and begin brainstorming incentives, researching relevant influencers, planning creative contests, and more.
While it may feel like a big undertaking right now, the payoff will make it well worth it in the long run. Apply what makes sense for your niche, track the impact extensively, and then double down on what works to amplify your reach.
Once you’ve laid the groundwork, it will only get easier over time because many of these video game marketing tactics are iterative and scalable.
Adopting even just one or two new approaches will make welcome additions to your marketing arsenal and can vastly improve your results and ROI. Analyze your audience, set clear goals, and start experimenting with the strategies that best align. Learn from gaming leaders’ successes as you take your marketing to the next level.
5 gaming influencers who should be on your radar
Many of the most popular games have their dedicated communities and players, and some of the biggest players are influencers in their own right with millions of passionate fans that follow every livestream.
1. ChocoTaco: A chill PUBG streamer
ChocoTaco is a near-legendary gamer and streamer with a massive following across multiple platforms. He gained popularity for his PUBG: Battleground streams and his skills have helped him amass over 1.62M followers on YouTube, 1.3M on Twitch, and 374K on Instagram.
2. Rhykker: A Diablo specialist
Rhykker has over 688K subscribers on YouTube where he’s known as one of the best creators for Diablo. He specializes in Diablo 3 and 4 and his in-depth game guides are extremely popular, but he also covers many aspects that interest the Diablo and greater Blizzard community such as general news, gameplay demos/tutorials, the latest patches, and fascinating lore explorations.
3. TDBarrett: Loves Madden NFL and other sports games
TDBarrett is a Canadian creator who’s best known for his love of the Madden football games. His main channel has almost 1.6M subscribers on YouTube and his secondary channel has over 191K subs. In addition to the Madden series, he also plays MLB The Show and NBA 2K, and he’s a veteran gaming creator who’s been posting consistently since 2014 and he’s extensively covered every Madden game since Madden 15.
4. Austin John Plays: For all things Nintendo Switch
Austin John Plays is one of the biggest creators when it comes to anything related to the Nintendo Switch. From Pokemon to Legend of Zelda to Animal Crossing and Super Smash Bros, he covers Nintendo’s biggest franchises with plenty of helpful tips and tricks to help players get those power-ups and collect the secret items. With a massive audience of over 2.36M subscribers on YouTube, Austin John Plays is a go-to creator for Nintendo’s more family-friendly games.
5. Panda: One of the biggest PUBG streamers in the world
Panda is probably one of the biggest and most well-known gamers in the world. He’s got a community in the millions with 12.4M subs on YouTube, 1.2M on Instagram, and over 900K followers on TikTok. He’s best known for his PUBG: Battlegrounds and PUBG Mobile streams but he also has plenty of gaming tips and hacks, in addition to funny reaction content to gaming trends, gameplay, and breaking news.
The marketing strategies pioneered by the video game industry – ranging from community building to capitalizing on conventions – offer powerful lessons for businesses across various sectors. By adopting these innovative tactics, companies can significantly enhance customer engagement and market visibility, proving that adaptability and creativity are crucial in today’s dynamic business landscape.
The video game sector provides an ideal case study and roadmap for innovative promotion through community engagement, influencers, emerging platforms, and beyond for exponential marketing wins. You can realize similar growth by following their lead no matter what industry you’re in.
The only question is whether you’ll press start or leave that power-up unclaimed!