GamesBeat recently held two “road show” events on mobile gaming influencers in New York and Seattle (see part one here). At each event, we discussed the rise of influencers and their impact on marketing in the $34 billion mobile gaming market.
The cost of user acquisition and the difficulty of game discovery in a sea of releases on the app stores is forcing companies to reassess their marketing tactics. And influencers such as YouTubers and Twitch streamers have become a critical resource for drawing attention to mobile games, as noted in our Gaming Culture 2016 report by VB Insight’s Stewart Rogers. Influencers is a topic that we’ll discuss at our GamesBeat 2016 event.
Our speakers for part two in Seattle included Amber “Miss Destructo” Osborne of Meshfire; Lou Fasulo, the cofounder of King’s Z2 game studio; and JC Connors of Amazon.
The event’s sponsor is Samsung, which is also providing an alternative app store, Samsung Galaxy Apps, on its smartphones and tablets. Ravi Belwal, a global partner manager for games at Samsung, was at the event and said his company values influencers and is recruiting more apps and games to its app store in a curated fashion. It will have no more than 4,000 apps on its store, and the opinion makers will have sway on what shows up there.
Here’s an edited transcript of our panel.
Amber Osborne: I’ve been in the music industry, the tech industry, and now the game industry. I’ve sen how influencers work in all of those. I used to run street teams for bands way back in the ‘90s when all you had was forums and chat rooms. Getting out there and doing a lot of stuff by hand. Now, online, with technology advancing, it’s amazing what this influencer culture has become. It’s almost an influencer economy. If you have a brand, the first thing the marketing team will say is, “Who are our influencers around that brand? Who’s the community?”
I love the video game space, especially working with influencers, because there’s so much out there right now – Twitch and YouTube and all that. I have a very weird story about becoming an influencer myself and building my own brand that I can talk about later. It’s a very weird world that we’ve created.
Lou Fasulo: I have a weird story myself. I had my first experiences in working with players as influencers of the product development cycle. I think of that as a lean approach to game development. You build products for a target audience, and as part of that you understand the people who are most passionate about what you’re building. Then you build a process that brings their feedback into your decision-making as you build a game.
We’ve been doing that at my studio for five years now. It’s evolved from just getting player feedback to something much more interesting, where our players have a business going on. Our business is working with their business. That’s an interesting evolution.
JC Connors: I don’t even like the word “influencer.” The people who are most influential in games right now would never identify themselves as influencers. That’s not what they wake up in the morning and think about. I like to call them for what they are. They’re super fans. They’re broadcasters. They’re fanfic writers. They’re social media stars. These are incredibly powerful because of the authenticity they have between themselves and the players of games. Game developers would be hard pressed to create that relationship those broadcasters and social media stars have with gamers.
GamesBeat: We used to call these opinion makers. Maybe the press was something like that. Is it the same? Is it different in this age?
Connors: The scale is different. Technology has led to the rise of new types of communities. Obviously places like Twitch, but there are also locations that game companies host, forums on a massive scale. Twitch alone has 100 million unique viewers every month, 1.7 million broadcasters. This represents a massive shift in how influencers can affect communities of a size that—if you go back 30 years to arcades where we’re huddled around a Gauntlet machine, then we were playing LAN games together, and then we were just getting together with friends to talk about games.
Now we have cosplay. We have events. We have tournaments and esports. Gaming is just the center of an entire solar system of bigger things that are happening to foster what’s going on in your game community.
Question: What’s the best example you’ve seen recently of somebody doing something on YouTube around a game?
Connors: Twitch Plays Pokemon. Here’s a guy who took Pokemon, put it on Twitch, 80,000 concurrent players all at once, more than a million unique players. That represents, to me, a genre nobody had seen before. That’s just the start. What happens when game developers start building with that in mind? Maybe it’ll be chaos.
More recently, what you see is growth in esports. Last year in July, 35 million people watched League of Legends. That continues to skyrocket and grow.
Osborne: Esports are just crazy right now. I’ve been to tournaments where players are like gods to their fans. It’s amazing how much brands have been tied into esports as well. I was at PAX, and I see Geico with an esports sponsorship. Everyone’s getting focused on esports right now. It’s amazing to see how players and teams are becoming the leaders of that community and building that community.
