Apr 07

Gaming Communities in The New Age of Social Media and Democratization of Search


Recently, I was speaking to Caleyjag, the founder of one of the top Football Manager fan sites on the web and also, quite likely one of the most innovative members of the FM community for many years.

On FMFanboys, he made a statement that:

“the community just isn’t needed as much as it once was.”

All respect in the world to him, but I think he couldn’t be more wrong. The community is even more important now than ever before with the immense power that independently operated fan sites have in this new digital age.

Type in “Football Manager 2010″ into Google and see what comes up. Realize this phrase is estimated at 1.2 million individual searches a month. Add all the other varieties of similar search phrases (reviews, tactics, downloads, graphics, etc.) and you easily get 10+ million searches made per month that shout out “I’m looking for information pertaining to this specific game”. So, what does this existing or potential customer see?

The usual web sources are there – the official FM site, Wikipedia entry, Steam page, Amazon product page… but right on the first page is none other than the True Football Manager blog, FM-Base resource site and SoccerLens blog. All on the same “playing ground” with the big boys. That’s the democratization of search.

Users get results based on relevancy and authority. For many the search popularly used for Football Manager, websites like Susie, FM-Britain, FM Scout, Soccer Gaming even come up in results above the official website and the big-time video game magazines. (so much so that sometimes footballmanager.com & sigames.com appear as low as the 5th page in many highly typed searches)

This means that independent fan sites can easily have access to a large portion of the playing demographic. Just produce content that is both relevant and helpful to those looking for this information. No longer can game developers, game publishers and huge gaming magazines just buy their control of the marketing message, opinion and support for their products.

In addition, the connectivity of the internet and mass public adoption of “social media” platforms and networks has immensely changed the way we’re all influenced. Ask any marketer or salesman of the past 50 years and they’ll all say “word of mouth converts more so than any other forms of advertising combined.”

Take it from Tony Key, the senior vice president of sales and marketing at Ubisoft, the French video game publisher behind big hits from the Tom Clancy games to Prince of Persia:

Well, people are connecting now in different ways and getting their information in different ways. You used to get information from TV. Now it’s the Internet. We’ve always heard that word of mouth was the strongest. That is nothing new. It is the strongest sales tool. But now word-of-mouth happens 100 times faster than before. You can really spread your message quickly with the right strategy. That is where social media comes in. You are plugging into that and trying to get them to talk about your products.

Before the internet era, the only people who could spread something to the general public in a wide scale were those with lots and lots of money – for purchasing time/space on mass broadcast mediums (TV, radio, newspapers). That was the only way to get a significant amount of potential customers to be aware of and consider a product – and the company itself dictated the exact message being portrayed.

That could be a million people getting information that “X is the greatest thing since sliced bread!” Whether or not Joe Blow consumer in the Midlands thinks the video game is overrated & riddled with bugs didn’t mean anything. How many people can he tell that to? 20? 30? His immediate friends and maybe some dudes at the local game shop? Back then, his voice didn’t matter much on the bottom line.

Enter 2010 and the dawn of the socially connected digital age. With platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Bebo as well as individual blogs (by way of search) and independently operated community forums (by way of search and social platforms) – consumers now have the ability to share their thoughts and “word of mouth” with others on a scale unheard of before.

Joe Blow consumer at the game shop (who before can only influence 20-30 buyers), now after a good experience or bad experience with a video game, as well as with strategy, hints, how-to’s, discussion, whatever he wishes – he can go on his blog and write whatever he pleases, post his opinions & info on Facebook or Twitter and then have it seen by 1000’s and 1000’s of others or more. The effect explodes even more when other consumers can easily then share this message with their social network (of anywhere from 1 or 100 or 1000+ others) with a simple click of the mouse.

All of this without money for an advertising budget. All of this without any control or influence from the game publisher.

The final piece of the puzzle combines both the democratization of search and the connectivity of social platforms. It comes right back to “word of mouth” influence on buying decisions. Think of the movies, TV shows, video games, clothing, or virtually anything you’re looking at spending money on. Do you just rely on a 30 second preview of a film when you decided to plunk down $10 at the theater? Do you just take a look at a full-page ad for a video game and then rush out and buy it no questions asked? Do you watch a specific show on TV because some critic in the newspaper said it was great? I surely don’t. Most others don’t as well.

