How the digital era has changed video game launches

Monday, September 24, 2012 | 3:55 PM

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As more people go online to research, compare, and shop, brands have evolved the way they launch new products. While this impacts nearly every field, we took a microscope to the video game industry with a new research paper “Understanding the Modern Gamer.” As new technologies and faster web access proliferate, the video game market is in the midst of a transformation.

Here’s the bottom line: the digital “shelf life” of video games now spans almost a full year.

Users are planning, researching, and considering their video game purchases a lot earlier (6 months before a title’s released), and continuing to engage with the game - by downloading reviews, discussing game strategies and purchasing extra game features online - for about 4 months after their initial purchase. And of course, they’re doing it across multiple devices.

At the same time smart video game companies, like Electronic Arts (EA), are transforming their marketing and product launch strategies, promoting titles earlier - and for longer - to drive sales and engagement.

Here are the key findings from the study:

  • Gamers search earlier, longer, and more often. Overall, game-related searches increased by 20% on desktops and laptops, and jumped 168% on tablets and smartphones over the last year. Why? In part, there’s a bigger search window, as gamers sift through an increasingly competitive world of great video game titles.
  • Gamers take a sneak-peak at video games before they purchase. We found that 40% of game-related searches occurred during the pre-launch phase, 6 months before a title’s release. Top searches include trailers, game art, and short versions of the game available for play. 
  • Gamers score with help from multiple screens. Tips are the most-searched content during launch month, and more than 1 in 4 tips searches take place on a mobile device after launch. While players cast an eye toward the TV screen, the other is looking at tips, cheats, hints, and walkthroughs on their tablets or smartphones.
  • Gamers rely on mobile for purchase information. Mobile devices have become an indispensable second screen for gamers as people look to learn more about their new purchase. We found that 1 in 5 purchase-related searches occur on a mobile device. 
  • Gamers stay connected with video games after release. Video game information continues to be in high demand up to four months after a title’s release. Undecided buyers seek reviews, while purchasers search for ways to enhance their gaming experience, like downloadable extension content. 
  • Digital engagement can predict physical sales. The extended launch cycle provides a longer opportunity to influence purchase decisions. We found that 84% of game sales were predicted by ad clicks in a 10 month period. If a game accrues 250,000 clicks in the 10 months surrounding a launch, it will likely sell between 2 and 4 million units in the four months after the release.
Smart marketers like EA made the most of this by:
  • For marketers, this longer, more engaged research phase is a key moment to influence users’ purchase decisions. For titles like Medal of Honor: Warfighter, out in 2013, EA has already kicked off its digital marketing efforts, leveraging media ads on search and YouTube video ads to ensure trailers for the game are in front of people actively seeking content on new titles.
  • Connecting with consumers throughout the launch cycle and across all devices is incredibly important, whether it’s helping gamers complete a purchase or providing access to downloadable content. To keep gamers engaged after launch, EA has offered content updates, game enhancements, and other consumer engagement opportunities online for franchises like Madden NFL, FIFA, Battlefield, NCAA Football, and more. 
  • Approaching each title release with the extended research phase framework has paid off for EA. Digital marketing and other efforts drove a 347% increase in searches Battlefield 3 compared to Battlefield 2.
Learn more
To learn more about gamer search activity across the lifecycle of a game and how we created our predictive model, download the full whitepaper from Think with Google.

Posted by James Getomer, Senior Analytical Lead