GamesBeat: Roostr came out with a report today – they’re owned by Chartboost – saying that 90 percent of players turn to YouTube at least once a week for game information. They’re looking for game discovery — 66 percent of consumers believed what they heard on YouTube, too, from influencers. This question of whether they’re reliable not seems moot. People accept what influencers are doing and saying as authentic.
Osborne: It was interesting being in the tech industry back in the late 2000s, when the influencer movement took over alongside the rise of Twitter and so on. There’s a great book called Trust Agents by Chris Brogan. He goes into how things have grown with that.
When you used to go to Amazon or other places for product reviews, you had a sense of trust. Now, with so much sponsored content out there, are they just saying they like the product because they’re paid? Where’s that level of trust? And I think that comes from the trust of their audiences. People look to see what their audiences believe from these people. It’s changed a lot, with that aspect of trust in influencers.
Say I want to learn about a new game and I want to see what this influencer thought about it. Were they paid? Were they sponsored?
GamesBeat: That’s somewhat counteracted by the fact that it’s video. They’re showing the game as the person’s talking. You can tell they’re playing the game as they do their commentary.
Fasulo: Video is an extension of blogging, in a sense, but video makes the player to viewer relationship much more intimate. There’s no third draft, got the words all perfectly edited. It’s very raw and very candid. Maybe I rehearsed, maybe I didn’t, but you see me in real time. You see the bloopers. You see the awkward bits. That’s more trustworthy than a carefully edited review.
Osborne: I recently saw an Instagram feature where celebrities have been making mistakes with the Instagram posts they’ve been sponsored for. Some of them have been copying and pasting from PR emails and just putting that straight on Instagram. You can’t fake it like that with video.
Fasulo: Marketers have a hard time paying for that sometimes. They want a perfectly tuned experience.
Connors: Authenticity is so important. If you watch a broadcaster engage with their fans, they’re talking so deeply about your game – strategy, character selection. You can’t fake anything in that interaction. That’s what appeals so much to fans of your games, the ability to interact with someone who’s as passionate as they are.
GamesBeat: With a journalist, you can never tell if they finished the game they reviewed.
Question: So the foundation of that is the genuineness of the self-appointed reviewer. If they’re sponsored, doesn’t that dilute the message, to the point where it’s no longer meaningful?
GamesBeat: We’ve established that influencers are important, but how do you approach them?
Osborne: Being approached by companies myself, one thing I stick to – and I have for years now – if the product doesn’t fit me, if whoever’s coming to me doesn’t fit my audience, then my audience is going to see through that. This is a great story. I was about 23, and I was contacted by a plastic surgeon in Tampa. They said, “We want you to come by and try us out!” Um, I’m 23, I don’t need this, and my audience is going to say, “What?”
Another good point about how to approach influencers: make sure it’s in their voice, something that resonates with their community is going to pay attention to. I’m sure you guys know of Sir Mix-a-Lot, the rapper. He’s a good friend of mine. I helped him with his social media a bit. He was contacted by a toilet paper company. He says, “I don’t know what to do here. I don’t know how to tweet. I don’t know what to say.” I said, “You have a song about butts. This is a toilet paper company. I can give you 10 tweets right now.” You have to do it in your voice, or your audience on Twitter is just going to wonder why you’re sending out sponsored tweets that don’t make sense.
When you approach influencers, you need to make sure that the content is in their voice and that they can have fun with it themselves. Be a bit more tailored to their audiences. If you make them sound too robotic, too sponsored, their audience will see through that.
Fasulo: And the flip side of that is if they love it, they’ll talk about it even more.
Connors: It’s key that you build a one on one relationship with that person. Do it as a game studio. The influencers, broadcasters, super fans, they’re generally not motivated by money. It’s rare to find one who is. They want to be part of your band. The guys who cover rock concerts, they don’t want to hang out with a guy in a suit. They want to go hang out in the green room with the band.
