Pixels & Profits: Chapter 7
Influencers and You
As I’ve hammered home in just about every entry of this series, marketing a game isn’t just about throwing your game at as many people as possible and hoping it sticks; it’s about finding the right people.
In every category of business, your “right people” will often have popular figures within their tribe — those are the influencers.
No matter which traction channel we’re talking about, those are the influencers.
The truth is, influencers are nothing new, it’s a different name for an old idea:
A popular spokesperson.
The difference is, social media made fame and influence easier to obtain — and easier to obtain in narrow, hyper-focused niches.
I’m going to show you what that means for you.
So, why exactly does influencer marketing pack such a powerful punch in the gaming industry?
For one, today’s influencers carry an incredible amount of trust and credibility.
When a professional athlete talks about how much they love Wheaties cereal, sales figures barely move. We all know the athlete doesn’t mean it, they’re only saying what gets them paid.
In contrast, when someone like Markiplier endorses a game, there’s almost always a direct correlation to an increase in that game’s sales.
Because games can be expensive, and can call for significant investments of time and energy. So, think about this: who would you trust more to help you make a decision about which games deserve your valuable time?
Some faceless corporation?
Or a person you’ve been following for years, who is showing you the game through their own experience of playing it, and whose opinion you’ve come to value?
Of course, the answer is the latter.
This level of trust is crucial when it comes to indie game marketing, where budgets are slim, and word-of-mouth and personal recommendations can make all the difference.
Another critical benefit of influencers is reach. With just one tweet or story, influencers can put your game in front of thousands, even millions of potential players. And it’s not just any audience; it’s an engaged, highly active audience that is genuinely interested in what the influencer has to say.
These are the same essential services indies are paying Steam and other marketplaces for.
If that is a confusing statement, allow me to suggest this:
It isn’t just the store listing you’re buying with that commission check, it’s access to the audience.
(Are you seeing yet how critical it is to focus on the audience from the beginning? Get this one thing right, and it makes everything easier downstream)
When properly aligned to your target audience, the level of engagement that influencers can generate is simply unmatched.
Their followers don’t just passively consume their content; they comment, they share, they discuss — they engage.
This high level of engagement is what truly sets influencer marketing apart from other marketing tactics. You don’t just get access to an audience — when done right, you get access to incredibly high-quality leads.
Consider the meteoric rise of Fortnite, as a prime example of influencer impact. The game skyrocketed to popularity, in large part, thanks to influencers and streamers who shared their captivating gameplay experiences with millions of loyal followers.
Identifying the Right Influencers
So who’s the right influencer for your game? Is it the one with millions of followers? Not necessarily. The perfect influencer for your game is one whose brand vibe matches yours, whose audience demographics and psychographics align with your target market, and whose content style strikes a chord with your game’s unique appeal.
How do you determine all that?
First, look at their audience metrics. Are they similar to your target audience?
Remember, we’re interested in demographics AND psychographics.
Next, check their engagement rates. While follower count is important, engagement rates are an even better indicator of an influencer’s impact. Look for influencers whose followers actively engage with their content through likes, comments, shares, and so on.
Evaluate the quality of their content. Does it align with your game’s aesthetic and tone? Is their content style something your target audience would enjoy?
Finally, do you see yourself enjoying working with the influencer? How’s the vibe?
If the arrangement goes well, you may end up working together for quite some time, which means it’s crucial to fully consider these things before choosing.
Forming Strategic Partnerships
Working with influencers can be incredibly rewarding, but it’s also a delicate process that requires clear communication, respect for creative freedom, and a focus on long-term partnerships.
Start by clearly communicating your expectations and goals for the collaboration. This includes discussing deliverables, timelines, and any specific messaging you want the influencer to incorporate in their content.
However, while it’s important to communicate your needs, it’s equally important to respect the influencer’s creative freedom. Remember, they know their audience best.
As the person hiring them, you have the final say, but you still need to give them space and freedom to create content that they know will resonate with their followers.
Finally, aim for long-term partnerships. One-off collaborations might give you a temporary boost, but establishing long-term relationships with influencers can lead to ongoing exposure and sustained growth for your game, or studio.
Beyond influencers, partnerships with other brands or companies can also bolster your game’s visibility and credibility — It’s the same essential idea, just at a larger scale.
Partnerships can take various forms. It could be a collaboration with a popular brand for in-game items, a partnership with a tech company for cross-promotion, or a team-up with a charity for a cause-driven event in your game.
For instance, “Minecraft” partnered with UN Habitat to create the “Block by Block” project, where players could contribute to the planning of urban public spaces. It was a great way to engage gamers and contribute to a meaningful cause at the same time.
Modern Warfare 2 is a AAA title with the resources to conduct highly advanced marketing campaigns; however, a lot of their post-launch strategies can be repeated by indie game developers on shoe-string budgets.
Knowing that lots of COD gamers will watch streamers and YouTubers for tips, tricks, or just good gameplay; Operator models based off popular streamers were added to the game. The result is those influencers feel dramatically closer to the game (because they can play “as themselves”) and continue streaming it.
It’s amazing how a little flattery continues putting eyes on the game even this far into the release cycle.
Don’t have the budget to make custom character models? No problem, how much does it really cost to change the name of an NPC, or name a map location after someone?
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Involve them in ways that are endearing.
Cement their contribution in the lore of your world.
Give them a sense of ownership.
