7 ways social gaming brands can win the PR war

28Jul11
With Zynga’s City Ville launching in China (not to mention a looming sale or IPO for the star of the Facebook games), and Disney Playdom’s ‘Garden’s of Time’ reviving the brand’s fortunes, buzz around social gaming has never been so high.
Indeed, when I ran a 12 month search of major news sources today, I found that there are now almost double the number of social gaming stories per month (100) than this time last year (54).
So whether you’re a start-up or a major player, there has never been a better time to become a social gaming thought leader. Particularly if you want to attract investors, build corporate confidence, drive sales leads from merchants and advertisers, woo the hottest talent, and boost the number of sign-ups to convert into coveted DAUs and MAUs. So how can PR help you stand out from the growing crowd?

1. Guide the investment conversation

Investors love talking up social gaming, and with the revenues delivered by the likes of Zynga, not to mention the growth in virtual goods (currently worth $1.9bn), it makes for drool-inducing speculation.

With more users than its nearest 9 competitors combined, Zynga is the hot company. However, its dependence on Facebook worries some potential investors. And there are fears over a social gaming bubble to boot. Neither Zynga’s leadership nor the fears of a bubble bursting should inhibit upstarts and challenger brands alike from leading the conversation, however.

Shrewd players will run effective thought leadership campaigns. The multi-platform opportunity (mobile, iPad, iPhone, Android, PC etc) is an interesting topic in particular. Being opinionated & visionary on this subject alone can lead to some great interviews and savvy presentations can make you a hit on the speaker circuit can speaker circuit.

Bold, insightful and well-placed opinion articles can also wield influence, as are bloggable and tweetable insights into the workings of the industry and market trends. Infographic designers eat your hearts out.   When there’s an appetite for information in a nascent industry, PRs can help increase your share of voice in the conversation to get you noticed with investors.

2. Leverage the gamification trend with mainstream brands

Bigger trend at play – ‘gamification’ is entering every aspect of our lives (from to do lists to recycling). Brands like Volvo, for instance are tapping into gaming; so PR can help drive leads to developers from brands who are game.

3. Promote your Facebook relationship – or better still, don’t

Let’s face it, Facebook marketing is still a hot media topic – and 50% of its users log in specifically to play games. If you have an amazing presence on Zuckerberg’s site, leverage it. After all, it’s an amazing cross-marketing platform. If you don’t, there’s a massive upside: there’s an entire universe of other platforms and networks out there.

Most games acquire users virally anyway (invite a friend incentives), and success stories like World of Warcraft became its own, hugely successful social network without Facebook. And with news of Zuck’s baby’s growth slowing, not to mention a new generation of gamers growing up in other environments (e.g. Club Penguin, Moshi Monsters), the future of social networking is by no means as predictable as, say, Zynga would like.

So, there’s good reason to talk about your own platform as well as all the others (Chrome, Android, I0S),  devices including iPad and iPhone, not to mention the multitude of mobile networks and other global third party social networks (including gaming portals).

by Flickr user Kaeru

4. Forget global networks for a minute – unleash the power of local third party networks

There’s a wealth of local third party networks, e.g. Skyrock in France has over 20m users, Tuenti in Spain has 16m+, whilst StudiVZ in Germany has more than 13m users. Sure, they have lost some ground to Facebook, but they still offer a massive number of consumers to target. This is a business story that is begging to be told – and an alternative consumer audience available to engage with.

5. Clean up reputations soiled by corporate mud-slinging 

Simply type ‘social gaming litigation’ into Google and you’ll see the reputation management issues that are helping to define the industry. And you thought the intellectual property scandal at the heart of The Social Network movie was a big deal? Litigation and counter-litigation over code and concept theft is daily bread to journalists covering the social gaming industry. If ever there was a job for a savvy reputation management flack over who invented Farmville et al, it’s in social gaming.
6. Engage brands, retailers and advertisers 

20% of social gamers have spent money within a game (reference  missing) and, more interestingly, the market (virtual goods and in-game advertising) is expected to be worth $5bn by 2015. Merchants are looking to sell virtual goods, advertisers want to buy space in-game, and brands want to create virtual games – so there’s a massive opportunity to use PR to drive leads. H&M successfully sold virtual clothing, for instance, in game – so using PR to make your particular social game attractive to merchants, brands and advertisers.

7. Bring the virtual world into the real world

Users flock to social gaming thanks to advertising and viral mechanics. Game producers cross-sell their other titles in-game, and persuade players to invite their friends to gain more vital game energy as well as currency. If you have Facebook sewn up, Zynga style, then acquiring more gamers for new titles is easy and cheap. For competitors, particularly start-ups nervously building MAUs and DAUs, however, acquiring new users on Facebook can be difficult and expensive (CPA was $0.10 and is now $1). Marketing on other platforms can be even costlier. A great PR and social media campaign, however, can help.

Particularly with a strong offline execution.  Angry Birds has become a pop culture icon to create more touch points (retail) and revenue streams (merchandise, e.g. plushes). Social games aimed at younger audiences (Club Penguin, Moshi Monsters) have also done this successfully. Farmville has gone pop culture but not of its own volition – the National Trust has created a Farmville-inspired real world campaign where 10,000 ‘players’ get to run a real life farm. Farmville could have done this itself to generate amazing consumer PR for the game as well as the parent brand, to drive lapsed and new users – and attract merchants and advertisers at the same time. It’s only a matter of time before other social games want to make the leap into the real world – and PR can definitely help with that.

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2 Responses to “7 ways social gaming brands can win the PR war”

  1. 1 anjobanjo

    Thank you for an interesting read. I remember when H&M came out with virtual clothing for Stardoll. To my knowledge it became a equal beneficial deal for both said companies.One think I do not appreciate about social media gamers are how dumbed down they are.

    Studies have shown that an emotionally interactive and well developed game (where you are the hero, saving something) do help with an individuals self esteem. If we dumb down games, they won’t do much good at all, except become big time wasters, and I’d hate to see that day come to gaming (if its not already here, then we are all in a mess)

  2. 2 scotdevine

    Thanks for your comment. One of things I love about social gamers is the profile is different from what you’d expect. Typical Facebook gamer, for instance, is a 38 year old mother with kids (still living) at home. You kind of automatically think going to be a younger audience.

    I take your point about dumbing down in social gaming. How do you define dumbing down? Strikes me that the many games (in Farm Ville/City Ville?Gardens of Time mould) are kind of dolls houses for grown-ups + puzzles + neighbourliness. That’s kind of a simplistic way of summing up the more successful ones but they have those elements.

    Do they patronise the audience? Or do they digitise content that the players would otherwise engage with analogue versions of – e.g. puzzle magazines, spot the difference competitions etc etc?


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