This article is part of a Gaming Insights series paid for by Facebook.
As the games advertising ecosystem has become increasingly complex, transformed by privacy-first concerns, marketers and publishers need to understand how the world is changing, what moves players, and how to stay ahead of the curve.
To that end, Facebook Gaming has released the third annual Games Marketing Insights for 2022 report. It offers new insights into player trends and motivations across four major markets—the U.K., U.S., South Korea, and Germany. It provides insight and guidance for the months ahead, analysis for marketers at games developers and publishers to help inform business practice for a significantly changed gaming ecosystem, and more.
To understand more about this, VB sat down with Catherine Flynn, Director, Global Gaming, Audiences and ESG Marketing at Meta to talk about the most important findings this year, and why it’s essential reading for anyone in the mobile games industry.
VB: Can you give us the 1000-foot view of the report. What are the biggest trends for games marketers right now? What’s the headline?
CF: I think the headline is very much, prepare for a new era of games marketing. As our latest research shows, the global gaming audience is bigger and more diverse than ever before.
Engagement is soaring, and so is the gaming experience. Gaming Groups on Facebook, live streaming, emerging platforms, and technologies such as AR/VR are still on the rise and continue to have an impact on how people experience gaming. For example, in Q3 2021, we saw a 2.8x increase vs 2020 in gamers who joined AR/VR product-related Facebook Groups. That’s huge. It’s definitely one trending area that we expect to have a big influence on game development in the near future.
We also can’t ignore the privacy preferences of this audience. This is in itself a “trend.” They want commitments around privacy and security, and this has a big influence on game development moving forward.
As you know, there are significant industry-wide updates to ensure this is the case, and we know that adapting to these changes won’t be easy for many gaming companies.
But as we’ve experienced many times at Meta, innovation happens when you try to solve a conundrum. On one hand, gaming companies have a massive opportunity to tap into this pool of new and growing audiences.
On the other hand, they need to rewire their marketing strategies to put user privacy at the fore, while successfully reaching these audiences.
VB: In this report, Facebook Gaming shows us how the global player base has evolved from 2020. What does that mean for marketers?
CF: First and foremost, whatever the year, I’m always going to believe that from a marketing perspective, understanding shifting patterns in your audience behaviors, motivations, and preferences, is key to successfully building and maintaining close relationships with them. In this constantly evolving world, marketers cannot simply rely on old assumptions. For instance, established gamers, people who already played before the start of the pandemic, tend to spend more time playing and spending than gamers who joined since the onset of the pandemic. But at the same time, both groups have the same preference for ad-supported models, and we also see that motivations for playing remain quite constant. However, “relieving stress” becomes more significant to established gamers. Those are just some examples of insights that have come from this new research.
VB: Have player expectations changed much? What do they now value within their gaming experience for example?
CF: Well, there are two main expectations that I believe are major considerations moving forward. Firstly, when we look at gaming genres, industry data tells us that players are shifting their focus from the hyper-casual experience to more immersive core genres such as Action, RPG, Strategy, Simulation, and Sports. In response to this, we’re seeing hyper-casual publishers pivot towards the emerging hybrid-casual genre by building meta gameplay features.
And then from a diversity and representation perspective, features like customization are incredibly important for gamers. Our report tells us that games that are designed with diverse representation in mind offer a more immersive and engaging experience to players. So developers have to deliver that. This is a value that shouldn’t be ignored because the audience is telling us that they want customization, they want specifics. They no longer want stereotypes.
And this is good news for games marketers because not only is it the right thing to do, but we now know that a secondary effect from being inclusive is the potential for more spend on downloads and in-game features. It’s worth it for both parties really, to deliver what the players value.
VB: You mention diversity. Obviously it has become a major consideration across many industries now. Why does it matter so much in gaming?
