An increasing amount of defined rules exist around what you can and can’t do when it comes to video game advertising — particularly when it comes to young audiences. Teens and children adore games, and there’s consequently a huge opportunity to grow the number of players for your game. Despite this, it’s our responsibility as marketers to maintain integrity and stick to ethical principles in video games promotion to contribute to a healthy industry.
In this article, we’ll break down the key things to keep in mind when it comes to marketing video games to young audiences, how to successfully run these campaigns, and how to avoid reputational damage.
Before we get into the details of how to advertise a video game to young players, let’s break down how their market segment actually looks in 2021. Inc. highlighted why teens are the most valuable—yet elusive—customers in tech. Teens are typically early adopters of products, which is often crucial to the success of a video game. In previous years they’d rely on controlled media like TV shows to tell them what was in style, but today’s teens represent the modern gatekeepers of trends and culture.
It’s not just early adoption of your video game which makes teens so valuable—they spend too. 29% of teens live in homes where household income exceeds $100,000, and they’re not just purchasing for themselves. Echoing the gatekeeping idea, teens are now passing technology down to their parents.
Teens aged thirteen to eighteen spend 69 minutes per day playing computer or console games on average, and 27 minutes playing mobile games. In total, teens make up 21% of the U.S. video game market, with 70% playing regularly. As consumers, games play an important role in the creation of teens’ friendships. This is especially true for boys, with 57% having met new friends through gaming online. The importance of socialization for the modern teen gamer cannot be underestimated when it comes to developing and marketing your product.
All data protection is critically important, but the connotations of abuse and manipulation you could face if a child or teen’s private information is exposed can be especially damaging to the reputation of your brand. It’s likely your video game advertising will encourage users to share their information in the form of signup forms; if kids submit their information to your company, it’s your responsibility to protect this information.
When it comes to privacy policies around video games more generally, make sure you comply with FTC and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)—this is what the FTC enforces the law through. For more information on COPPA, check out this FAQ guide from the FTC.
In-game purchases have become a core component of video games in recent years. While you might assume in-game purchases are exclusive to games categorized as mature audiences only (which teens and children still manage to access), you’d be mistaken.
To further complicate matters, what you’re actually receiving as a result of these purchases isn’t always clear. Random reward features introduce the element of gambling; these loot boxes involve users paying to unlock unknown, randomized items that vary in quality and rarity. Research by David Zendle found that in February 2019, PEGI [Pan European Game Information], the body responsible for age-rating games in Europe, classified 49% of the games on Google Play containing loot boxes as suitable for children aged 7+, and 93% as suitable for children aged 12+.
Manipulating in-game purchases to take advantage of your audience—particularly young audiences—can get you in serious trouble. To minimize this risk and abide by ethical constraints, be as transparent as you can when it comes to specifying how your in-game purchases work. Keep up-to-date with leading authorities in the space, such as the FTC in the USA or Advertising Standards Agency in the UK. The latter, in their recently updated guidance, highlighted the importance of following these steps to transparency:
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a self-regulatory organization that assigns age and content ratings and enforces industry-adopted advertising guidelines in the United States and Canada. Its European counterpart is the Pan European Game Information (PEGI). These organizations rate all video games before they publicly release and bind the producing companies to display these ratings clearly.
Based on the defined criteria such as references of alcoholic beverages or drugs, signs of violence or profanity, your game will be assigned a specific rating. ESRB’s enforcement system includes sanctions and fines (up to $1 million) that may be imposed on publishers who don’t fully disclose the content of their game during the rating process.
Like COPPA, ESRB aims to keep up with a rapidly evolving industry. For example, the ESRB recently added a label for microtransactions and loot boxes that we talked about earlier. The continued work and adaptation of organizations in the gaming space is great, but the responsibility falls on everyone to create an environment that keeps children and teens safe.
70% of teenage YouTube subscribers relate to YouTubers more than to traditional celebrities. Perhaps more compelling, 40% believe their favorite YouTuber understands them better than their real-life friends. As a result of this influence, Gen Z are 1.3x more likely to purchase a product recommended by an influencer than a traditional celebrity.
Influencer marketing to the youth clearly demands your attention as a video game marketer, so let’s discuss how you can do so within the context of the policies and best practices we talked about earlier.
This might go without saying, but look to avoid communications that aren’t age appropriate when advertising your video game to kids and teens. Your focus here should be on gaming influencers who create “kid friendly” content, and it’ll take research to understand who might be a good fit.
Given one of the main strengths of influencer content is a feeling of authenticity and relatability, it’s typical to find less scripting and more off-the-cuff comments that might subject them—and your brand—to scrutiny. Even influencers who might seem squeaky clean on first glance may have had a past controversy you uncover upon further research.
Analyzing an influencer’s profile before partnering on a brand deal is always important, but it becomes even more crucial when planning a campaign targeted at a younger audience. Here are some things to be on the watch for:
What style of communication does the influencer use on social media? Is the language the influencer chooses appropriate for kids?
Are there any signs of sexually explicit content? What about manifestations of aggression or violence?
You need to carefully analyze the values an influencer stands for. Does the influencer aim for positive impact? Or might the influencer’s content have adverse effects on the audience?
A checklist or similar process around questions like this can help you to create a standardized way of comprehensively reviewing each influencer you consider. Once you’ve made the decision to proceed with an influencer, include explicit, detailed requirements related to kids’ safety in the influencer contract. Here’s an example to understand what this might look like:
“Please avoid sexually explicit language and/or profanity (the game is rated ESRB “X” and content should be appropriate for a corresponding audience).”
PlayKids XD influencer case study
Cloutboost recently executed an influencer campaign for PlayKids XD (PK XD), an open-world adventure game aimed at young audiences. Given the target audience, we consciously worked to ensure all video game advertising was created to be child-friendly and connect with the youth in an authentic, engaging, appropriate way. For example, language inappropriate for young audiences was avoided in gameplay videos.
As the campaign was targeting global audiences across several regions which included Southeast Asia, Latin America, Russia, and Turkey we worked with native translators from each country to proofread every video for accuracy, ensuring nothing inappropriate fell through the cracks. Native translators also help to avoid “grey area” words; these words might not necessarily be an explicit curse word, but still sound offensive.
To minimize the problem of inappropriate content in the first place, influencer selection is critical. Given our years of expertise running data-driven influencer campaigns across different demographics and regions, we were able to identify influencers whose audiences were fans of similar games to PK XD—Roblox and Minecraft. Applying acquired knowledge or doing the research around influencer selection at the start of your campaign will help avoid headaches down the line. Learn more about our work with PK XD here.
In this article, you’ve learned the key points of consideration when it comes to creating an ethical gaming marketing campaign aimed at advertising your video game to young people.
By staying up to date with relevant authorities in the space and taking on the responsibility yourself, you’ll be able to market to teens and kids in an ethical way, while still upholding the fundamentals of an engaging, authentic campaign.
When it comes to influencers specifically, take time to thoroughly research who you want to partner with. Putting extra effort into contract writeups with ethical guidelines and transparency will allow you to avoid needless controversy and target your audience in a way that pushes the industry forward.