SAN FRANCISCO — Livestreaming gameplay on Twitch has become one of the most effective marketing channels for spreading the word about new video games, according to a panel at the Game Marketing Summit.

Companies like Sony Online Entertainment have figured out that traditional game advertising doesn’t work nearly as well as the authentic and fan-driven word-of-mouth enthusiasm of Twitch streamers, who can broadcast their gameplay to other spectators. Twitch on the PC and the new consoles has become a huge marketing channel because it is the trusted social currency of the day, and it is part of a do-it-yourself movement toward marketing authenticity.

“This is in-your face marketing of the best kind,” said John Smedley, the president of Sony Online Entertainment. “If you have the goods, show them. There are so many wonderful personalities out there. You watch them and realize that guy is funny. Embrace it or ignore it at your own peril.”

In the new age of game marketing, game developers can leave out the marketing suits and go direct to player broadcasters on Twitch and online commenters on Reddit. For his H1Z1 zombie apocalypse massively multiplayer online game, Smedley wants to reach gamers directly with an unfiltered description of exactly what they’ll get. And once they’re hooked, they will hopefully become its best evangelists. Smedley himself is communicating directly with the fans. About 26,000 gamers tuned in to hear about H1Z1 in a recent livestream.

Jonah Berger, author of the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On and a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, said that studies have shown that word-of-mouth marketing is two times to 10 times as effective in generating sales as advertising.

“If you see another gamer, you see this is real,” Smedley said. “If you put a shill up there, it’s not authentic.”

A scene from the zombie apocalypse in H1Z1

Above: A scene from the zombie apocalypse in H1Z1.

Image Credit: SOE

Marcus “djWheat” Graham, the senior manager of partnerships for new media at Twitch, said, “In the past, you didn’t get to see the passion of the development team. You can see this guy is as excited about making this game as I am about playing it.”

Smedley said that “spectating” — watching games live on the Internet — will change game design. In the future, you can imagine gladiatorial battles where the audience can weigh in with a “thumbs up or thumbs down,” Smedley said.

“I’m a big believer this is the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

Bart Koenigsberg, another panelist and the e-sports manager at Hi-Rez Studios (makers of the online shooter Tribes: Ascend and the online strategy game Smite), said that television viewing is suffering because of Twitch.

“If I am playing on Twitch, I am not watch TV,” he said. “If I yell at my TV, no one yells back. It absolutely has changed how we approach things. Twitch is all over the place. It’s not a little Twitch bubble. Twitch streams are talked about across all consumer marketing channels” like Reddit, 4Chan, or NeoGAF.

Koenigsberg noted that the fans will find bugs and enable developers to fix them before a game ships. Twitch is also a place where developers can honestly do damage control if they need to do so.

Smedley told GamesBeat five tips for the new era of marketing:

  • Embrace this immediately. It’s coming whether you want it to or not.
  • Find some people inside your company that are authentic and real personalities. If you don’t, things will go badly for you. You have to be authentic. It’s the most important thing. The people who stream and are successful at it are good because they’re like the Howard Sterns of Twitch – they’re 100 percent authentic.
  • Make sure you invest a bit of money for decent gear. The things that separate the great broadcasters from the everyday person are maybe a few hundred dollars worth of merchandise. It’s true more on the microphone side than the video side. The video side, pretty much everything’s standardized on H.264, a video compression format.
  • Know the message that you want to get out, so that when you’re answering questions, you have a direction. A completely aimless stream isn’t interesting to watch. Serendipity may happen, but don’t count on it. Last but not least, focus attention on making sure the users have a schedule. They should know when you’re streaming. Set up replays so you can get reviewed. Make sure that you feed your YouTube channel with the stuff that you do while you’re streaming.
  • After it’s done, put it in the can and make sure that users can go see it.
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