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YouTube has provided a great market for posting viral videos related to video games, just as it has been for almost any other kind of video that captures buzz.
But Google’s YouTube division is starting to pull out all the stops to enable game developers to launch video campaigns on the site — and to make money by adding officially sanctioned game videos. You can expect this viral marketing to grow as the economy takes a toll on marketing budgets and more publishers discover how to take advantage of the enthusiasm of YouTube fans.
A prime example is the Tiger Woods “walk on water” video posted by Electronic Arts in response to a user pointing out a bug in the game. Levinator 25 posted a video that showed how Woods could walk on water in the game and hit a ball. EA’s marketing department turned it around, launching a video that specifically addressed Levinator 25. In the video, the real Tiger Woods walks on water into a pond and hits a ball from the top of a lily pad. The video has had more than 2.5 million views, and YouTube shares the ad revenue with EA.
It’s not a ton of money, for sure. But it comes at a time when the costs of marketing on TV and other places is climbing — contributing to the budget headaches at game publishers who now spend $25 million or more on developing and marketing a single game on a regular basis.
The effort to make YouTube more friendly to games sprung up for a couple reasons. Game fans have become obsessed with Machinima videos (films of actual game play) with funny voice overs creating unique narratives. Among the biggest is Red vs. Blue, which starts the Halo Master Chief characters in red or blue body armor. Now the videos on the Machinima channel on YouTube have been viewed more than 14 million times. The most popular one, a [updated] Machinima.com episode entitled Master Chief Sucks at Halo 3, has been viewed more than six million times.
Microsoft tapped into the viral craze when it created a television commercial for the game Gears of War in 2006. The searing video images from the game were set to the haunting Donnie Darko version of the song Mad World. The video aired on YouTube at the same time the commercial launched. To date, the YouTube video has been viewed more than 5 million times.
And YouTube has also built syndication tools that made it easier for game publishers to incorporate YouTube into their actual products, said Nikhil Chandhok, head of video syndication efforts related to gaming at YouTube. In March of this year, YouTube contacted EA to launch a formal program for scripting videos for game fans. By that time, it was a no brainer that channels on YouTube could be great marketing tools.
“They were in tune with this viral growth on the web,” Chandhok said.
In June, EA launched Spore Creature Creator, a $10 version of its Spore game. Then, from within the application, players could share videos of their creations by clicking a button and uploading to YouTube. The idea was to get buzz going about the game before its September launch. To date, more than 158,000 videos of Spore creatures have been uploaded. The most popular of these videos has been viewed 194,000 times. EA ran a contest on YouTube, including a link to buy the game online on the contest site. This way, YouTube helps monetize the videos directly.
Here’s a video that I created using the Spore Creature Creator:
Spore itself picked up from EA’s earlier game, The Sims. There are more than 240,000 Sims videos on YouTube created by users. The top 100 Sims YouTube videos have been viewed over 130 million times, and about 35 percent of the top 100 machinima video views are of The Sims. Some of the best videos are highlighted on EA’s own site (www.thesims2.com) and on The Sims channel on YouTube.
There is, of course, competition for game videos on YouTube. That includes sites such as WeGame and GameTrailers.
YouTube makes the videos with EA’s content available on the EA channel on the site and then shares revenue from ads associated with those videos. Chandhok said there will be a lot more collaborations coming in 2009 between game publishers and YouTube. On top of that, Chandhok anticipates that users will start creating their own games based on videos. They can, for instance, show users a scene from a story and then have the users pick what happens next. Here’s a video that illustrates that point.