It's E3 season again, and it's a wonderful time to be a gamer. The convention offers announcements and first looks at new games, more information about games we already know about, and a chance for the gaming community to come together.
Yet, as many might notice, games are announced far before their release, many not even having a specific year that it will come out. While some might claim this is an act of transparency, with companies divulging what they are working on, there is a much more business-related reason. The hype and data they get from these big releases influence their future marketing decisions for each game.
Publishers Handle a Game's Marketing
It's important to know the difference between a game developer and a game publisher to start out. A game developer is who makes the actual game. They do the coding, the design, anything that goes into making the game. Sometimes, a game might even have a few different developer studios to make different parts, with a single one in charge of organizing the whole project.
A game publisher is a company in charge of marketing, selling, distributing and making sure the game is a success. Publishers also are the ones who fund a game's development, paying the developer's bills while making the game. Then, when the game sells, the publisher takes a larger cut of the profits to make back the money they invested in the developer. Now, it's possible for a publisher to have their own developer group, and for developers to self publish, but the two are usually separate.
The big conferences at gaming conventions like E3 are put on by publishers as a means to market their games to key decision makers/influencers and have a more controlled environment to analyze people's reactions.
What is Social Listening
With the rise of social media has come the ability for companies to gather data on what people are saying. Social listening is the practice where a company uses software to gather quantifiable data from social media to gauge what people are talking about and their reactions to different things.
Many companies use social listening to keep track of their brand and to analyze what their target market is talking about. In conjunction with gaming, many brands use it to analyze how people are receiving the game and estimate how many people are going to buy the game.
E3 and Measuring Hype
E3 is a place for publishers to announce their upcoming games and give people the chance to try it out for themselves. For many games, it's their first foray in the public, the first time people get to see the game, and those initial impressions can make all the difference.
As different trailers are shown, people start tweeting and posting their initial reactions. Then over the following days and weeks, people analyze and talk about it more. The publishers collect this data and use it to inform future marketing decisions. This can include what features to focus on, what to include in both gameplay and cinematic trailers, and how successful the game will be. This kind of data can even inform what types of games publishers should fund off of what people are liking and talking about.
Who Is E3 For?
Of course, the conference is for gamers, but they aren't the big focus for publishers. The vast majority of gamers will only ever see E3 from the screen, but there is a whole experience in attending the conference. There are the outrageous booths, elaborate parties, and private demos for special people.
Traditionally, there are three groups of people who attend E3: gaming journalists, influencers, and product purchasers for retail stores. The journalists and influencers report and convey their thoughts to the general population, so publishers try their best to impress them. The product purchasers are an essential part of the success of a game though. E3 is a key part of publishers to connect with purchasers for retail stores and convince them to sell their games.
Basically, the publisher of a game has to convince a purchaser that a specific game will be a success and needs to be in their store. Every major retail chain, from Gamestop to Kohls, have people in charge of what video games to buy. So, publishers build these elaborate experiences for them and try to provide whatever proof they can that a game will be a success. Then, the company buys bulk amounts of games in order to sell them to the public. More and more, the data and proof shown is what is pulled from market research and social listening.
What This All Means for the Average Gamer
It's important for gamers to stay informed consumers, especially when it comes to marketing and hype. That way, we don't have another No Man's Sky scenario, a game that had a cinematic trailer, and when they got all of the positive feedback on it, really leaned into it. None of the marketing matched what the final product was, but it was working for marketing, so they pushed it hard.
It's one thing to get excited about a game, but informed consumers don't let hype overtake them. Make a game prove it will be fun, not just look shiny and fancy. Find reviewers and journalists that have the same values and preferences in gaming as you do, and follow them. Don't just blindly trust what Metacritic says or what a company's marketing pushes. Try to become as informed as possible when buying a game.