Every day, Chrono.gg features a single game at a discount. To get the word out about these one-day sales, the digital retailer works with YouTube creators and broadcasters on the livestreaming platform Twitch. It wants to help people find new games, with an added bonus of enabling YouTubers and Twitch streamers to get a revenue share from what they’re promoting on their channels.
“The business was really born out of the very strong belief that influencer marketing is not just the future of how games will be marketed and sold, but really the present,” said Chrono.gg CEO Justin Sacks in a phone call with GamesBeat. “It’s where people go to discover new games, curate new games, and end up purchasing them, from their favorite gaming personality.”
Chrono first focused on indie games, and it now supports double-A titles as well, which are higher-budget productions that usually end up selling for $20 to $30. This is thanks to the $1 million it raised earlier this year, which went toward building out internal tools and adding new hires to its team. It now has a dashboard to track sales, along with a system that refunds un-purchased keys to publishers within a week.
Sacks says that the conundrum of how to find the right influencers to work with in order to reach broad audiences is one that every publisher struggles with, not just indies and double-As. This is where Chrono wants to step in.
Publisher Aspyr partnered with Chrono on a launch-day deal for the cyberpunk horror Observer, which is developed by Team Bloober. It believes that leveraging influencers is a valuable tool in getting the word out to players. Though it’s hard to compare different titles and different marketing campaigns, Aspyr’s vice president of publishing Elizabeth Burdick Howard says that Observer did better with the Chrono partnership as compared to Team Bloober’s previous title Layers of Fear.
“As viewers ourselves, we love the live, unfiltered access to new games, and we’ll definitely continue to explore future influencer opportunities,” said Howard in an email to GamesBeat. “We see influencer marketing as a key pillar of game marketing in today’s landscape, alongside traditional PR and social campaigns.”
So far, Chrono’s store has featured over 550 games, and it’s worked with more than 200 different partners to promote the titles. Sacks says they’ve learned a few things about what kind of influencers can actually drive sales, specifically “opinion-based content creators.”
“It’s interesting, because Twitch and YouTube have both kind of replaced TV for our generation, where people more and more are spending their entertainment viewing hours by watching YouTube or Twitch or consuming new sorts of media instead of watching TV,” said Sacks. “That means the people who really get the massive audiences, the top one percent of YouTube and Twitch, they tend to be more entertaining folks. They’re going to make people laugh, do interesting things, always be surprising and funny. But the very biggest people are not typically the ones that folks go to for the absolute expert opinion on something. They tend to be a bit smaller, even the breakout ones.”
The right influencer on the right platform
John “TotalBiscuit” Bain is one of Chrono’s most successful partners. Though his follower count is nothing to sneeze at — 2.2 million — it’s significantly less than top YouTuber Pewdiepie’s 57 million subscribers. Other successful partners also have somewhat modest numbers, such as LevelCapGaming, a channel with 1.8 million subscribers that specializes in first-person shooters; and ZiggyD Gaming, which has 186,000 followers. All three of these channels have engaged audiences who view them as experts and consider their opinions when making purchasing decisions.
Sacks points to how harnessing influencer reach drove sales for Subworld’s Chronicon, an indie game that’s a solo project and in early access for PC.
“[ZiggyD] made a video that wasn’t huge by any means – it got about 40,000 views – but he drove more than 2,000, maybe 2,500 sales, in a day with just that one video, which ended up being more than $10,000,” said Sacks. “That Chrono sale as a whole – our organic sales, plus him, plus a couple of other partners – was the single biggest sales event in Chronicon’s history, including launch, Steam Winter Sale, all that kind of stuff.”
Though Chrono works with folks who create YouTube videos as well as broadcast on Twitch, Sacks says they’ve seen the most conversions from YouTube. He has a couple theories as to why this is. One is that user behavior is different on the platforms.
“On YouTube you can pause the video and go do something else, then come back to it,” said Sacks. “If someone says, ‘Hey, you should check out this opportunity,’ you pause the video, go check that out, come back, and you haven’t missed any content. On Twitch, you’re interrupting your own experience to go visit that advertisement, or in our case go and buy the game, and that might be a bit harmful to the experience.”
