Things Super Bowl 49 Taught Me About Gaming
I learned something from the Super Bowl this year, and it wasn’t just that left shark is best shark. It is something I noticed both as a video game fan and as someone who has worked in advertising for 5+ years already. Firstly, traditional “gamers” are not watching the Super Bowl like they used to. By traditional I mean the stereotypical 18-45 year old, disposable income male the media has come to draw all gamers as.
Second, what we define as gamer has finally become filthy, filthy casuals. People who don’t know what video card they have in their PC. People who don’t have an XBL or a PS+ account. Basically the sum of all our fears.
“But Fred, how can you make such bold claims?” exclaimed someone off camera.
Thanks for asking mystery person. So first let’s get the statistics out of the way here. A 30 second spot during the game this year cost 4.5 million dollars, which is not only more than it has ever cost in previous years, but also a larger increase in price from the prior year than ever before (Source: syracuse.com.) So for that kind of money, you really need to expect quite the return on your investment. You have to be willing to spend big bucks to make big bucks, and one would assume that only the most major of major titles would have that kinda walking around money. Your Call of Duties, your Halos, your brand new franchise that your company is really trying to push. Time to pull out the big fucking guns and open fire on all you gamers and your wallets overflowing with money.
Here is what we got.
The Order: 1886 is releasing in a few weeks. Both consoles (sorry WiiU) are still young and duking it out for dominance. Hell, Microsoft is a sponsor of the NFL as is XBOX. But the ads we got were for three free-to-play microtrans games, all trying to make an impact by selling you ways to build your swordsmen faster. Actually I am not even sure that Game of War is selling a game and not just Kate Uptons chest. Or maybe the chest is a metaphor for the chests you unlock in the game that yield valuable whatever-the-fuck 35 types of currency the game undoubtably has.
Addressing the money thing first. Because follow the money. Supercell, makers of Clash of Clans, made $829 Million dollars in 2013 (Source: Forbes.com), with their 2014 revenue report still forthcoming, though one could safely assume we may be talking about a number that starts with a B in that report. The commercial cost them nine million dollars for one minute, plus whatever the production fees were to hire a film crew, scout a location, make sure Liams trailer was stocked with hookers and Depends, lighting. So let’s take the over on this and say that all together the spot cost them 15 million to make and broadcast. That is a weeks worth of revenue for them, so basically they could just dip into the petty cash box to pay for this. Only top level triple-A titles like Destiny or Grand Theft Auto 5 can really compare to that level of revenue, and those are games that have a limited shelf life, much higher production costs, and really only need to advertise during the release run up, not a year after the fact. Clash of Clans in going on three years old now, and even though Supercell has a new title out and being advertised right now during regular TV hours, they chose to run the flagship instead. I can only assume these other games either have money close to that level, or that they assume that by following suit they will be able to emulate the success of the peoples who’s footsteps they are walking in.
So with that we can see that there is a very limited selection of brands that could or should advertise during the game because of the high bar to entry and the high expectations, but that alone does not explain why someone like Xbox or Playstation would not run something. They fall squarely into the demo right? They have money. More egregiously absent perhaps is something like League of Legends who, unless something incredibly strange happened in the last few months of the year, made well over a billion dollars in 2014 (Source: Venturebeat.com.) Perhaps they just said to themselves “we have enough, maybe we should get someone else a chance?” Though that games unqualified sucuess does nto seem to be related to advertising, of which they do very little of compared to something like Destiny and it’s 500 million dollar ad budget last year.
That leads me into the second point. Gamers are casuals now, at least in the eyes of the advertiser. While the gamer demographic in the traditional sense is still basically the stereotype you have come to expect, with that stereotype comes a lot of assumptions and market research. Traditional gamers are entrenched and their discretionary spending is basically already earmarked for franchise titles, Mountain Dew, and overpriced Turtle Bay headphones that flash bright LEDs no matter what you do.
They are going to go out and buy a console when they can, or the new Call of Duty or whatever particular poison they are currently into. They actively seek out information on new consoles and games, you do not have to serve it to them though costly media buys. They are brand loyal to a fault and often cannot be steered into anything else, as XBOX can tell you all about whenever they try to make it in Japan. They spend more time proportionately in front of controlled marketing and social channels where the cost to advertise is a fraction of the cost of a commercial during the game and the return is potentially much greater, with failure being far less damning and costly.
On the other hand, your uncle Howie who has free time now that his harder work days are over, or the person who does not want the moniker of gamer because of the negative connotations they associate with it, have plenty of extra dollars that these game companies can potentially claim that is not already earmarked for other games. They don’t need to buy a console, they already have a smart phone. They don’t go to the games, so the games have to be served to them.
I work in advertising, and I will be the first to tell you that marketers do more wrong than right. They are very often slow to catch on, and very few of them catch lightning in a bottle with any given campaign, which is why so many of them are about repetition and brand recognition. Geico has no less than twenty individual commercials running on my television, some with the gecko, some with the sales lady, some with the “did you know” twist. I don’t know if any of them are working or not but I damn well can tell you that Geico is an insurance company. And that is what these games are trying to accomplish. They know even off target people are going to pop into the app store every so often, and maybe seeing the name there with ring a bell, get them to take the bait.
The advertising industry is about failing over and over again until you succeed, which in and of itself is not wrong but it does mean that they can be wrong at any given time you look at them. But the thing I learned this years Super Bowl is that the absence of triple A titles and console commercials shows that the marketers did something correct this time, in that they identified the market was shifting and adjusted.
It’s going to be an interesting time for Triple A title gamers in the coming years. It is going to become harder and harder for any non franchise title to make enough money to justify any real marketing, and most games are going to need multiple revenue streams, with more and more titles moving into the games as a service model we have already started to see happen. Sure Halo is always going to be a flagship and always get ads, but if this is any indication of the future I think we are going to see a big shift at the top level, with the biggest triple A titles moving into the realm of quadruple A (not a real thing) and everything else falling off into obscurity or just never happening because it could not secure a budget. More and more digital releases are going to be advertised only in the digital space, and specifically in the closed environments that the console makers own, as well as the gaming networks like steam and Battle.net. Games are going to become more insular, and TV commercials for titles that do not contain dedicated hat markets are going to become a thing of the past.
I hope you loved all the dad and car commercials this year, because I don’t suspect this trend is going to go away.