The Rise of Influencer Marketing for Games
November 22nd, 2021
By: Vickie Tan
Like many other NYU students, you probably watched the movie Dune for Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya. However, did you know you could play as Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya in Fortnite? Shortly after Dune’s release, the popular online battle royale game Fortnite announced a crossover with the film—the characters Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya played would be joining the game as cosmetic skins for purchase in the in-game store. This is a prime example of the film and gaming industries collaborating, an increasingly popular influencer marketing tactic.
Marketing in the Gaming Industry
While marketing and advertising in the gaming industry have evolved over the years to be more sophisticated and incorporate new mediums like social media, the traditional approach to games marketing has been to target what we think of as the stereotypical gaming audience: young, male, and heterosexual. While gaming first emerged as a gender-neutral activity, gaming marketing in the ’90s started targeting exclusively boys and men through objectifying women in both advertisements and within the game as characters.
Changing Gamer Demographics
In recent years, it has become clear that the gaming audience is not as homogeneous as is depicted in popular culture; gamers today come from a variety of diverse backgrounds. For example, 45% of European gamers and 41% of US gamers are women. Additionally, the American gaming population increased by 13 million in 2020, and the number of interested people has only risen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the traditional approach to games marketing is not going away quite yet, this change in gamer demographics has encouraged a new type of marketing to become more popular in the industry: influencer marketing.
The Rise of Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing is a type of marketing that involves using endorsements and product mentions from social media influencers and celebrities. Within gaming, it has become more popular in the past decade, especially with celebrities whose careers had nothing to do with gaming at all. While it sounds outlandish that celebrities such as Ariana Grande and Kim Kardashian would become involved with gaming, celebrity endorsements and collaborations give both gaming companies and celebrities an opportunity to appeal to a wider range of audiences.
For example, in August 2021, Fortnite held an event called Rift Tour that featured an in-game Ariana Grande concert and a limited edition Ariana skin. This collaboration was mutually beneficial: it encouraged Ariana Grande fans who had previously not been interested in Fortnite to try out the game, while also generating more interest among Fortnite players for the music artist. The number of streams of Ariana Grande’s songs rose by 123% during the event according to Billboard, and the artist supposedly made over $20 million in profits.
Types of Influencer Marketing for Games
Influencer marketing typically brings to mind the image of an influencer posting a #sponsored ad on social media. However, there are various types of influencer marketing that are used by the gaming industry. Here are three methods that require different levels of involvement from the celebrity influencer:
1. Celebrity appearances in ads for existing games
The most direct and straightforward way an influencer can promote a game, besides creating social media posts endorsing the game, is to appear in an ad for an existing game. A prominent example of this is when American model Kate Upton starred in an ad for the mobile game Game of War: Fire Age. Upton’s appearance in the ad helped the game move its position from the third to the second most top-grossing mobile game, surpassing Candy Crush Saga.
2. Collaborations with existing games
Aside from appearing in gaming ads, celebrities have also taken a more involved approach to influencer marketing for games: collaborating with an existing gaming company. This can include featuring in limited-time events such as recording motion capture for an in-game concert or lending their likeness to be created as a character or skin in the game.
Fortnite does a fantastic job of collaborating with celebrities. Besides Ariana Grande, Fortnite has also held in-game concerts for countless other music artists including Marshmello and Travis Scott. Alongside these concerts, the game also offers limited-edition celebrity skins for purchase through microtransactions, a revenue-generating move for the free-to-play game.
However, celebrity collaborations with games have not been exclusive to Fortnite. For example, in September 2021, the band Twenty One Pilots held an in-game concert in Roblox, featuring activities and buttons for players’ character avatars to interact with while experiencing the event. This event reflects the greater movement of music artists towards virtual gigs, which became popular during COVID-19 when social distancing was essential.
3. Celebrities creating their own games
In some cases, celebrities take it a step further by creating their own game in collaboration with a game development studio. A prominent example of this would be Glu Mobile, who approached Kim Kardashian to launch the mobile game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood. While Kim K certainly wasn’t the one developing the game herself, she agreed to attach her name and likeness to a new game being developed. Additionally, she personally reviews visuals, characters, outfits, and storylines before they are released in the game. Kardashian’s approach to her game illustrates a more involved role influencer can take.
These efforts have led to $220 million in profits and 67 million downloads for Glu Mobile. Seeing this financial success, other celebrities such as Katy Perry and Taylor Swift have followed suit in making their own games, albeit with much less success than Kim Kardashian.
Influencer Marketing in the Future
Given the large financial successes and visibility it has generated for games such as Fortnite and Roblox, influencer marketing is not going anywhere. Celebrity skins and in-game concerts will become even more popular as marketing tactics for games in the next few years. With COVID-19 popularizing the idea of in-game social events like concerts and hyperreal game elements as part of the metaverse, the landscape for both games marketing and its target audience is changing for good.
Vickie Tan is one of MktSoc's Fall 2021 Blog Writers. She is a sophomore at Stern concentrating in marketing and computing & data science, with a minor in Linguistics.