Community managers are important, but you don’t want to have just the community manager dealing with the influencer. They need to be a conduit between your game team and the influencer. You need to realize that guy is your fan. He wants to be deeply embedded, talking about game design and what’s coming next. He wants you to amplify his audience. These are entertainers. They want to grow their fanbase. How do you help them grow? Whether it’s giving them exclusive content over time or letting them broadcast a tournament, you can provide them things that will get them more excited.
Osborne: Experiences, invited experiences, are so awesome. We do that at our company. If we have a free ticket to something that we can’t use, we’ll just go to our community. Who wants to go? It helps get the word out. They love that. Provide experiences for those people that are out there shouting the good word.
GamesBeat: How do you go about discovering who your influencers are or should be? It seems like it could be confusing as to whether the ones with the biggest YouTube and Twitch followings are the way to go, or whether smaller, more focused influencers would work better.
Fasulo: When you’re starting you want to start with small folks you can invest time with and learn with. One thing we’ve found recently is that a lot of influencers hire agents, folks who can help them sort through the business. That reduces your ability to understand where the person is coming from. It’s important to take some time and understand their point of view, how they’re thinking about the business.
This is no longer just about being a fan of a product. It’s about entertaining an audience. Can I legitimately say I like this toilet paper? Are they going to see through it? Engaging with them—this is a bit of what we do. We’ve found people who have YouTube channels with hundreds of videos on our most recent product and thousands of viewers. We said, “Hey, we have a new update coming out. Can you try it and give us feedback?” Suddenly they got really invested in the game.
Even if it’s just one thing that might change, make sure to say, “We love your feedback. Thanks so much for your time. Here’s one thing that made it into the build that we want you to know about.” Suddenly the tone of the conversation shifted dramatically. That’s exciting to see. When the community sees that, too, they get that much more amped up. “That’s a good change.”
Question: Can you talk about who influencers are? It seems like there’s a high correlation between influencers and specific games. They’ll talk about one core game, but when they’re talking about any other game, it seems at odds.
Connors: There certainly is. You’ll find broadcasters on Twitch that split themselves between a couple of games, and then you’ll find those who are hyper-focused, eight hours a day, playing one game and dealing with their fans. Twitch now has a partner program where developers can match up with those super fans. Some of them self-identify, but sometimes it’s hard to see them emerging. Unless you watch their channel all day, you may not know they’re focusing on your game. There are resources available for developers to identify influencers early on.
One of our founding principles at Lumberyard is that traditionally game engines have been defined by rendering, graphics, and physics. No game engine has been built with the idea of community in mind, both in terms of helping developers reach mass communities—maybe that’s building multiplayer games faster. Maybe that’s enabling feature that let spectators directly interface with the action in real time. Those are features we already have in Lumberyard, and we’re investing heavily in creating more for future generations.
GamesBeat: A company called Roostr, owned by ChartBoost, is a marketplace for influencers to meet up with advertisers. Game companies that want to advertise can say, “This is the game I have.” On the other side, influencers can say, “This is the type of game I like, and here’s my following.” Through this, you can find a long tail of influencers, smaller ones. Maybe it’s a strategy game specialist with only 2,000 or so followers, but all 2,000 of them will click a sponsored link and download the game.
It’ll be interesting to see how that fosters more people to become self-sufficient or more efficient. One question I want to get to is, not everyone has this time to go track down whoever is or should be the influencer they want to connect with. Is there a way this is going to get more efficient? Roostr is one example of this, but I’m curious about others.
Osborne: At Meshfire we work with companies that have a million followers on Twitter. But beyond just the followers, they work with 200 affiliates. Most of those affiliates are esports teams and players. In their contracts it says, you have to tweet about us so many times. They have a huge problem right now trying to monitor all of this. They have hundreds of players and people to follow.
What we do with our products is we automate a lot of that. It’s an automated smart Twitter list. There are lots of tools to help find influencers and automate how you deal with them. We show you if an influencer tweets at you. A lot of these companies have so much volume coming in that they can’t pay attention and monitor this stuff all day.
