4 Lessons All Brands and Marketers Can Learn From the Gaming Wars
To people who don't play video games, gaming may seem like a niche industry. But in reality, games are one of the biggest entertainment categories, having surpassed movies and streaming in many markets. Many studios serve millions of players daily, but the industry is still young. That's why most of the marketing benchmarks are drawn from movies, TV and other consumer or entertainment categories that know a thing or two about creating buzz among audiences.
And that's how I got into games. Having worked with brands like Red Bull, Orange and Freeletics for over 20 years, I joined Finnish mobile game studio Metacore, creator of Merge Mansion. My goal is to help translate our games from the digital world into immersive, real-life experiences and coffee table talk. We aim to make great games, and great entertainment, too.
Two years into my journey, I've worked on global campaigns with Hollywood stars Kathy Bates and Pedro Pascal, and I've brought the game's mansion to life through an exclusive event in Los Angeles. Through these experiences, I've realized there are many reasons why games are now winning consumers' hearts, minds, and, most of all, screen time.
Below, I discuss four things the gaming industry is nailing. All brands and marketers should take note.
Use data to build your brand
All marketers appreciate data, but no one takes it quite as seriously as mobile game companies. They look at conversion rates and views to not only determine which ads work, but also to guide huge, strategic decisions, validate market fit and develop elements from character design to mechanics.
This data focus doesn't stop once a mobile game goes live. Titles are constantly evolving, and player feedback is almost sacred; most studios are extremely passionate about it. For example, Merge Mansion's storyline has been largely driven by fans' reactions to ads. Based on such feedback, the personality of Grandma Ursula has taken on a more mysterious tone. These days, the game scenario is largely driven around what that character is hiding.
Lesson 1: All marketers harvest data from their channels and key audiences—instead of using that data to just track performance, use it to develop your brand.
Don't just stick to a working recipe
Competition is fierce across most global, digital consumer products. But in my 20 years in the creative industry, I've never seen such blatant copying as I have in gaming. Forget Pepsi roasting Coca Cola's Santa ads—we're talking direct copying of concepts, key art and even facial expressions. And it's not just ads. Game mechanics and storylines are frequently copied based on what works best.
With thousands of new games published every month, staying on top of consumers' minds is vital for mobile games. For Metacore, this means constantly building new creative instead of just trying to recreate a working ad formula. At the moment, we have over 500 unique ads running and are constantly working on new additions.
We're not tied to an existing format, but always look ahead to the next evolution. That explains why we turned our animated UA ads into live-action short films and, ultimately, an immersive experience at a physical mansion. Whether it's an animated ad or full Hollywood production, our guiding thought is always: What would excite and entertain our audience? Merge Mansion's biggest audience is millennial women, which is why our latest campaign leaned into Pedro Pascal and true crime.
Lesson 2: Don't just stick to a formula—build on it by investing in new creative and channels. Experiment within the playground of your brand and ask: What would your audience love?
Look beyond the marketing team for creativity
Creative teams can sometimes be organized hierarchically and their work kept separate from other areas of the organization, like product development, sales and people ops. But creativity doesn't just live in the marketing department, or even in the game team itself. Anyone at Metacore can have a great idea for a new character, storyline or in-game event.
That's why, for example, new ad creative isn't solely developed by our marketing team. Instead, we hold company-wide, weekly ideation sessions where anyone can chime in. Even some of the Merge Mansion character names have been crowdsourced from our team.
Lesson 3: Form routines and structures that allow people from different functions to participate in creative briefs.
Build a strong story
The mobile games market is extremely crowded and saturated, meaning it's hard to break through the noise. As game mechanics and visuals are easily copied, it's sometimes tricky to differentiate from competitors, especially when you have mere seconds to make your first impression.
Instead of focusing on technical features of the game, we've flipped the script and built our marketing to evoke emotions. Merge Mansion's ads are built around family drama and mystery, both widely relatable themes that stir strong feelings.
Lesson 4: It's not enough to pay big bucks for a Super Bowl ad or nationwide campaign. Whether it's your brand narrative, character background story, CEO keynote or trailer—always, and above all else, aim to entertain.