Tobold's Blog
Monday, February 12, 2024
Thoughts on the videogame influencer business

As I am watching a lot of streams and videos about videogames on Twitch and Youtube these days, and they certainly "influence" my buying behavior, I was thinking about the state of this business. On the one side we all heard how game companies overextended during the pandemic, and are now cutting cost and firing people. I would image that cost cutting also includes advertising budgets. The other pillar of income for a videogame influencer is direct contributions from the audience, be that via subscriptions or various forms of direct donations. Now I have absolutely no data on these, but would think that these are discretionary spending, and that a difficult economic situation and cost of living crisis would negatively affect those as well.

On the other hand, the influencer marketing market size is growing rapidly, as a consequence of other marketing channels like print media or TV shrinking rapidly. The more time we, as consumers, spend our time increasingly on social media rather than watching cable TV, the more valuable these new media become for advertisers. That is diminished somewhat by an erosion of trust: We are more aware these days that if we watch for example a young woman journaling her lifestyle on a social media platform, she is making money by talking about some eyeliner, and she isn't really just talking about a great product she found by serendipity.

But in all this, videogame influencing is somewhat different from other kinds of influencing. That starts with the platforms: Videogames have a specific platform in Twitch that is dominated by this videogame content, with "Just chatting" and "Hot tubs" being popular, but less important. And much of the "just chatting" content is also about videogames. On the other side, while there is certainly videogame content on Tiktok, the short format is more suitable for doing meme stuff in games that everyone already knows, rather than for introducing new games.

More importantly, videogame influencing is less of a bait & switch model. The person watching that lifestyle influencer is there because of the person, and doesn't even know in advance that she is going to try to push that eyeliner in that video. The Twitch stream or Youtube video of the videogame streamer is always saying what game is being played. I totally ignore even my favorite streamers when they play a game I am not at all interested in, and I discover new streamers because they play a game I am interested in. Even if I know that the streamer is being paid for playing that particular game, the whole thing appears somewhat more honest: The streamer isn't just saying that the game is great and I need to believe him, he is playing that game live, and I can see much of it for myself. And most streamers honestly say what they dislike about a game, presumably because streams often go on for several hours, and it is hard to fake enthusiasm for that long. You can't pretend that a game has great graphics, when in reality it hasn't and your audience can see that.

For the advertising agency, videogame influencer marketing has a big advantage: The viewer has much higher buying intent. The person watching the lifestyle influencer maybe doesn't want to buy an eyeliner at all. The person watching a stream of several hours about a given game probably wouldn't do that if he wasn't at least somewhat interested in the game or genre, and is thus a lot closer to a possible buying decision. This form of advertising, that is targeted better, thus ends up being a lot cheaper per view and per customer actually persuaded. I don't know how much the big streamers make in a sponsorship deal, but it is probably a lot cheaper than a TV ad. And you can in parallel also get a lot of streamers to play your game for free, if you just give them a free copy of the game, and maybe the permission to stream the game a few days before the release already. I have bought video games that I saw being played on Twitch, where the streamer bought the game himself, which is basically advertising at negative cost.

The downside for the game company and the advertising agency is the inherent honesty of advertising via actual play streams. If your game sucks, the viral word-of-mouth message that will go around is hurting your sales. However, that somewhat depends on what exactly the flaw is. Some games, let's say Suicide Squad or Skull and Bones as recent examples, look good on a stream for a few hours, because the problem is more in the long-term motivation.

A theoretical possibility, and I am not sure in how much that is actually done, is that you can use the feedback you get from the streamer and his audience when you show a game demo or early access version. Some of my favorite games, like Against the Storm, reached excellency by listening to early access player feedback. Game developers do pop up in Twitch streams or comments on Youtube videos. I would very much hope that an event like the Steam Next Fext (ending today) does not only serve to show games to the audience, but to actually improve those games based on what the streamers that played the demos were saying about them.

I think you are missing one aspect: paying established streamers with a certain demographic to play your game.
Imagine if you are trying to advertise Lamplighter's League. It appeals to a specific kind of player. So why not pay someone playing a similar game to play this for a bit?
Agencies (usually?) don't go around and pay people already playing their game to play more of it.

Those "ad breaks" are also often not too long, paid and are to entice the viewership to also jump in and buy/play that game.
It's advertising a new thing to people interested in the same topic but not the thing itself.
The woman talking about eyeliner is usually watched by people somewhat into using eyeliner or other makeup in order to anchor the product and combat decision fatigue. I mean how complex can eyeliner be (I have no need, so no clue)?
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