With 60,000 extra potential customers filing into the Los Angeles convention center alongside flocks of game developers, influencers and members of the traditional press, marketers at E3 2018 have found themselves with a wide swath of communication options, each with their own needs and tactics.
Reaching The Masses
Gaming and geeky collectible manufacturer Funko made its first-ever appearance at the Electronic Entertainment Exposition this year, partnering with GameStop to open a pop-up storefront selling their ever-popular Pop! figurines, including several produced specifically for the event and select GameStop locations.
“It’s something we’ve thought about for a long time. We are normally at a lot of the big big shows, but we have a really healthy and concerted video game business,” Mark Robben, Funko’s head of marketing, told AListDaily. “GameStop is a major partner of ours—we do a lot of exclusives and a lot of video game related figures and plushes with GameStop—so it just made sense to find that video game audience.”
With streams of general consumers walking the show floor, this year’s E3 played more along the lines of consumer-focused shows such as Gamescom and Comic-Con, according to Funko.
“We are here in the same way we exhibit at a lot of Comic-Cons like SDCC and NYCC,” Robben added, “but we wanted to come here and partner with GameStop and focus on video game related product, because E3 is a perfect fit for that.”
But even with long lines, quickly sold-out exclusive figurines, Robben was quick to point out that its goals aren’t limited just to sales figures.
“A lot of it is going to be wrapped up in sales, but obviously the chatter online too. What do fans think? Do they like the exclusives? Are they excited about them? Are people happy that we’re here at E3?” Robben asked. “Some of it’s quantitative, in terms of sales, and some of its qualitative, in terms of customer feedback.”
Like Funko, virtual reality developer Survios aspired to more than just hitting sales targets. As the company handles a wide variety of products and service, from a VR arcade to a licensed Creed boxing game to Electronauts, its music-making experience, its target audience is broadening just as E3’s is as well.
“At the end of the day we’re trying to bring VR to the masses,” said Mike Domaguing, vice president of marketing for Survios, to AListDaily. “We are are here really to play in the places where the mainstream understands or gets their news. And for us, E3 is that place.”
But Survios isn’t just targeting the general consumer. To reach its disjointed target audience of industry insiders, journalists and influencers, Survios implemented a less centralized presence at E3 than heavyweights like Ubisoft and Activision. In addition to the standard gameplay demos so prevalent at shows like these, the company offered discounts to its VR arcade for non-adopters of the expensive technology.
Outside of the show floor, Survios made appearances at several events on the periphery of E3, hosting its own spectacle of a party, as well as appearing at another for Facebook Games, to reach media and industry insiders as well as the show’s growing influencer presence.
“In terms of what we look for for success, there are a few things. The first one is how many consumers did we touch? How many people demoed? Second, we look for press visits, and that also means subsequent press hits. And third, we go award-hunting,”said Domaguing. “But finally, it’s about how much content gets created social-media-wise. How many hashtags did Creed get on, and how about that virality that we always talk about as marketers?”
Influencers are becoming just as vital to E3 marketers as the traditional press traditionally has been, according to NPD analyst Mat Piscatella: “Companies are shifting focus so they’re talking to those people as much as they’re talking to traditional press outlets.”
Facebook Gaming has pivoted its focus for E3 2018 to capture this growing segment on the E3 show floor.
“We’re really focused this year on the community of creators and influencers,” Rick Kelly, vice president of global gaming for Facebook, told AListDaily. “Where in years past we maybe had Oculus take the lead, this year we’re really focused on the community—fostering an environment for creators to communicate with their constituents and really develop a relationship long-term with these folks.”
According to Kelly, Facebook’s social-friendly activations at E3 this year, from neon emoji signs to a mirrored wall letting consumers create unorthodox Instagram Boomerangs, are targeted toward a very specific segment of E3 attendees.
