What They Talked About: Each of the panelists had something unique to offer when it comes to marketing to gamers. Davis kicked off the panel by talking about segmentation of the audience and moving forward from that data. This approach differs from that of Hines, who believes that a good game can sell itself from intrigue and appeal at an early stage and that no marketing plan can force the buyer to buy a game. Meanwhile, GameSpot's Caparotta creates marketing plans for the website, coming up with content that would be relevant and appealing to the target audience.
At AKQA, Davis takes a more traditional approach by looking at segmentation, which is when the audience is divided into groups based on various factors. He talked about how there are many ways to approach marketing and planning, but segmentation helps explain who marketers should be talking to and why. In recent years, marketers have acknowledged that the audience has expanded beyond the 18-to-24-year-old male and that it is also more diverse.
Caparotta described the needs of the audience as a canvas that is constantly changing and evolving. According to the sales manager, now that mobile is becoming a "big deal," it is the audience that ultimately drives what's on the site from a marketing standpoint. He looks at what people are doing when visiting GameSpot, and tries to determine whether people spend more time on video or screenshots, or something else.
Hines explained that he has been with Bethesda for 12 years and says that he likely doesn't approach marketing the same way other companies do because he insists that things be done his way. He doesn't take the time to break down the audience and figure out the demographic that he should be targeting. Instead, the philosophy behind Bethesda's marketing is, "We make games we would want to play. That's it," Hines said. "There's no great science to it."
He went on to explain how he doesn't understand why some marketing campaigns try to narrow their approach and appeal to males between 35 and 42 when he believes that, "gamers are gamers. It's a fool's errand." Instead, Hines' approach is to engage through social media or asset blasts that include well-planned trailers and screenshots. While he may spend time to tailor those things to the audience, he doesn't spend a lot of time drilling down.
"I find it annoying and stupid," he said. "People who like games are people who like games." Hines understands that there are people who buy two games a year and those who buy 15, but he wouldn't necessarily use a different ad for each of them. He said that he didn't want to be a slave to that kind of thinking and instead works on something that is appropriate for the audience.
Davis touched upon the fact that many people who go into video game marketing have their roots in the entertainment industry when it used to be primarily driven by consumer packaged goods. That line of conversation led to the fact that there are marketing people who don't know anything about games.
"I've met marketing guys that make my skin crawl," Hines stated, and pointed out that while the three panelists may be hardcore gamers, that is not necessarily a requirement. But Caparotta emphasized that knowing the difference between a Japanese role-playing game and a Western one would help tremendously.
The next topic they covered was that the first time someone experiences a game isn't when the game is put into the console, but when they first consume media surrounding the game. This could be five days or five months in advance, but what Bethesda tries to do is to get people excited about it. Hines' gauge on whether or not that is successful is dependent on whether or not his team is excited about it.
"Cool is cool, you don't have to be a hardcore gamer to say, 'Yeah that's some s*** right there,'" he said.
While pre-release coverage is important to companies looking to promote their games during the course of development, Hines went on to criticize the media when it came to labeling games. He described it as "lazy" when outlets would generalize a game by comparing it to one or several others and says that it's a disservice to the game.
Hines went on to talk about a commercial Bethesda did that was targeted at a different audience. During Rage's pre-release marketing plan, Bethesda put together a video with NBA star Blake Griffin that wasn't necessarily targeted at gamers (as hardly anyone in the room had seen it), but it was a funny video that put Rage in people's minds. Of all their trailers, Hines said that it was the most successful one with the most positive feedback. He pointed out that gamers were a "picky lot," and that he would never run something like that ad on a gaming website.
The panel brought up fantasy franchises like The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones because they have helped popularize fantasy. With The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim nearing release in November, the popularity of those other fantasy genres have made it easier to market the game to a wider audience.
The panel also discussed psychographics, a technique where certain consumer behaviors are analyzed, such as how and why people play the games that they do. This would not necessarily change what the marketers do, but it would give them ideas on a particular plan or a story for broader appeal. An example that was brought up was Netflix, where it would track what someone has watched and recommend other movie titles based on what they like.
Bethesda approaches PAX differently as well, and as Hines put it, the event holds a crowd that is a "specific kind of nerdy." The VP said that they would do things at PAX that they wouldn't do anywhere else, such as have hands-on time for their games to the public. He also talked about the thought that goes into their displays and wanted it to mean something and not just be a big space with art painted on the side. Bethesda set up an elaborate display for Fallout 3 in 2008, and Hines noticed that since then, other publishers had increased the size of their booth as well. He admitted that he likes to think he had something to do with how much PAX has grown in terms of booth sizes.
Quote: " [Peter Jackson] slipped nerdiness into everybody's household while they weren't paying attention." --Pete Hines commenting on how fantasy is more acceptable thanks to The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones.
Takeaway: Marketing is trying to catch up to the rapidly changing landscape of the video games industry. It is becoming more important for those who are interested in marketing to know their product inside and out. Hines did bring up that it is unfortunate when a good game doesn't sell but a mediocre sequel does because of a huge marketing push. While marketing can never force someone to buy a game, it is crucial for marketers to plan far ahead of their release to get the game in people's minds.