15 Things Video Games Taught Me About Marketing

//15 Things Video Games Taught Me About Marketing

15 Things Video Games Taught Me About Marketing

Growing up I spent a lot of time between school, acting rehearsals and creative pursuits. I was always strapped for time, especially when gearing up for stage performances. Naturally, as a certified geek, I turned to video games as a way to unwind.

Back then there was no such thing as Major League Gaming or streaming services like Twitch. To everyone outside my circle of gamer friends I was an oddity that needed to put the controller down and enjoy more sunlight.

Pfft. Chaa? Right?

While I have far less time to enjoying my gaming pursuits now I still consider myself an avid gamer but I see deeper into what video games offer. I’ve had time to reflect on lessons that can be pulled from gaming. In fact, I’m convinced that video games have taught me a great deal about team work, success as an entrepreneur and how to succeed at marketing.

Case in point, here are 15 marketing lessons I’ve plucked from my time in games, from first person shooters like Doom to games of massive scale like World of Warcraft.

1. Don’t hoard your resources

Every time I play a role play game (especially Skyrim) I will hang on to every single potion I have just in case I find myself in a situation where I’m going to burn through 250+ healing potions in minutes. Never mind the facts that not only are they readily available in just about every shop but I can craft the damn things myself anytime I want.

I wind up finishing the game with hundreds of them on me, stored in chests, stored in a bank box, etc.

Too often marketers make the same mistake with their budgets. Rather than taking calculated risks and testing new ideas they hang on to their budget for more traditional methods, saving a chunk just in case that big opportunity pops up.

Don’t do that. Use it or lose it.

2. Listen, pay attention, and read the patch notes

Pretty much every game I own gets updated and patched automatically. A lot of the time it happens while I’m sleeping and I just see a notification in my console that it happened. I always take the time to read patch notes. In most cases it’s a bug fix or three but sometimes there’s a big change to the actual mechanics or content.

If I didn’t read those notes I’d miss out some critical updates that could directly impact my gaming experience.

This is why it’s important to pay attention to industry changes, what your competitors are doing, and how the marketing landscape shifts (like updates to the search & social algorithms). It’s also important to watch how new technologies impact your marketing campaigns. If you’re blind to it you’ll get left behind the competitors in your industry and you’re guaranteed to lose market share.

you died

3.  Learn something every time you die

You died.

That happens a lot. It’s frustrating but it’s never really the end. There’s always a save or a check point, or just start over and run it again. Game over isn’t really game over until you actually quit and never pick up the controller again.

What’s really happening, whether it’s a death in game or a failure in marketing, is that you’re learning. You look at how you screwed up, what happened to cause it, and then you don’t do that thing again.

It’s not because that thing was dumb, or even a bad decision. That thing just didn’t work.  Do it again and find the thing that works.

4. There are different paths to the end goal

Games aren’t as linear as they used to be. Open sandbox games offer various paths to reach mission goals & endgame content and you’ll probably never experience the same route more than once. That’s the best part about it – taking whatever route you please to accomplish your goal.

Be brave enough with your marketing to break away and explore. Try something new, take a different route and avoid taking the same path someone else did. Find a new way to get there and discover something awesome.


5. A Sherpa isn’t always a Sherpa

I’ve had multiple raids playing Destiny where someone proclaimed they were a “Sherpa” and would lead a group through to help with puzzles and raid strategy… only to discover that the individual was just as clueless as the rest of the newbies on the raid hoping for a leg up.

When the topics of marketing and your business come together take free advice with a grain of salt and do your research. Just because someone looks like they know what they’re doing doesn’t mean they’re not going to lead you into a dirt nap over and over again.

6. Numbers are part of the strategy

I’ve been playing The Division since launch and played the game pretty straight forward – weapons with higher numbers = woo!, armor with higher numbers = good. Put reticle over bad guys. Fire bullets till they’re dead.

It wasn’t until weeks later I realized I could be much more effective when I tilted the stat points of other gear toward something more specific – like weapon damage and health.

Then guys died faster, and I died slower.

You can do all kinds of content marketing and social promotion with hit or miss results and you’ll probably make a little progress. But metrics are a part of everyday marketing. When you make decisions and refine your strategy by letting the numbers lead you then you can get better results and stop doing things that don’t work.

More so, if you build your strategy the way you build a specific character model (weapon damage focus) from the get go, then you can establish the key performance indicators that tell you what success looks like.

Like a certain number of shares for a content campaign, or achieving 200,000 DPS (damage per second) with an M249 light machine gun.


7. Get better results by building a community

During my 7 years playing Ultima Online I got the most enjoyment and was able to experience the most content when I was part of founding and growing a guild. Everything was shared, so everyone that was an active member greatly benefited from working together and sharing resources.

Not only are there opportunities to build a community for and among customers to improve brand engagement but you can also build and take part in communities made up of marketing professionals and influencers. You, and others, will greatly benefit from sharing relevant content that you can learn from and pass on to your followers.

8. Don’t lean too heavily on any single weapon

It’s easy to get too comfortable with a weapon or piece of gear over the course of a game. This has happened to me countless times and I’ve yet to apply the lesson even though I know better. You find a tremendous thing to add to your arsenal that lets you cut a swathe and next thing you know it’s suddenly not effective anymore.

The truth is it’s been less and less effective as you play but you just hit a point where it’s noticeably ineffective and you’re getting your ass kicked. This will happen in marketing if you lean too heavily on a specific channel or tactic. It won’t be long before it loses its edge, becomes ineffective, and your audience stops engaging.