A lot of companies miss out because they’re looking for the very top tier, a high-level YouTuber or Twitch streamer. You need to aim a little lower, to aim at those very passionate fans who have communities that will jump at anything they say, instead of spending all of your budget on one person. There are ways to find them. Ask your community. Who’s hot? They know better than you do.
GamesBeat: Mobile games talk about whales, people who spend unusual amounts of money, but there’s also this concept of social whales.
Fasulo: We’ve had mobile games that have been downloaded millions of times. We’ve integrated Twitter and Facebook to look at how players consume the game and how they interact socially with other players. We can look at how they’re driving engagement within the game itself.
We can see someone’s Facebook login and see that they have 5,000 friends, or whatever the cap is today. We know that person is socially plugged in. We’ll engage with them directly. “Hey, how’s the game going?” We can message them and engage with them and support them. Those are the kinds of people where we say, “We’re working on a new product. Do you want to fly out to the studio and spend time with the game team and we’ll show you some cool stuff that isn’t out yet?”
That’s a great way to invest in that relationship. We’ve flown multiple groups of 25 or so people from all over the world into the studio and shown them products. These are less casual players, more engaged, and more likely to create content for social media. It’s not to say that Candy Crush players don’t do that, but when you—it’s obviously important to know who your players are, but also important to look at the spectrum of what includes an engaged player.
We’ve worked with some of the more socially engaged players on Facebook to give out currency and make them run tournaments in our air combat game. They’ll give out that currency to the winners and that community will grow as they start doling out currency. The community talks to each other. “This guy gives out stuff in his tournaments!” That’s been awesome for us.
GamesBeat: The thing about influencers is that you don’t actually control them. That can be a problem sometimes. The people who are your biggest fans can become your biggest enemies the second they find a bug in your game. Can you talk about that side?
Connors: Today game developers spend the vast majority of their time focusing on the game experience. They don’t often contemplate that entire surrounding ecosystem. What hooks are they building into their game that enable their community to form? If your game is as easy for a broadcaster to play in front of people as it is for a player to play it, if it’s as fun to watch as it is to play, all of those things matter in forming a culture around your game.
All it takes, even though this is tricky, is paying attention to that in your game design. Producers have to ask this question. What kind of culture do we want to form? Does our game help form that culture? Are there mechanics in place that cause poisonous or toxic cultures to form? You see this in a game like Clash Royale with the new emotes. They made a conscious decision to control their culture with their gameplay. This is all very tied together. You can’t isolate the idea of culture forming from the decisions made as they were making the game.
Fasulo: In the experience we’ve had with community management and engaging with players—we have a player who’s super toxic, but also spending a ridiculous amount of money on our game. We engaged with him and started building a relationship and he became our number one fan. Players started accusing us of paying him, which was great. Eventually he became a really engaged community member and a huge fan. He’d point out, “Hey, they’re trying to fix these problems, go easy on them.” But then we lost him again. I remember the community team just being like, “How are we going to control this?” And unfortunately it’s not something we’re always going to be able to control. It’s an ongoing engagement with our players. Game development is risky. There’s an ebb and flow to the business.
Osborne: There was an interesting story about a company dealing with someone who was an advocate, a very strong supporter of their game, but also very vocal. The company contacted them just to say, “Hey, let’s talk this out.” They turned it around so well that the person is now their community manager. Now they understand. They’re like, “I am so sorry for being such a jerk.” You have to reach out to make those situations turn around, as much as you can. Especially if they’re influencers and advocates. They can be very vocal and that can turn very toxic.
Question: What are some options as far as carrots and sticks in that situation?
Connors: Responsiveness is the most important thing. You have to have technology in your game so that you can change the game based on community feedback incredibly fast. When you’re spending time thinking about that to do based on an angry player’s comments—sometimes they’re right. They’re angry because your balance is bad. Or you didn’t ban your cheaters. With the rise of community-driven games, you need to have your entire game ready to change at a moment’s notice. Your team needs the agility to make decisions fast and make those adjustments. If you’re slow, you will lose your community.
GamesBeat: How are you then measuring the results that influencers get you, especially if you’ve made a sponsored deal?
