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The Videogame Marketing Dichotomy

Are there two types of videogame advertising, hype-driven and information-driven, which are mutually exclusive in their ability to affect consumers?

When The Sims 3 was released in early June, it established Electronic Arts’ biggest PC game launch to date, with more than 1.4 million units sold. This of course was in no small part due to the marketing campaign surrounding the title.

As part of a mini-series of features marking the release of The Sims 3, conducted an interview with EA Play’s senior marketing director John Buchanan, in which he discussed the PC game’s extensive campaign. In addition to relying on traditional media, such as television and print, EA established the biggest online and social network promotions for a Sims game.

In terms of media hubs, EA partnered with multiple sites including YouTube and MTV in an effort to provide audio and visual content, and leverage viral functionality. In terms of social networking, EA established the first official Facebook page and first official Twitter feed for a Sims game. At launch, the Facebook page had almost 240,000 fans, while the Twitter feed had over 12,500 followers.

In order to maximize its use of social networking, while exciting current fans of the series and bringing in a new audience, EA created various forms of trial content. One such trial experience is SimFriend, which allows users to choose from 120 different Sims and engage in an email relationship with that Sim. Depending on the personality traits of the chosen Sim, varying responses can be garnered from questions and answers.

A second trial experience is SimSideKick, which allows users to choose a Sim that then follows the user around the internet. Different responses can be garnered from the Sim, depending on both the website and the Sim’s personality traits. For example, if the Sim is a fan of sports, it will cheer when the user navigates to ESPN.

Outside of The Sims 3, viral and guerilla marketing has become more and more popular in recent years. The I Love Bees alternate reality game proved to be lucrative for Halo 2, with over three million visitors to the website in the course of three months.

A staged assassination attempt on a Russian scientist by clandestine organization MIR-12 has been used to promote Activision’s Singularity. To endorse EA’s upcoming action platformer Dante’s Inferno, the mock Christian group S.A.V.E.D. staged a protest and even claim to have been victimized by EA security.

Despite increasingly innovative methods of marketing, I do not believe any publisher-produced marketing campaign has ever affected my decision to purchase or not purchase a videogame. In fact, I typically don’t discover these viral campaigns until they have completed their course and are heavily reported on. Regardless, in forming an opinion of a game pre-release, I tend to rely more on journalistic and developer related content.

Not having the ability to test videogames myself, I enjoy reading previews provided by journalists who have had the opportunity to play the game, either through visiting a developer or a conference. However, videogames are of course an audio and visual medium. Written words can be inadequate in relaying game design and innovation.

In that regard, teasers and trailers can prove fruitful in increasing my interest in a game. Such promotions can provide information on almost all aspects of the game, while maintaining a sense of awe and excitement through clever editing. Teasers however, can also be off-putting, especially when they are uninformative and irrelevant to the design of the game itself.

One form of promotion however stands out as almost always increasing my interest in a game, and that is the developer walkthrough or demo. These videos typically provide unadulterated gameplay in order to inform the viewer on various aspects of the game design.

The video is also typically augmented with commentary provided by a developer. A good commentary will not simply discuss what is occurring, but elaborate on developer goals and obstacles. A good developer walkthrough will convey passion, and passionate developers are those that usually make the most enjoyable and memorable games.

Of course everything mentioned above is part of the marketing campaign for a videogame, including articles produced by journalists. Simply put, marketing that exists to provide information on the game itself, as opposed to just generating hype, is what I tend to use in order to form an opinion on whether or not I should purchase a game.

This seeming dichotomy between marketing types is perhaps similar to a dichotomy discussed by Leigh Alexander in a Kotaku article entitled I, Gamer. In it she presents a gap between gamers, separating the category into ‘fan’ and ‘cultist’ subcategories. Those in the fan subcategory “do not read reviews.

They do not post on forums, they have never been motivated to leave Amazon feedback just to ‘send a message,’ they do not blog. They do not know which publishers have poor reputations and which ones have good ones. They do not know the names of famous Japanese game designers; they might have Mario Kart Wii at home, but they do not know who Miyamoto is.”

As Alexander puts it, fans “probably [don’t] read game reviews for the same reason I don't read music reviews; they would have told him all about the controls, the environment, the vibe and the themes, would have listed for him a raft of minor criticisms he'd never even notice, but wouldn't have told him anything about whether or not he'd like the game."

I am curious to see if this dichotomy extends to videogame marketing. In general, do fans rely more on publisher produced advertising, while cultists rely more on developer and journalistic produced advertising? Or is there enough overlap that no such dichotomy exists from a marketing perspective?

I realize I am addressing a limited and perhaps biased audience, but I am curious to discover if my point of view is shared. Has marketing for a game ever affected your opinion of it, either positively or negatively? Are these two types of advertising, hype-driven and information-driven, mutually exclusive in their ability to affect consumers?

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