In a recent Blitz research report, some eye-opening facts confirm these points:

Respondents also generally considered pals more influential than “experts.” “Talking to friends” was rated as very important by 46%, as was “friends play it,” while “expert reviews” were seen as such by only 23% and 32% even saw them as “not useful at all.”

  • Avid gamers are heavily immersed within the digital/online space but disregard the majority of staid advertising methods that are thrown at them.
  • Avid gamers rely on peer recommendations and their friends for advice, yet social media remains underutilized and inefective in its current form.
  • Avid gamers have their interest peaked by commercials, yet they fail to show all-important game play footage.
  • Avid gamers find game Web sites a strong point of interest, yet marketers are reluctant to invest in sites that fully integrate functionality that is of interest to our audience, including social commentary, peer reviews, gameplay footage, online demos, etc.

Blitz is critical of such standard marketing fare as behind-the-scenes trailers, podcasts and wallpapers, saying they “are eschewed by avid gamers,” but the criticisms seem a little misguided considering it plays up the importance of peer influence and encourages developers to “get your audience addicted to the game.”

The mere fact that 19% saw downloads of “wallpapers, screensavers, etc” as one of the most important influencing online activities and 56% found them at least useful indicates that the relatively small effort -and budget – of such offerings can go a considerable way towards strengthening certain portions of a game’s online fanbase.

The gatekeepers are no longer in control. The community surrounding a video game has a remarkable ability to make a measurable effect on the perception and information spread about a title. This gives unwielding power to influence both potential customers in their purchase decisions as well as supply existing users with additional conntent & support to supplement their playing experience – possibly turning “casual” types into raving, addicted, enthusiatic avid fans, who then evangelize others in their passion for the game.

But, with great power comes great responsibility. (a Spiderman quote!)

Yes, this connectivity allows the community to also spread potentially incorrect information, warped perceptions, negative viewpoints and even downright lies, if it so chooses to do so. But nefarious acts with purposeful ill intent undermines the benefits of this new era of mass communication.

Honesty wins, the good reviews with the bad. Transparency wins, giving context to your editorial opinions. And most of all, the willingness to help others wins. Producing independent content and discussion that further provides depth for those interested in purchasing the game and enhancing their enjoyment of the product. These are the true shining stars of a community’s effective mission statement.

From the game publisher’s point of view, this all represents a radical shift from the status quo. As with any tipping point, change can be a quite daunting and frightening proposition. Seeing it happen before their eyes and still attempting to clutch to things just because “that’s the way we always did it”. It’s a quite common human response. We can’t fault them for it. More so that anyone, the publishers & developers want to see their game succeed, get better, build a bigger, more rabid fanbase and share their unrelenting passion for the product – especially since many of those working on a game were former consumers of it themselves and still play the product having a true emotional attachment that cannot be matched.

Even so, eventually the parents must allow their of-aged children to “move out of the house”. Hoping that they raised them with the right values, proper learning and correct information to venture into the world on their own – representing both the positive as well as the negative influences from their upbringing. But remember, the parents will always be there to let the children “back in the house”. They’ll be there to provide support & care for them and continually reinforce their highest qualities – even if they leave once again and fail to embrace this information in the best of ways.

In this social/digital age where content producer & content consumer are both one and the same, where word of mouth explodes and “amateurs” operate in a significantly more level playing field as the “professionals” – it’s those who seek to bridge the gap in the relationship divide who will prosper massively with amazing synergy.

Said by JP Sherman on key influencers on video game sales and critical strategies for video game marketing:

Gamers tend to be less susceptible to traditional forms of marketing compared to other groups, however, we crave content, media, conversations, images, op-eds, previews and a myriad of other forms of communication to consume. This is also marketing. Gamers are pre-programmed to consume the kind of social connection marketing that’s evolved over the internet, social media and mobile applications. We eat this stuff up at a phenomenal rate.