Osborne: Please stop using Excel spreadsheets. There are better ways. There’s so much to keep up on, but there are amazing tools out there to measure and follow the data. There’s a local company called Simply Measure that offers a lot of great data analytics stuff so you can follow a bunch of people you’re working with, what they’re saying, what the metrics indicate, and apply that. A lot of it is surprisingly easy. Twitter lists. Google alerts. Narrow down and keep track of what people are saying.
Fasulo: As far as monitoring progress or the state of affairs or whatever you want to call it – “sentiment” is what we call it – we track probably 120 different keywords. We look at the popularity of these things and use them to understand where players are on a spectrum between red and green. Then, when we see they’re moving toward red, we look at the root cause. That’s when the team can jump in and start looking at player discussions and things like that. However, this is much harder with video. That would be a good tool for someone to build.
GamesBeat: How many people are making a living as influencers now? Roostr has said that if they make the process more efficient for influencers, matching them with advertisers, the amount of money they can make from a very small number of sponsored links and downloads is very significant. Does anybody have a sense of how big this universe of influencers might get?
Osborne: Going beyond gaming, there’s a whole world out there around product and tech reviews. There’s a local guy, Chris Parillo, who’s been doing this about 10 years. He makes a living doing tech reviews. I’ve had some great conversations with him. He’s about 40. It’s a constant struggle finding the right products, the ones that will pay the most, because this is what he does. Sometimes the clients don’t come in. Sometimes you have to wait for them to pay you. I rarely see people stick around making a living as an influencer for that long.
Now, with all the Twitch streamers, all the people with Patreon accounts trying to make a living doing this, I would say the main thing is to have a backup plan. Go get an education. There are a lot of people out there that—it would be really cool if there were some kind of education, if new influencers could talk to an older generation that’s been doing this for a long time and ask them questions. Sometimes you don’t have a steady stream of income and that’s something you have to learn to deal with.
Fasulo: We have multiple people in our QA team across the company with Twitter followers in the hundreds or low thousands. We get resumes from folks who are like, “I’m done doing the broadcasting thing!” There’s a big opportunity for something like Roostr and those broadcasters to connect. Then the market gets bigger, because advertisers have a better and more efficient way to approach the market. That’s interesting as far what that could cause.
It’s still hard, though. One game can only have so many people providing content for its audience. How many games can get how big? How much can you break up that audience? That’s going to tell you roughly what will happen.
Connors: I don’t know how much broadcasters are growing off the top of my head, but spectators are growing incredibly fast. With that, broadcasters will grow as well. There’s new opportunities for broadcasters to find ways to monetize, whether it’s subscriptions or ads. We’re very early on in that life cycle. We’re going to see more. We’ll see game developers offer new ways for broadcasters to make money, whether it’s through direct deals or something else.
Something changes, though, when a broadcaster goes from being a passionate super fan to a professional. A shift happens. Nothing replaces the broadcaster who may not have tens of thousands of viewers, but who’s the most passionate person around your game, who understands it the deepest, who’s on Twitch or YouTube hours a day building your community. Those people are incredibly valuable. Those guys are the ones you want to build relationships with.
GamesBeat: There’s this thing called the Federal Trade Commission. They recently announced, “Hey, if you’re taking money from a company to talk about their products, you have to say that it’s sponsored content.” Can anybody update us on the basics of staying on the right side of this when dealing with influencers, and whether you have any expectations for the future in this area?
Osborne: This is somewhat new. It happened in the last couple of years. For a long time, we would always wonder, “Is this a sponsored post?” I worked with a lot of companies where they wouldn’t provide any instructions for when you would post or categorize things sometimes, and it was very stressful. I see a lot of Instagram posts or tweets that will say “#sponsored.” That’s what you need to do, to let your public know that this is a sponsored posts. But it’s stressful. Sometimes you don’t know what to say as far as how you’re supposed to do this.
Anybody who’s working with influencers needs to provide them with instructions to let them know how to properly post. I also see a lot of tweets that go out and they’re obviously not good. It’s clearly a sponsored post, but there’s nothing that says it’s sponsored. I could get the company in a lot of trouble. If that’s going out to 10,000 or 40,000 followers or something ridiculous—I don’t know. Definitely do your research. It’s tricky, how to phrase things.