“We wanted to let the world know that we’re open for business when it comes to bringing creators onto the platform” Kelly said. “We haven’t focused too much on the consumer aspect of it, it’s more been around either the community of creators or some of the developers themselves, as we’ve tried to showcase some of our new products.”
Traditional Media, Traditional Tactics
While the influx of ordinary consumers and influencers has certainly changed companies’ tactics on the E3 show floor, the influence of traditional media has not been left by the wayside.
“E3 is the biggest stage that the game industry gets for the entire year,” said Tony Key, senior vice president of marketing and consumer experience for Ubisoft, to AListDaily. “Nine of the 10 biggest press stories of the year are going to come out of that show.”
For Ubisoft, the added crowds from last year haven’t influenced the company’s tactics all that substantially.
“We needed more game stations,” Key offered. “We needed a better system for getting people in line so they have to wait less time.”
The reasoning is fairly simple, according to Carter Rogers, research manager for SuperData.
“They’re going to want people in the public to have a good experience,” Rogers told AListDaily, “the same as you would with someone in the press.”
For Gearbox, however, sticking to the traditional press outreach aspects of E3 has changed tactics tremendously. The publisher of We Happy Few eliminated B2C tactics from its roster entirely, focusing primarily on media coverage.
“We’re providing interviews and demo opportunities for our games,” Austin Malcolm, Gearbox’s PR manager, said to AListDaily. Since we’re just doing it press-focused, we didn’t have to do a big extravagant booth out on the show floor. This allows us to be a little more removed, have appointments—it’s all appointment based—and it’s away from the crowds.”
For Gearbox, the convention itself is a backdrop, offering press coverage during a time when gamers are most looking for press coverage to read. And what’s more, it’s convenient.
“This is when everyone is looking for good announcements. Everyone who wants to hear about games is tuning in, and we want to be a part of that conversation,” Malcolm added. “There’s plenty of meeting rooms all around us, so we’ve seen plenty of times before how the press will come in, have a great meeting and move on to the next room.”
While You’re Here, Why Not Come To Another Convention?
Gearbox isn’t the only company attempting to leverage the massive media and consumer presence at E3. Larger publishers such as EA, Bethesda and Microsoft have all launched their own conventions just before and nearby to the main E3 show.
“Triple-A publishers are going to continue to move away from the event itself,” Rogers stated. “The big publishers are moving offsite because they can control the message and put on fan events without getting lost in the shuffle of all these other games.”
Massive fan events like EA Play and Xbox FanFest are easy to manage with massive franchises, fanbases and marketing budgets, but many smaller video game brands lack the resources and awareness to pull consumers into special satellite events.
Digital Extremes, makers of free-to-play game-as-a-service Warframe, however, are attempting to do just that.
“We’re at E3 this year to do two primary things: one is to promote our big update,” said Philip Asher, Digital Extremes’ marketing director, to AListDaily. “And also to hype up and promote and drive awareness for our big convention, Tennocon, in July.”
For a free game that’s been out for four years, maintaining community cohesion has been more important to Digital Extremes than wide-ranging one-off press coverage.
“Normally, we don’t attend E3,” Asher added. “A lot of our focus goes into crafting an event that rewards those hardcore fans of Warframe.”
But as E3 itself has become more consumer- than press-facing, Asher claims that the show now more closely aligns with Digital Extremes’ community-centric approach to marketing.
“You’re seeing a lot of the big publishers showing gameplay content so people can imagine what playing the game is like,” Asher stated. “It falls in line with where Warframe‘s marketing has been going, which is livestreaming, directly talking to the community and showing gameplay. The larger events and conferences are starting to conform to that, and so we’re seeing more titles do that kind of marketing for their games.”
As large of an event as E3 is, the show’s shifting identity is causing many brands to take wildly different approaches to exposing their games to consumers, including opting out of the convention entirely.
“If you’re selling a game, the news cycle never ends now,” Piscatella summed up. “You don’t need to wait for E3 to really blow out your game.”