The GTA Effect: What the Rising Popularity of Video Games Means for Marketing
It might seem ridiculous to suggest now with Avengers: Endgame breaking Avatar’s decade-old record to become the biggest film in history, but what Marvel did was a huge gamble back in 2008. In fact Iron Man was such an unknown quantity that there were rumors flying around then that Iron Man was going to face a stiff competition not from another film but from Grand Theft Auto IV, a video game. Video games have long been a sizable market but that moment, when analysts predicted that a video game could pose an actual challenge to a blockbuster film, was a game-changer.
If there’s any trend that has been pretty much evident over the past two decades, it’s the fact that geek culture as a whole has been widely accepted into the mainstream. Superhero films and Star Wars ruled the box office, a fantasy series about dragons became the most-watched series of all time and last but not least, video games have attracted a level of attention, acclaim and respect that has never been seen before. You can even see this play out in social media where video game memes sit alongside those from films and general pop culture, signifying the continually rising popularity of video games.
Video game in the mainstream
The foremost example of video game culture bleeding into the mainstream is when mainstream media over in the United States started covering the story of Tyler Blevins. Blevins, known in the world of video game by his moniker Ninja, is a popular video game streamer, a person who makes his money by broadcasting videos of them playing video games. In Blevins’ case, his video game of choice is Fortnite Battle Royale, a popular multiplayer online video game where up to 100 players are thrown together in a game of last man standing.
Fortnite itself is a massive cultural phenomenon, so big in fact, that celebrities have tried to cash in by trying to associate with Fortnite. The Canadian rapper Drake for example has played Fortnite together with Ninja and Finn Wolfhard, the teen actor who made his name by starring in Netflix’s Stranger Things has also streamed a video of him playing Fortnite. The practice of marketing has always been about latching on to the zeitgeist and there’s no arguing that video games, not just Fortnite, is pretty much a part of the zeitgeist.
The marketing potential for video games
Answer me this, when you see the phrase “video game players” written or uttered somewhere, what kind of image pops into your mind? Stereotypically, you would probably think of an out-of-shape male teen sitting in front of his TV screen or a computer but that honestly couldn’t be further from reality. For one, video games are pretty much almost inseparable with younger millenials and Gen Zs no matter who they are.
For example, the highest-ranked female tennis player in the world right now, Japan-born Naomi Osaka, is an avid video game player, specifically Overwatch and was spotted last year in the e-sport tournament Overwatch Grand Finals. Frank Ocean, the reclusive R&B auteur that has garnered critical acclaim for his music has also been open with his video game credentials, using popular games such as Street Fighter, Metal Gear Solid and Soul Calibur as song titles in his 2011 mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra.
What I’m trying to say here is that the appeal for video games stretches far and wide. If you’re running a business whose target market skews younger, it would be a shame to not utilize the potential of video games for the purpose of content marketing. Jimmy Fallon, long thought to be the savvier among late night hosts has been pretty smart about this, inviting K-Pop superstar BTS for a challenge in which they try to recreate Fortnite dance moves, thereby combining two subjects that are at their zenith of popularity. It was pretty cute, if I do say so myself.
Using video game for marketing
Video games can be used for the purpose of marketing the same way you used films, televisions or other piece of pop culture; by creating contents that revolves around or references them. After that snap that was heard around the world in Infinity War, there was plenty of ads that made cheeky references to the ending of Infinity War and the same tactic can be used but with a video game taking the place of the Infinity War. I’ve even seen several businesses using the novel tactic of including video game quotes as inspirational quotes in their social media posts.
As has been pointed out at the beginning, geek culture is now pretty much a part of the mainstream and video games are now pretty much fair game in the world of marketing. Here’s a tip, the next time you see something like the Pokémon GO craze happening all over the world, don’t just dismiss them and pass it off as a fad that would soon be over. Think of how they can help your marketing efforts instead.