A larger reason may be because YouTube creators have more experience than Twitch broadcasters. It predates Twitch by six years (YouTube launched in 2005 and Twitch in 2011), and the content creators have been thinking about brand sponsorships and monetization for much longer as well.
“Guys on YouTube have been doing brand deals and activations for three to five years, while on Twitch, even the very top people might only have been around for two years at a maximum,” said Sacks. “They’re a bit less experienced as far as how you market products, how you make that genuine organic message for your audience saying, ‘This is a product I believe in and I like. It supports me when you check it out and purchase it.'”
Chrono works with content creators in two different ways. One model features only a revenue share, in which case it’s hands-off with the creative direction on what kind of video the creator makes. In the other model, Chrono.gg pays the creator in advance and then discusses the messaging with the creator, making sure that the way they approach the game is something that aligns with what the developers want.
The right game
Not all games work equally well with Chrono.gg’s influencer marketing. Multiplayer and free-to-play tend to excel, while linear narrative-driven games are a tougher sell. This is possibly because once people have seen a playthrough, they’re less likely to purchase it and play themselves. This latter issue has been a sore point for publishers like Atlus, which restricted streaming and capture of Persona 5 upon release.
Another challenge is that YouTube content creators often want to be first out the gate with videos of the latest releases. Most of Chrono.gg’s deals come later on in a game’s life cycle, which means that the creators may have already played it on their channels.
“It can be really challenging, because once someone’s covered a game, they might not want to revisit it,” said Sacks. “We can be creative there. Either we work with that game when new content comes out, so that means either DLC or an expansion or some sort of patch or update. Or the content creator, they do a less impactful, but still valuable promotion for the game, where they might use their social media to tell their audience, ‘Hey, this game I covered is now on sale at a great price, and if you purchase it it supports me as a creator as well as the developer.'”
For the launch day promotion with Aspyr, Chrono rallied 21 content creators, who filmed over 100 hours of videos that altogether received 8.25 million impressions. With its efforts, it generated 8 percent of Observer’s launch day sales. Howard says that offering the title at a discount helps it reach a wider audience.
“We think discounts are an important aspect of lifecycle marketing across all of our products, from indie to triple-A,” said Howard. “There are always going to be different audiences with different interests and different motivations. There are day one buyers. There are Steam sale people. There are some gamers that only buy Humble Bundles now. Our goal is to have a great game cross the path of each of these types of players at some point in the life cycle.”
On average, Chrono sees about 75,000 visits from organic traffic to its site. This varies depending on how many people are being referred by influencers. However, the audience can be broken down to a couple different types. One is gamers who are on the hunt for good deals; another are folks who come because they heard about the platform from content creators. It’s an audience that skews more toward hardcore games than casual and also favors PC games, though Sacks says that they feature a variety of different genres and titles.
He says that this type of focused marketing for games is the way of the future for all games. The market is saturated with new games coming out every day, particularly smaller-budget indie games. Not only does that make it tricky for developers to get the spotlight, but it’s overwhelming for players who are looking for new games to play.
Howard says that an important aspect that’s missing from how games are sold is a relationship between the developer and player. To that end, Aspyr is building its own tools to enable developers to communicate directly with folks from within the game.
“[These tools] doesn’t solve discoverability, but it does address ‘post discovery,’ the difference between finding a true fan for years to come and someone who really liked that game you made that one time some years ago,” said Howard. “It’s a quest to discover true fans. If we can foster a relationship with our true fans, we can control our own destiny.”
Fostering a personal relationship seems to work for discoverability as well as “post-discovery.” Players flock to influencers whom they trust and can offer an expert opinion on what games to try. And Aspyr believes that after a player has bought a game, they can be converted into a “true fan” by increasing access to the developers and opening a dialogue.
“It can be so challenging for a gamer to discover what is that next game they’re going to fall in love with,” said Sacks. “It’s an even bigger problem for the publishers. They spend years working on a game. How do they get it in front of their ideal audience, the people that will play their game for tens or hundreds or thousands of hours? It can be tough to get in front of that audience when there are so many other titles there without someone acting as the curator, or some voice saying, try these specific games out.”