I have a confession to make: I’m a gamer. I’ve been one ever since I can remember. By the age of five, my Game Boy Color, loaded with Pokémon Red and Blue, never left my side. By eight, my brother and I were dedicating the entire summer to completing all three disks of Shenmue 1 on our Sega Dreamcast (yes, we were successful). Then RuneScape came along and completely stole our lives. From fifth grade through my junior year at Ithaca College, I became consumed, pouring 5,000+ hours into this game that would eventually define gaming as a whole for me. Ten years will do that; I learned so much about MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games), developed skills, and even met friends who I still keep in touch with (some I’ve even met in person). Nowadays, I’m a sucker for Role-Playing Games (RPG) like The Witcher 3 and God of War.
All this is to say that gaming is more than just a pastime for me. It’s a passion, way-of-life, and, as of 2017, it’s also my career. Life’s funny that way. One minute I’m struggling to fit playing Hollow Knight into my daily life, and the next I’m a Gaming and Esports Specialist, getting paid to advise Fortune 500 companies on how to successfully integrate into gaming.
Over the past year, it’s been one hell of a ride at RedPeg. I’ve gone to countless client pitches, helped sign gaming influencers, and have been fortunate enough to represent the agency at 15 gaming and esports events, including PAX South/East/West, EVO, and Super Smash Con. I’ve experienced memorable brand activations, and others unfortunately that really missed the mark. The gamer side of me is fine applauding the successes and disowning the failures, but the marketer in me wants to make the space better. So without further ado, below is my list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for brands looking to activate within the esports and gaming space to keep die-hard gamers (and millions of fans) engaged.
DO listen to the gaming community. Brands entering the space and even game developers themselves don’t always hit home runs. But what’s important is that they listen to the feedback, and adapt moving forward.
Here’s an example: a few years ago, E3 was experiencing long line wait times on popular games, averaging five-hour waits for a 20-minute playing experience. Gamers expressed their outrage online (trust me, we aren’t shy about providing feedback), and developers listened. The following year, we could reserve specific time slots for gameplay. I took full advantage, wandering around and enjoying the rest of the conference until I received my “your turn to play” text. It wasn’t revolutionary, but it showed the developers cared about our time.
DO provide value to your consumers. One of the big mistakes a non-endemic brand can make is to slap their logo on an existing product or experience and leave it at that. As a rule of thumb, strive to leave the space a little better than when you found it. That’s exactly what we do with GEICO.
On paper, GEICO and Gaming may not make sense, so it’s our job to make sure we prove the brand’s value in the space. In 2015, we started providing value to the “average Joe” Hearthstone players, creating a Joes vs. Pros tournament at PAX conferences around the U.S. Through our ongoing tournaments, any conference attendee can walk up and compete on-stream in front of 10K+ live viewers. What’s more, everyone has an equal shot at the $10K prize pool, and the opportunity to hang-out with popular professional Hearthstone players. In fact, in 2015, a complete amateur won our tournament and is now a salaried player on a professional team. Talk about value add.
DO focus on the experience, rather than the product.
The moments leading up to your gameplay can make or break the experience. At one activation, I was pleasantly distracted from the wait by receiving an ice cream, and experiencing a themed-out room for a demo, all before I even touched the game. It broke up the wait time, and made the overall experience 10x better. I’m much more likely to endorse brands based on the overall experience they provide, not necessarily the specific moments of gameplay.
And now for a few (hopefully obvious) “don’ts”…
DON’T be a logo slapper.
I touched on this earlier, but taking the traditional advertising route simply doesn’t work in the esports space. Gamers can sniff out a badging exercise like drug dogs. Anything that feels inauthentic or exploitative will be quickly called out. And trust me, you don’t want to be on the receiving end of one of our rants.
DON’T make your activation VIP exclusive.
Not only will you receive far less foot traffic, you’re also likely to alienate the very people you want to reach. Most gamers spend the majority of their lives feeling excluded and VIP footprints just perpetuate the problem. Instead, ask how your activation can be an outlet for inclusiveness. How can you show us gamers that you care about all of us, not just a select few?
DON’T Jump on the Bandwagon.
Just because it’s popular, doesn’t mean you should show it off. This past year at PAX East, I was disappointed to see how many brands were streaming Fortnite and PUBG. Don’t get me wrong, I love those games. But I can also play them at home. The reason I travel far and wide to gaming conferences is to check out the new titles and demo up-and-coming gaming technology. As a brand, try and keep the spirit of PAX (aka Penny Arcade Expo) alive by showcasing new and unreleased titles. It’s a simple switch, but one that means a lot to the gaming community.
In summary, if you’re looking for an easy set of millennial impressions, the gaming space probably isn’t for you. BUT, if you’re willing to put the work in, to provide value and trustworthiness over time, it’s a space with endless potential. Take it from me, I’m a gamer and I really value brands that make the effort.