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How Gaming Influencers Redefined Video Game Marketing

In recent decades, video games have become one of the most popular leisure, competitive, and cultural pursuits. For many gamers, video games have become a lifestyle, integrated into many aspects of their daily activities. 

With over 10K new games launching on Steam each year and a thousand mobile games hitting iOS daily, the gaming industry is booming. It's estimated that by 2027, the industry's market size will reach an astonishing $521.6 billion, with a projected 3.07 billion gamers worldwide in 2023.

As the gaming audience grows, publishers are continually searching for innovative ways to connect with their players effectively.

Why Influencer Marketing for Games?

Gaming influencer marketing has been on the rise, with brands increasingly collaborating with gamers to tap into their vast audiences.

According to Business Insider Intelligence, influencer marketing in games was worth $822 million in 2019, $2.5 billion in 2021, and it even reached over $4.4 billion in 2022.

Influencers on average are better than brands at building trust and making their audiences tune in on a regular basis. With gaming amassing millions of loyal followers, it’s unsurprising that they are becoming a preferred choice for promoting video games. 

According to a TubularLabs report, gaming viewers are over 50% more loyal than the average audience, emphasizing their dedication to the creators they like and follow.

Loyalty for selected genres based on top 100 creators

A Brief History of Gaming Influencer Marketing

Gaming influencer marketing, now one of the most effective ways to reach gaming audiences, had a challenging beginning. During its inception, publishers were skeptical of paid sponsored content:

Reddit post by Ben Tester

Influential gamers like TotalBiscuit also criticized the idea of sponsored content, saying that publishers won’t gain much value from partnering with them: 

Much of these concerns can be attributed to the still-growing and changing landscape of video games influencer marketing.

To understand the evolution of the space, let’s look at how gaming influencer marketing progressed from a niche concept to a mainstream phenomenon.

YouTube and Let's Plays

Arguably, YouTube was the starting point for the fledgling gaming influencer marketing industry. As one of the biggest and most established video-sharing platforms, YouTube became the platform of choice for many video gamers to create content. This would usually come in the form of “Let's Plays” content, where content creators would film themselves playing games, giving commentary and reactions, and otherwise capturing their experiences. This provided gamers with a new way to evaluate and experience video games that was far more engaging and enjoyable than the traditional “article-based” review system. 

Machinima, a multi-channel network founded in 2000, played a significant role in fostering gaming content on YouTube. They began partnering with gamers and helping them monetize their videos. Machinima's rise coincided with the growing popularity of gaming content, and they played a pivotal role in promoting gaming on the platform. 

Over time, the early video game creators gained traction and fostered devoted followings, establishing their unique personal brands and aligning with games they were passionate about. Gaming publishers recognized this trend, offering collaboration opportunities to YouTubers. Sponsored content emerged as a genuine way for game influencers to share their favorite games and boost their income while significantly increasing conversion rates for publishers. 

The launch of the YouTube Gaming channel in 2015 provided a dedicated space for gaming content creators. It offered a central hub for gaming videos, live streams, and gaming-related discussions while improving discoverability. 

Over the next few years, the youtube gaming space exploded. In 2018, according to Think with Google, 200 million people were watching gaming content on YouTube every day. By 2020, there were an estimated 40 million unique gaming channels on YouTube. This presented marketers with a wealth of talent to choose from, with influencers in almost any gaming genre.

Twitch Emerges

Twitch, the renowned live streaming platform primarily centered around gaming, emerged from the innovative minds of Justin Kan, Emmett Shear, Michael Seibel, and Kyle Vogt. The platform's roots can be traced back to 2007 when it was part of Justin Kan's life-streaming project on Justin.tv. However, Twitch truly took off in 2011 when the founders decided to establish it as a standalone platform, naming it "TwitchTV."

Twitch quickly gained popularity by providing gamers with the ability to live stream their gameplay, engage with their audience in real-time, and build communities. Since then, Twitch has transformed the streaming landscape, offering a platform for gamers and content creators to connect with their audiences.Currently, Twitch has 140 million monthly active users and 2.45 million concurrent Twitch viewers. There are around 7.58 million streamers on Twitch in 2023, and the majority of them are gamers.

The growth of Twitch, its focus on interactivity and community-building, and the monetization opportunities it offered to streamers created a fertile ground for Twitch influencer marketing to thrive. Twitch became a key player in the gaming influencer marketing landscape, offering an authentic and engaging platform for brands to connect with their desired audiences.

Esports and Competitive Gaming

Esports, or electronic sports, had a modest beginning that eventually evolved into a global phenomenon. Emerging in the 1970s and 1980s, competitive video gaming events were initially held in arcades and on university campuses.