(Not actual ownership)
Ideally, relationships with influencers and partners should be mutually beneficial. Be clear about what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. Maintain open lines of communication and appreciate their input and effort.
Remember, it’s about building a long-term relationship, not a one-time transaction.
Like any marketing effort, the success of influencer marketing should be measured through appropriate metrics. However, keep in mind that the return on investment with influencer marketing is not always immediate.
Here are some key metrics you can use to assess your influencer marketing efforts:
Reach & Impressions
These are the most basic metrics and they give you an idea of the size of the audience that has been exposed to your content through the influencer’s posts.
This includes likes, comments, shares, retweets, etc. These are indicators of how well the content resonated with the audience and how much interaction it inspired.
Clicks & Conversions
If your partnered influencer shares a link – be it to your game’s website or online store – it is crucial to keep a sharp eye on the number of clicks and conversions. This data will give you an insight into how many people not only saw the influencer’s content but also took the desired action (downloading the game, making a purchase, etc.).
While harder to quantify, the change in brand sentiment before and after the influencer campaign is an important metric to consider. You’ll want to dust off your social-listening skills and gather that info.
Are people talking more positively about your game?
Has the overall perception of your game improved?
Capture what people are saying.
Don’t hold the data in your head. Make a spreadsheet, or a note, or something.
Incremental Growth in Followers
Did your social media engagement or game downloads see a bump after the influencer’s promotion? This is a good indicator of the campaign’s success.
Influencer campaigns can also provide valuable data about your target audience’s preferences and behaviors. Analyzing these insights will yield insights that help you refine your marketing strategy.
Remember, influencer marketing is not a magic wand that you can wave to instantly skyrocket your game to fame. This is one of an array of tools which, when used wisely and strategically, can significantly boost your game’s visibility, reputation, and eventually, sales.
It is also a process that requires careful planning, strategic thinking, and above all, authenticity.
Let’s look at some real-world examples…
Indie Success Stories
Several indie games have beautifully illustrated the power of influencer marketing, skillfully leveraging it to their advantage. Let’s take a closer look at a couple of them:
Supercell honed in on influencer marketing right from the pre-launch marketing stage. They rounded up ten popular YouTube influencers that matched the values of Supercell and “Brawl Stars” and launched Showdown Livestreams, as reported by Agenic.
The genius of their influencer targeting was that they went for influencers that were already popular for playing Supercell games, and weren’t necessarily stacked in the followers department. Maybe 500k to a million, with a couple having around 2 million subscribers.
Supercell prioritized the engagement of the audiences they were buying into rather than the size of them.
Bit of a blast from the past on this one, but what about “Happy Wheels” by Fancy Force. It had a user base already as a popular flash game, but it exploded in popularity when Pewdiepie, one of the most popular YouTube gaming influencers of all time, jumped on the game.
The result was an immediate increase in users and a lot of generated buzz for the title.
Those videos received 3-4 million views at least, with some stretching to 15-20 million views.
That’s the type of attention that can change the trajectory of a game studio overnight.
It can also destroy you if you aren’t prepared.
Avoid Common Pitfalls
Influencer marketing, despite its many advantages, does come with potential pitfalls. Understanding these risks can help you navigate them successfully.
In spite of the examples chosen, it’s best not to expect instant success or a massive surge in downloads. Instead, focus on building a long-term relationship with the influencer and their audience. It is the more reliable path.
Influencers are most effective when they genuinely enjoy and resonate with your game. Don’t force a partnership, it looks inauthentic and desperate.
If an influencer’s audience does not align with your game’s target demographic, the campaign is unlikely to bring in high-quality leads.
Always do your research on an influencer’s audience before starting a collaboration and check for the values, beliefs, and behaviors they associate their brand with.
How to Make Contact
Reaching out to influencers is an art in itself, as is maintaining a healthy working relationship. It demands professionalism, respect, and clear communication.
I’m not going to coach you on the words to use.
What matters is that you are precise about your game’s unique attributes, your existing audience, and what you aim to achieve from the collaboration.
Never forget, the best influencer partnerships are built on mutual benefit, where both parties find value, and are satisfied with the results.
What Happens Next?
We’ve spent the last three articles talking about marketing through social media.
You’ve read a lot of content about it.
And we’ve barely scratched the surface of that one traction channel.
Remember when I said there were twenty or so traction channels to choose from?
That feeling of “holy shit, this is a lot to take in” is a big part of why people hire pros to do this work.
But whether you outsource or not, you still need to understand these things, if for no other reason than to guard against those who take advantage of ignorance.
We’re coming close to the end of Volume 2, but before you run off and get to work, there’s still one more important topic I need to cover with you.
AKA: Data tracking.
Because this is about so much more than the number of visitors a website gets.
Proper analytics can show you EXACTLY where you lose someone’s attention on the page.
Make no mistake, I am not a brilliant writer.
Most days, I’m not even good, but…
I use our data to determine where our content is weak, because I can literally see the point on the page (or video) where people are leaving.
To say such information is vital is an understatement.
You simply cannot do this work effectively without it.
Launching any marketing effort without having proper data tracking in place is about as useful as trying to win a triathlon by chopping your legs off and encasing your hands in cement.
If you win, it will be because every other competitor in the race died.
And even if you do happen to get great results, without your traffic data you won’t have any ability to determine why.
Meaning the chances of repeating that success are slim to none.
So let’s deal with your data…