Fasulo: You can run into the same problem with your fans. Many of them may not care, but it is wise to be clear on this kind of thing as a developer. And the FTC has gotten very tough on things like false advertising. They ignored the game industry for years. I’ve been expecting action on in-game currency and Kickstarter and all the other stuff we do on a day-to-day basis.
GamesBeat: The EU has done a lot more.
Fasulo: True. They tend to be a lot more protective.
Osborne: A good recent example was the Chewbacca Mom video. When that came out, people automatically assumed she was paid to do it. And then she wound up with sponsorships after the fact and people were wondering how that was going to be taxed. It’s interesting to see that happen. Is this something that was created to go viral, or is it just someone who’s really passionate about a product? Like I said, it’s a weird world right now, between what’s reality and what’s been paid for.
GamesBeat: What’s going to be happening in this world of influencers three years from now?
Fasulo: A massive shift is happening. It’s arguably happened already. Games have gone from a simple relationship between game maker and game player to games as a lifestyle. Players are spending just as much time talking about games, strategizing with friends, watching games played, or maybe even more time than actually playing them. We’ll see that in the future. If you think about a movie like Star Wars, how much time in your life have you spent talking about Star Wars versus watching it? That’s happening in games today, and it’s causing shifts in the way people play game and the way developers make games. We’re going to be surprised in real unexpected ways.
Osborne: I’ve seen so much change in the last 10 or 15 years. I agree with what he’s saying. So much more goes on beyond just games themselves anymore. We have communities, merchandising, all this other stuff. I see so many people make this into a profession. I talk to streamers at every event I go to. It’s amazing what they do and how much they do, editing videos and so on. They’re so creative. What’s going to happen to all of these Twitch streamers? Where are they going to go? What will they do? What’s going to be the next step for influencers? There are so many out there now.
Connors: I don’t know either, but I know a couple of things. You have folks with a lot of reach and a set of tools that enable them to have more and more content creation and control, higher fidelity content. Things like Unity are becoming more mass market. These folks who have audiences can branch off into other types of media, creating their own content beyond games.
Having thousands of people influence the events you’re watching as you watch them—we’ll have mass programming. What does it look like when 100,000 people control the content and influence the direction of the stuff you’re watching? There’s a lot of interesting stuff on the horizon. The question is, how do you participate in that? How do you put things like what Samsung is building, what Twitch is building, what Lumberyard might be building—how do you put all these things together and where do they go?
A good way to think about it is walking backwards. What does the future look like? What do you need to support that? Is it there yet? That exposes what might emerge.
Question: Right now, Twitch is clearly the dominant platform for streamers. YouTube is making up some ground. Facebook just announced what they’re working on. What are the chances of other streaming platforms finding success? And aside from video streaming, what are other tools influencers can use to communicate with their fanbases?
Osborne: I’ve seen a lot of people use Facebook Live for video. That’s been awesome, especially for musicians and celebrities. But I’ve seen Twitch streamers use it as well. There’s something called Infiniscene that does broadcasting that I’ve seen a lot. They have integration for Facebook Live so you can stream your games there. Also, Instagram and Snapchat are popular. I’ve been seeing a lot of amazing things happen on Snapchat.
GamesBeat: IGN deals with millions of fans on Snapchat, which is eye-opening.
Fasulo: Options are always good for players. The fact that this space is growing is awesome. I’d also mention another type of influencer, though, the game content creator. Many games are built for people to craft new content for them. You look at Minecraft and other games where people are building worlds and offering new experiences to your players that you didn’t design or think about. Those people are incredibly influential and powerful. As game makers, what are you doing to enable those players to increase the amount of content and cleverness in your games? Once you get a few of those guys, they can have a multiplying effect on your game.
Question: Turner has launched their esports program. Do you have any thoughts about E-League on TBS?