I want contest information, I want community news, I want deals and exclusive content. This eCRM system full of gamers who are enthusiastic could be transformed into loyal customers and producers of content for you.

Social marketing is an established habit and behavior of gamers. We crave information and we’re more than willing to modify it, share it, post it and do whatever the hell we want with it. Video game social media marketing is about knowing what core behaviors and desires gamers have and feeding that need with a planned and programmed content release schedule.

It’s this symbiotic relationship that creates a pure living, breathing, fruitful community for all participants – both the consumers as well the publishers & developers. Each side sharing the burden and responsibility for the success of a title.

Paving the way for a bright future in which new users can utilize the community to recieve honest peer opinions and make comprehensively informed decisions. Where the fanbase helps others learn the basics, creates content for further enjoyment in the playing experience and provides unbiased discussion and support to all members that comprise the game’s ever-growing consumer base.

Leading the charge in which the community’s efforts are nurtured and enhanced by the publishers and developers. Harnessing the energy of the game’s rabid fanbase and allowing them to mobilize far and wide in an uncontested fashion – not with control & restriction that essentially eliminates the true authenticity of an independent peer source. Supplementing the community with tools to achieve the best laden efforts in the quality of produced content and distribution. Intergrating the rabid fanbase with their internal marketing mindset in order to further increase the enagement factor between consumers, therefore amplifying the reach and effect of the message and passion to others.

Everyone wins in the process.

The game improves. The community increases in size. Video game sales go up. More resources can be put in for the game’s development. More raving fans to produce content, discussion and get the word out to others. It’s a snowball effect that grows exponentially greater each cycle around.

But it takes resisting the fear of change. Resisting the mentality of “that’s the way it’s always been”. Resisting the dependency of uni-directional participation which defined our specific roles in the old system. We may all call it the “new media” – but in a way, it’s about delving into our civilization’s past by embracing the “tribal” philosophies of our ancestors. Where the exchange of ideas and value ruled society and social capital was the currency.

So, what are you doing for the tribe to get this snowball rolling?

Written By Jordan Cooper
A moderator on GW Fowler and a co-founder of Gameworld One.Com, he has hosted/produced the Get Sacked! podcast for nearly two years providing humor and strategical insight to all about the FM series.
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  • Gerara

    Superb Article!However, i think that SI should use proper marketing techniques such as advertisements

  • They do. What the article is saying though, is that the community is more influential than the marketing techniques of the corporation. People want information they can relate to, information they trust and they'll got to like minded people for that information.

    If you search Twitter Facebook, Google for FM or FML information a lot of the time the community shows it's face first. This makes the Scene a popular destination for potential consumers looking for a review or information on the game.

    Essentially, the disinterest in official sales pitches makes the community a valuable commodity, something that the vast majority overlooked until Jordan wrote this piece.

  • Gerara, the fact that you call it "proper" marketing techniques really goes against the fundamental shift I was trying to highlight in this article. TV, radio, magazines, billboards, etc are still definitely beneficial to utilize of course - but the effectiveness and scope of these methods of steadily decreasing as more people use the internet as the primary source of their information.

    Wonderkid is exactly right... and if you take a look at this post: http://www.amisampath.com/2... you'll see why "user generated content" is becoming more and more important as the general public shifts their focus away from TV & newspapers and towards the internet.

    Advertising, no matter what medium, is about getting as many eyeballs as you can with information about your product. More of these "eyeballs" are on the internet now. Whether it be through a banner ad on Eurogamer.net, a how-to guide on your website, or some random dude's opinion of your product - all three accomplish the same task. The difference though once Search and Social Media enter the fray is that each of the three have *equal* placement potentially. The last one, a company cannot control at all - but they better sure not ignore it.

  • Great article, though I think I still disagree with some of your fundamental points.

    The community is undoubtedly a very important part of the FML but the simple fact remains that a reasonable marketing plan from SI could reach exponentially more people than the most active and vocal community every could. Word of mouth and recommendations from friends is going to give a more powerful draw than marketing but in terms of getting the message out a well-placed ad is still king.

  • It's a very interesting piece, I've written a blog myself which asks where the community spirit has gone, it uses some the points you make as references to my points; you might find it interesting.


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