CF: It’s becoming ever more apparent that many people want games to better reflect their lived experiences. If we look at the global movement towards inclusion and diversity and acknowledge that a “one-size-fits-all” approach doesn’t reflect real life, we realize that companies need to rethink how they approach audiences across the entire gaming industry. This is a progressive industry and one of the most meaningful forms of entertainment, and all of us need to lead by example. At the most basic level, diversity in gaming matters because our audience is incredibly nuanced and we need to respect that and speak to them from an authentic position.
VB: So what does that look like? How do you show a “lived experience” and be inclusive?
CF: From our point of view at Facebook Gaming, there are variables to how authentic representation can be achieved. In its most simplest form, we’re talking about customization features — the report digs into this a little further, but fundamentally if I’m a player, I want the ability to choose features that perhaps I wasn’t able to before. Think personality traits for example, or very nuanced additions to clothing such as a pride pin. This is just one example of what inclusion actually looks like in a game or an ad. Small but very effective changes allow characters to be as true-to-life as can be. They allow for self expression and that’s what representation and inclusion is all about.
Just a few months ago we also released Facebook IQ’s Industry Perspective on representation in gaming, which provides tangible recommendations for marketers on this subject.
VB: We all know that this past year the industry has been hit with new regulations, privacy controls, and operating system changes. It’s impacted some businesses in many ways, particularly with regards to UA and measurement. What’s your take?
CF: Yes, it’s been challenging to be a performance marketer, including those in the gaming industry, but everyone is on this journey together. Traditionally, games advertising was predominantly dependent on DR campaigns based on available third-party data. To meet the new expectations of the marketing ecosystem, companies are updating their policies to respect people’s choices around privacy. That’s a great thing for everyone — consumers and players.
But we find ourselves in a scenario where realizing the potential of the current gaming audience means recalibrating previously tried-and-tested marketing practices. And this isn’t easy. So our functional experts have come up with a solution, or let’s say a hypothesis, that incorporates both common DR marketing strategies and upper-funnel marketing to help reach and acquire new players.
VB: So companies would make both strategies work in tandem?
CF: Yes. Taking on board what we’ve already talked about, we recommend that gaming brands should incorporate specialist roles into their teams such as Marketing Strategists and Planners, Creative Architects, and a dedicated production team.
VB: Why these roles specifically?
CF: Well, their introduction creates an organizational structure that embraces a setup akin to what we’d more commonly see at an advertising agency. This creates the conditions needed to build full-funnel marketing strategies that aim to build long-standing and meaningful relationships with fans. We see it working like this:
Marketing Strategists and Planners undertake the role of researching people-based insights to guide creative production which is now decoupled into two areas: ideation and production.
Creative Architects are responsible for ideation and relevancy across marketing channels; and the production team is responsible for bringing those ideas to life. The aim is, in essence, to create story-driven narratives that are informed by audience insights so as to be relevant to them.
And further, we don’t want ads that are repetitive because that’s becoming an issue in itself: 56% of gamers in our research say nearly all or many mobile game ads they see are repetitive.
VB: That’s definitely an updated approach.
CF: Well, now things have to evolve and by building first-party relationships with consumers themselves, games marketers embrace a paradigm shift but they’re also offered an enormous opportunity. What it comes down to is, as discussed earlier, the “call and response” data feedback loop of DR marketing and the fact that it has, until now, underpinned the success of games advertising.
But we’re in a new era of advertising and so it’s changed. We truly believe that brands can differentiate themselves from commoditized and homogeneous advertising behaviors by embracing a new shift. And importantly, that can mean the difference between a passing player and a lifetime fan.
Dig deeper: Read the entire report here.
Catherine leads the business marketing teams for Meta’s global Gaming, Agency and Global Clients & Categories businesses. Her team also has responsibility for Meta’s global ESG marketing team, who aim to inspire businesses and the industry to become more inclusive and equitable in their marketing & business practices. Based in Singapore, and originally from Ireland, Catherine has over 20 years’ experience in global business and consumer marketing, over 10 of those at Facebook and prior to that, in the agency world. A common thread within her career has been a passion for increasing diversity and inclusion within the tech industry, including women in leadership.
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