The real turning point for esports came in the 2000s with the rise of online multiplayer games, platforms like Twitch, and the organization of large-scale tournaments. Games like Counter-Strike, StarCraft, and later League of Legends, Dota 2, and Overwatch became popular in competitive gaming circles. These titles offered opportunities for players to not only compete but also stream their gameplay, gaining significant followings. Esports tournaments today command viewership comparable to the ones received by long-standing tournaments and sports. Professional competitive gaming events are estimated to have revenues of almost $1.8 billion by 2023, with total Esports viewership expected to reach 646 million in the same year.

The esports industry's growth created immense opportunities for gaming influencer marketing. Esports players, streamers, and content creators became celebrities within the gaming community, and their reach extended beyond it. Brands recognized the potential of partnering with influential esports personalities to promote their products or services.

Shaping of the Industry 

The popularity of gaming content on YouTube and Twitch skyrocketed in the mid-2010s. Many content creators turned gaming into full-time careers, building dedicated audiences around their channels. In response to this growth, specialized gaming influencer marketing agencies and networks began forming to connect brands with gaming influencers. These agencies played a vital role in streamlining partnerships and ensuring influencer marketing campaigns' success.

GameTech Ecosystem

As gaming influencer marketing matured, more significant brand partnerships and sponsorships emerged. Game influencers have become brand ambassadors, endorsing gaming products, peripherals, and even non-gaming items. Today, gaming influencer marketing plays a vital role in the success of game launches and the promotion of gaming-related products.

Expansion to New Platforms

The influence of gaming influencers expanded to platforms like TikTok and Instagram, with their short-form content and viral potential. These platforms further cemented the importance of influencer marketing in the gaming industry.

TikTok has transformed the gaming landscape, offering gamers a unique opportunity to showcase their work to a broader audience, fostering inclusivity and expanding the gaming community. Gamers are taking advantage of TikTok's surge in gaming content to share gameplay clips, display their gaming skills, and participate in innovative challenges. One of TikTok's most potent effects is its ability to stimulate community engagement and creative expression among gamers, enabling them to interact, share experiences, and express their passion through cosplay, fan art, storytelling, and more. 

As an illustration of TikTok’s popularity among gamers, the hashtag #fortnite has amassed a staggering 29.5 billion views. EA Sports has harnessed TikTok influencers to promote several of its games. Apex Legends, a game in a similar style to Fortnite, though not as popular as its well-known rival, has still generated an impressive 546.6 million views under the hashtag #apexlegends. EA Sports collaborated with influencer Brent Rivera, who created a comedy video of himself playing the game, which garnered over 900,000 likes.

@brentrivera Pumped that solo mode is now in #ApexLegends. I choose Bloodhound 🐶 Hbu? #SponsoredbyEA ♬ original sound - Brent Rivera

Influencer Marketing in Gaming Today

Gaming influencer marketing has transitioned from an uncharted territory to an established marketing channel for the gaming industry. What was once considered an experimental marketing approach is now a mainstream and essential strategy for reaching gaming audiences effectively.

The impact of influential gaming personalities is substantial. Icons like Ninja, the highest-paid Twitch streamer with approximately 19 million followers and an estimated net worth of $40 million, demonstrate the reach and influence gaming influencers hold. Figures like PewDiePie, a pioneer in video game streaming, once boasted the title of the most subscribed YouTube channel and an estimated net worth of $90 million in 2016.

Game publishers, ranging from indie developers to major industry players, have embraced the pivotal role that gaming influencers play in promoting their game releases. They understand that influencer partnerships are no longer optional but rather an integral part of their marketing strategy. 

For instance, Free Fire,  leading Battle Royale game, outperformed its rival PUBG Mobile, generating $100 million compared to PUBG Mobile's $68 million in Q1 2021. Free Fire's strategic investment of over $13 million in influencer marketing engaged 494 YouTubers to create 2662 ad videos, amassing a total of 6.2 thousand mentions. This success underscores the vital role of influencers in shaping the gaming landscape.

Another example is "SpaceVenture" a space exploration indie game developed by Two Guys From Andromeda, who harnessed crowdfunding as a means to secure funding and engage with its potential player base. "SpaceVenture" adopted a unique influencer marketing approach during its crowdfunding campaign, providing game influencers with exclusive sneak peeks and behind-the-scenes content related to the game's development. This strategy not only ignited excitement among the influencers but also created an aura of exclusivity that intrigued their followers. To further elevate their approach, developers involved influencers in actual game design decisions. The success of "SpaceVenture" extended beyond its funding campaign. The influencer-driven buzz attracted the interest of media outlets, leading to extensive press coverage. 

In conclusion, the influence of gaming influencers on the industry is undeniable. Their unique ability to build trust and loyalty among their followers has propelled gaming influencer marketing into the mainstream, transforming how game publishers connect with their audiences. With influencers holding the power to shape the gaming landscape, their partnership has become an integral part of the gaming marketing playbook.

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