On the (Sometimes Accidental) Virality of Video Game Marketing

Since Happy Media launched their official gaming channel, Clocked, in March 2020 (read more about that here), we’ve been closely monitoring the world of video games and how they’re represented on the web.

Gaming news such as the Far Cry 6 leak, plays towards many of the same KPIs as other points of mass media. A ‘splash’ on an international scale is the desired outcome for indie developers and the world’s biggest publishers alike. Sometimes, though, the internet does your hard work for you (see Icarus, or the case of Resident Evil Village, where all Capcom did was insert an enormous vampire woman into their game).

Whether it’s a killer set of Oblivion Mods, one of the best gacha games on the market, or even a viral rumour about The Witcher Season 2, or the hilariously overzealous fans waiting for Mass Effect Legendary Edition or Elden Ring to drop, in some cases your audience is your best asset, and then some. It’s why the playable demos still have such prevalence – take the highly successful Outriders demo, for instance.

Should you rely on potential virality as a video game marketer? The short answer is no. The long answer is… long.

Throughout 2020 in particular, the video game industry boomed by as much as 200 percent sales-wise, in Australia at least. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic the world was shut in and sadly jobless on a large scale. Video games (especially games like Skyrim that totally suspend reality) were the perfect antidote. An no, we’re not talking about hanging on the latest TFT patch notes every few months.

Dissecting this year’s viral hits can lead to a better understanding of their common denominators.

What drew players to these games in particular? Why choose indie games over the latest AAA title? Are some of the best roguelike games actually being made in 2020?

Let’s dive in.

Untitled Goose Game

A hit brewed on Australian ground, Untitled Goose Game won by simplicity. It was innocent and lo-fi in an attention economy that prioritised high action and tassels on every AAA title.

Moreover, after an initial blast of natural popularity on Steam, Youtuber videogamedunkey (6.3 million subscribers) posted a video of gameplay very early on in the game’s cycle. Soon it dominated the news.

Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

Fall Guys was an immediate success on launch. Why? It was an online party game that bridged the communication breakdowns caused by the pandemic. Suddenly you could play against friends interstate or overseas in a low-energy, fun game with near-universal appeal. Not to mention it was free to PlayStation players during its launch month.

With a Fall Guys mobile port in the works, this title’s popularity will only continue to skyrocket.

Genshin Impact

The most recent release on this list, the reasons for the popularity of Genshin Impact are two-fold. First, it borrows heavily from the much-acclaimed existing game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Second, it’s free.

With every game publisher in the world jumping to write their own Genshin Impact starter guide, the game was poised to succeed.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Both a part of a much-loved series and a highly playable title of its own, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was easily one of the year’s most anticipated games.

Striking more of an emotional angle, this title provided another antidote to the tribulations of the world at large. Who needs reality when you have your cosy island populated by cute little animal friends?

Among Us

One of the most curious hits of the year, Among Us was actually released in 2018 but gained a huge amount of popularity after the world’s biggest streamers started playing it for audiences into the millions.

Among Us tips and memes flooded the internet, and again players around the world became intoxicated with the sense of connection it created.

The Lessons

So, what can we learn from the success of these five games? Let’s boil down the reasons each went viral:

  • Fostering Connection (Among Us, Fall Guys, Animal Crossing)
  • Popularity with Influencers (Untitled Goose Game, Animal Crossing, Among Us)
  • Striking a Timely Emotional Chord (Animal Crossing, Untitled Goose Game)
  • Link to an Existing Franchise (Animal Crossing, Genshin Impact)
  • Free-to-Play (Fall Guys, Among Us, Genshin Impact)

Though it’s by no means a definitive how-to, these are all lessons we can take into our own content marketing. Play to current world news and foster something meaningful, get your product in front of powerful influences, give it away for free! And remember if all else fails, you can always copy somebody else… sorry Genshin Impact.

All this, and the PS5 hasn’t even released yet (though everyone is already talking about that schmick new PS5 controller). What a year for video games!

While you’re here, check out this Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla gameplay.

by Radi Safi

Radi Safi is the Creative Director at IYBI. In 2012 he launched Happy, a music blog and media company.
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