I love videogames and I like advertisements. It’s really the last place where creativity exists; look at how many TV shows featuring vampires rose up after Twilight, or how the Batman movies are being rebooted in preparation for a Justice League movie (real original).
There’s something raw about the creativity in these two areas; weird, out-of-left-field ideas that get made into an awesome, compelling game plot or laughable trailer. And while there are franchise rehashes and about a hundred FPS titles that look the same, it’s the kooky, oddball ones that become smash hits.
When you want attention and traction; you compete with others for originality and freshness, for players to play your games and people to watch your ads. Ad agencies and games studios often indulge in one-upmanship, competing for attention, which means a continuous competition for the best ideas.
Here are 5 of my favourite marketing campaigns for videogames.
#5 — Flinging Real Angry Birds at Real Pigs, Not Really (Angry Birds)
Of all the games, this needs no introduction – everybody, your mom, the bus driver, the old lady down the street, everybody has heard of and has seen the ubiquitous Roxio game. Reaching phenomenal worldwide success with over 11 million downloads, you’d think that they need no further marketing.
Alright, alright, alright, so technically it’s an ad for T-Mobile, a German mobile telecom company, and it doesn’t quite prompt you to go download Angry Birds and play it.
And it’s already been parodied in real life by comedians and talk show stars like Neil Patrick Harris & Conan O’Brien.
But it’s a real life Angry Birds level. With a catapult and actual exploding birds. In real life. Which you can play with. Inspiring a (pirated) theme park in China with real birds and slingshots.
How cool is that?
#4 These ads could be Risky Business (Guitar Hero)
Yeah, you know what I’m talking about. Tom Cruise’s no-pants sock-sliding in scene from Risky Business has become a trademark of sorts for Guitar Hero’s ad campaign and boy is it iconic. It’s involved sports stars like Phelps and Bryant.
…to actual rock stars (well, American Idols) …
…to hot supermodel Heidi Klum…
…and, well, lots of hot supermodel playmates (and a secret, too-sexy-for-TV Marissa Miller ad).
Exciting? Well, it’s basically a very compact, well-prepared advertisement that’s instantly recognisable. But the variations are super great – and now, Taylor Swift.
Marketing is about repeating a message, consistently and constantly, creating a deep association between your brand and the image you want to portray. And you know your message has succeeded when fans repeat the message back to you.
Guitar Hero == Rocking Out. We get it.
#3 One million dollars, Live
DotA was one of the best-loved games in its time and continues to be played in its original Warcraft 3/Frozen Throne game mod. It inspired a ton of remakes and copycats and pretty much, along with Starcraft, inspired the esports genre.
So how do you market a game like that? Easy; with an esports Superbowl with live-streaming, famous teams from all over the world, commentary in multiple languages and featuring a top prize money of one million dollars, the highest prize pool at the time. All of this for a game that’s still in closed beta, and not released yet.
Viewership figures from the opening rounds reached 1.5 million, with YouTube channels containing video replays in all four commentary languages, effectively making it the most-watched video game competition in the world…so far.
The 2012 Invitational starts shortly.
#2 — The Game is a Lie (Portal 2)
Some would say that the sheer awesomeness of Portal was all the marketing campaign needed for Portal 2. The memes we still repeat, the annoyingly catchy song, how we think with portals…
But Valve always goes one step further, and eschewing conventional advertising agencies (http://www.tomshardware.com/news/Doug-Lombardi-Portal-2-ad-campaign-tv-commercial-PC-gaming,12408.html) they went ahead and came up with their own ads and a whole meta-game. Involving cooperation from 13 indie game developers, Steam, and thousands of gamers worldwide, Valve released a complex alternate reality game for Portal 2.
Clues were salted in 13 different indie games released as a ‘Potato Sack Bundle’. You’ve got to admire an advertising campaign for a game that convinces its fans to buy and play through thirteen other games. It was a nice touch getting players to clock extra hours in order to get the game released earlier on Steam (although it wasn’t, in the end).
Oh, and they also had a bunch of cool ad trailers, too, but nothing quite like the Meet the X videos of TF2.
Somebody in the production team clearly enjoys making ARGs much more than the actual game.
#1 – Halo 3
I’m just going to leave these trailers here.
The marketing for most FPS games run like this: fight a big war! Shoot new enemies with big, brand new guns! Go boom in many different ways and frag noobs!
And maybe that’s what people really want. But the Halo universe, as fleshed out by games, spin-off book titles, comics, an anime and a cancelled movie, has a complex, established universe that is next to real.
Nothing quite stirs up the patriotism and pride in the blood like veterans and war.
Honourable Mention – Sony Playstation 3
I just love this one.
I still get goosebumps when the G.I. pops up with “Omaha!” The end is a little lame, but still spine-tinglingly inspiring.
Here’s to the next one.
About The Author
Darren does marketing, blogging, and works at an Israeli startup at Startcut.com, where really he spends most of his time on Quora.
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