You probably won’t notice until it’s already too late. Change up your tactics, alternate your arsenal and switch frequently to what works best for your content marketing campaigns.


9. Less is more

Some of my favorite shooters offer a hardcore mode that eliminates the heads up display, stripping away stats and info in favor of a clear view of the action. While hardcore mode is more brutal and leads to more frequent deaths, it makes it easy for me to focus on the action – I actually play better.

Take the same approach to your content marketing. Declutter it, remove the noise, and present it with a clear purpose and strategy. Make it easy for your audience to focus by minimizing the distractions.

10. User generated content can steal the show

I love Skyrim with every fiber of my being. I love it even more with the sheer volume of user-generated mods that change the game experience. Things created by other players and independent developers add value to the original product.

If there’s a way to work user-generated content into your marketing that would bring value to your audience, do it. Make them part of your brand story and let them lift you up. It builds long-term value and gives others a reason to keep returning.

“Having users contribute to your content creation efforts has another interesting advantage, as consumers are more interested in hearing the views of their peers than reading cleverly written sales messages.” Writes Eric Siu of Single Grain


11. You can’t win if you don’t take action

When Starcraft launched in 1998, real-time strategy (RTS) gaming was really coming in to its own. It also became a launch point for lucrative e-sports. The best Starcraft players spent copious amounts of time trying new strategies, failing, spending valuable resources and banging away until they became the equivalent to chess grandmasters.

They didn’t exhibit a scarcity mindset. They used resources as quickly as they had them. They weren’t afraid to experiment even if it meant the occasional loss.

You’re going to mess up and you’re going to take a few scrapes along the way but you have to realize that you can’t get ahead if you’re not willing to branch out and take action with your marketing.

12. Enthusiasm propels you to success

People love to play games. Gamers will always be enthusiastic about playing great games, especially the franchises and genres they are most passionate about. They’ll spend countless hours working to master them. Yet most people who are that committed to games can’t say the same about their marketing efforts or their businesses. That enthusiasm disappears when they step into the office.

Find your enthusiasm, and your passion, and leverage it. Identify what your customers and followers are passionate about and find a way to leverage that as well. Give them a reason to want to engage – when they see that you share passions and values you’ll create a rabid fan base.

“Ask yourself, what simple twist on a familiar theme will entrap your audience?” – Drew Davis, Brandscaping

13. You’re going to miss some stuff

A lot of my favorite games are always-on persistent worlds, mainly the massive multiplayer games like World of Warcraft or Elder Scrolls Online. These games often feature one-time events and once it’s over, that’s it. There’s no replay, and there’s no do over if you missed out.

Back in the day I remember getting rather upset at missing some big events. I would vow not to miss another and would chase those special events constantly. It pulled my attention away from everything else the game offered.

We’re seeing similar things happen with real-time marketing and social media where brands who pay attention can tap into one-time events/opportunities. A good example of this is how Oreo tweeted the below image during Super Bowl XLVII when a blackout killed some of the lights for just over 30 minutes of the 3rd quarter.



That can have significant impact and the concept of pulling it off, like catching lightning in a bottle, can be super exciting. You just have to be careful not to try to chase those moments because you can lose sight of everything else that’s going on around you.

“Don’t compete for the moment. Compete for meaning. If you compete for the moment you’re irrelevant.”  – Brian Solis, principal analyst for Altimeter Group

14. Repurpose content

I was ecstatic when Electronic Arts brought all the most popular multiplayer maps from Battlefield 3 and retooled them into something better for Battlefield 4.  A lot of people flocked to that content and EA was able to get a significant return on taking something new and offering it up as a paid DLC.

Content is never dead just because it has aged. Get more out of your best performing by repurposing it. Take old blog posts and create images with tips or snippets that can be shared to your followers. Bullet point a few relevant blog posts and start turning them into podcasts or short videos.

“Repurposed content adds more horsepower to your marketing machine. It takes your content further faster than you could ever do on your own. It helps you build up a fan base that you may have never known existed and it does this without a lot of effort on your part” writes Neil Patel, founder of KISSmetrics “why reinvent the wheel when you can just add more wheels to the machine?”


15. A good story gets me every time

I love bombastic gameplay. I can spend a lot time in games like Battlefield, the Call of Duty series, and Just Cause. But the games that keep me riveted and coming back for more are the ones with the strongest story. The first time I played Arkham City it was for an 8 hour stretch because I just couldn’t stop. When I needed a good game to get me through my Extra-Life.org gaming marathon to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network I sat down with Witcher 3. The amazing story got me through 24 hours of straight gameplay.

If you want to engage your audience, turn them into brand ambassadors, get them to share your content feverishly, and rave about you then you need to tell a story. That is the only way you’re going to connect with them on an emotional level. That emotional connection is the ground work for getting anything to go viral.

“This is the bar your content has to clear on social: ‘Are you more interesting to me than my wife?” – Jay Baer, Convince&Convert

Don’t stop there – share this awesome list of marketing lessons learned from video games to your followers!

By | 2017-12-27T20:49:56+00:00 April 11th, 2016|Content Marketing|Comments Off on 15 Things Video Games Taught Me About Marketing

About the Author:

Derek Cromwell is the chief awesome officer and lead wordsmith for Thunder Bay Media. He's also an avid gamer, lover of the outdoors, father of 5 and enjoys helping businesses grow through mind-blowing, jaw dropping and wow-wowing content marketing and website copywriting.

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