Osborne: It’s the strangest thing, to realize that there’s going to be esports on TBS of all places, but it’s awesome. It’s exposing the mainstream to our world. Also, I’m wondering what influencers are going to come from that. People are going to be thinking, “Now that this is on TV, how do we become a part of this?” It’s a strange world, where esports is going right now. It’s becoming so mainstream, with things like ESPN. I don’t know if the public is ready for it. I don’t know if the public will understand it. But it’s awesome. Finally the world is paying attention to this.
Connors: I understand they were pleasantly surprised with the numbers. They thought it would take a year to build this far.
Fasulo: I think it’s more a curiosity, in my personal opinion. That’s a platform you can’t interact with. It’s going to be hard to get momentum compared to the PC and the mobile device. You can watch with your device in hand. But it’s not the same experience. It’s not to say that it will go away. But it’s hard to imagine that the consumption patterns we have to are going to wind up being interrupted.
Connors: It’s going to drive the demand for higher fidelity, more professional broadcasting of games, though. Camera angles really matter. When you watch a football game, an incredibly complex setup goes into making that look fun. Gamers are just getting started in that area, and game developers are only just starting to think about it.
Question: One thing I’ve seen in the game industry over the years is that we don’t have blockbuster stars like they do in Hollywood or the music business. I’m curious as to what you think about the fact that now, it appears that it’s not people who make games that are getting all the notoriety. It’s the influencers now, and they’re becoming more famous than gamemakers. At E3, the biggest crowd I saw was for a Twitch panel, which didn’t have anything to do with any games. What are your thoughts on this?
Connors: I think it’s inevitable. People have always liked their favorite movie stars more than the movies they’re in. But I think it’s a good thing. It makes game developers’ lives more complex, because they have to think about these stars and interact with them in interesting ways. But they’re offering players more avenues to engage with games when they’re not playing. When they’re listening to a broadcaster or reading a blog, they’re engaging with your game. They’re thinking about it. That’s valuable.
Question: Does it get to a point, though, where people are going to start making a game for influencers and nobody actually buys it? It’s fun to watch, but nobody cares to play it?
Connors: Maybe. The most effective influencers, though, the ones with the biggest fans, are the ones that are deeply engaged with the community. If you make a game for an influencer who really does match with you and his viewers’ passion, that’ll actually be a better game for it. You can get a whole different perspective on your community of players.
Fasulo: If you watch 100 movies and have opinions on them, that doesn’t necessarily make you good at making movies. The other thing is, I care more if my designers are good at game design. If they can’t communicate really well with the public, I don’t necessarily care. Those skill sets don’t always come as a package. It’s understandable. In my experience, they’re more likely to be antisocial, if you were to roll the dice. That’s one reason why that’s probably not going to happen.
Question: The idea of influencers caters to people who are already connected, already very hooked into gamer culture. What if you’re trying to market a game that doesn’t cater to that audience? Who do you talk to in order to reach an audience with something that isn’t a “gamer” type of game?
Connors: Give us an example of the kind of game you’re talking about.
Question: Our game is a scuba-diving simulator. It’s not adrenaline-based. It’s slow. The people who identify most with it don’t consider themselves gamers and don’t want to.
GamesBeat: I’d go back to the very beginning. WWE fans will gravitate to a WWE game in the same way people who are specifically WWE gamers. Your natural affinity groups are outside of the gaming world.
Connors: You have to go where those people are. It’s the challenge that was faced by Deer Hunter games a long time ago. Gamers didn’t want to shoot deer. Deer hunters did.
GamesBeat: Right. It was picked up and sold in the sporting goods section of Wal-Mart stores, not in the games section.
Connors: You will have super fans, though. You’ll have people who love that experience. They may not consider themselves gamers. The question is, how can you design your experience so you can identify those fans? Lou gave some great ideas about metrics to understand those trends. You need to build the experience to figure out who they are and where they go. I’m sure there’s a community for them out there. It’s just a matter of finding it.
Fasulo: Here’s a recommendation. Go to Facebook and say, “I want to set up an ad.” You can run a bunch of scenarios and they’ll sell you the reach for your segment. I wouldn’t go to Twitch at all. It seems like there’s a lower probability of success there. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t the right channels out there. It’s just a matter of finding where those folks that are potentially interested communicate with each other online.