In the world of video games, influencers are becoming kingmakers. In the first quarter of 2021, fans around the world tuned into 8.8 billion hours of video game live streams — a nearly 180% increase over the same timeframe the previous year. With such unprecedented growth, influencer marketing is becoming one of the most effective ways to promote video games from indie to AAA. Read on to learn the basics of choosing, contacting, working with, and compensating influencers in order to scale influencer marketing for your game.
When you think of influencers, you likely think of some of the biggest names first —Ninja, VanossGaming, Markiplier — stars like these have accumulated tens of millions of subscribers across top platforms like Twitch, YouTube Gaming, FaceBook Gaming, and others, making fortunes in the process. That's why top studios partner with them to promote AAA titles and more. If you're reading this, however, you're likely working with a more modest budget. That's where micro-influencers can help.
Don't let the name fool you, "micro-influencers" can help you get major results. With followings between the notably vast 1,000 and 100,000 range (some say ~3,000 is the true "micro-influencer threshold''), these influencers can have a much bigger impact on their audiences because they tend to engage directly with their audience more on a personal level.
That's good news for you and your game because micro-influencers tend to be much less expensive to collaborate with and much more willing to forge deeper relationships.
To ensure that your investment in influencer marketing is money well spent, you'll need to define what success looks like for your game. As part of your influencer marketing strategy, you should establish some goals. Consider these common marketing objectives:
Game Awareness: Getting potential players to know, recognize, and like your game.
Audience Building: Getting people to follow your game on social media, subscribe to content channels, or sign up for emails.
Engagement: Getting your content more likes, comments, and shares on your channels.
Lead Generation: Getting more people to sign up for your game's newsletter and other points of contact.
Conversions: Turning your audience into players by getting them to buy, download, and/or sign up for your game (depending on your monetization model).
Player Loyalty: Keeping players engaged with your community and with your game.
Prioritizing conversions is important, but be sure to consider leading to additional sales over time. What's more, be sure to establish goals that you can track using qualified data. After all, you can't tell you're meeting your goals if you don't have accurate information.
Before looking for who to partner with, it's good to consider the where and why. Where your micro-influencer is doing their influencing can make a big difference to your strategy. Twitch is by far the biggest video game streaming platform with 6.337 billion hours watched in just the first quarter of 2021. YouTube Gaming is second with 1.372 billion hours, while Facebook Gaming takes third place with 1.057. Additionally, there are numerous other platforms including Caffeine, Owncast, Mobcrush, and more — even marketplaces like Steam have broadcast functionality.
Across streaming platforms, influencers make a variety of content including game reviews, live streamed game playthroughs, and everything in between. Essentially, the major platforms all support live streaming and standalone video uploads, complete with video descriptions that influencers can use to post affiliate links or other trackable URLs that can be used to get credit for referring web traffic or game sales. Some offer special functions, however. Twitch, for example, supports "Twitch Drops," where streamers and developers partner to give away game keys, digital items, discount codes, beta access codes and more to help drive players to games.
It's worth studying all of your options to consider what kind of content will work best for your game, especially as you begin scaling up your collaboration output.
When choosing influencers, it's important to stay focused on your strategy. Start by setting criteria for an ideal influencer. In most cases, this influencer will have a healthy number of followers, create content with a high engagement rate per follower, regularly release new content, enjoy games similar to yours, and have an audience in the region where you plan on releasing your game. From there, you can decide on more specific parameters, including their availability. We recommend finding influencers who are free to participate over the course of a standard 12-month promotion cycle. You also want to find out whether or not they have existing relationships with potential competitors that might prohibit optimal content performance.
Next, consider what kind of content plan you want to use and whether certain influencers will be able to deliver it with authenticity. Different influencers have distinct personalities, which translate to different audiences. Reviewers who seem to like every game may not provide the focused authenticity your game needs to stand out. Similarly, reviewers known for being critical of nearly every game may lose credibility if they suddenly recommend your title.
Finally, beware of controversial influencers and be sure to screen each one for negative behaviors. While some influencers choose to stand out by stirring controversy online, unless it's part of your strategy, it's risky to have your game associated with potentially offensive personalities. At worst, it can make your game look bad by association. At best, poor influencer behavior can be a major distraction from your game.
Once you've decided on your ideal influencer, you can start searching for the real thing. The easiest way to begin is by searching for games similar to yours on the platforms you've decided to use. A basic search will reveal influencers who have advocated for these games with good reviews, enthusiastic streams, or other positive content. From there, you can drill down your search to identify which of these creators fits your micro-influencer criteria, and examine their content's performance for overall views and engagement. You'll quickly get a clearer picture of which influencers might be a good fit.
Alternatively, you can pay to use one of many influencer marketplaces or choose a full marketing service. These effectively help you connect to influencers. We built Xsolla Partner Network, for example, to be a one-stop solution for developers looking to start and scale their influencer marketing efforts and to handle everything from creating and setting up influencer programs for performance-based compensation. No matter which route you choose, you'll need to initiate contact with influencers to take the next step in your collaboration.
Once you've identified the influencers that you think are a good fit to help promote your game, you'll need to figure out how to get a hold of them… all of them.
As we've mentioned, working with micro-influencers can yield the best results in bulk. Depending on your game's budget and your studio's marketing capabilities, this could mean working with as many as dozens or even hundreds of them. Attempting to send direct messages through social channels, or scouring websites for each influencer's email address might not seem like a Herculean task, but over time it can become daunting to manage.
From finding influencers and establishing contact, to creating collaboration plans, to tracking content deployment and performance, to finally compensating them while complying with global legal and taxation processes is a lot to consider. Multiply each of these processes by the number of micro-influencers you decide to partner with to successfully promote your game and it's a lot of work.
You can do your best to organize your efforts manually via spreadsheets or through various workflow apps, which will require advanced planning and routine maintenance on your part. However, the best option is to use a specialized influencer platform, like Xsolla Partner Network. This is an easy-to-use, cost-effective tool that empowers developers to create and manage performance-based programs for influencers, affiliates, web portals and more.
Creating a strong micro-influencer marketing strategy doesn't happen overnight. While you may feel like you've done enough research to activate a campaign and watch predicted results roll in, odds are you'll benefit the most from talking directly to your micro-influencers. After all, what works best for them and their audience is what will likely work best for your game.
Treat influencers like partners and ask them for advice about what kind of content will perform best with their audiences. Ask them what's worked when they've partnered with similar games or studios. Their insights can mean the difference between average and amazing performance.
Most of all, your micro-influencers will be able to tell you how they can create the most authentic content possible. Among Generation Z, knowing how to create authentic content can be your single most valuable insight of all.
Before you roll out your content, be sure you're set up to intake performance data. For example, if your goal is to drive 10,000 people to your game's website, be sure to set up your micro-influencers with a trackable link to pair with their content so you can identify their referred traffic using your chosen analytics tools, such as Google Analytics. This process will help you gather progressively better insights and form stronger relationships with successful influencers while you shed influencers or approaches that don't serve your goals.
Once you've seen your content performance data, you can optimize your future marketing. One of the easiest ways to do this is by identifying your top-performing influencers and asking them how they think they can create an even better collaboration for their audience. By combining your own data with their feedback, you can co-create exclusive plans or special offers just for their audiences.
There's no magic number for how, or how much, you should pay influencers — some analysts suggest $10 per 1,000 followers for a single social media post. That said, single social media posts aren't necessarily the best way to get your game in front of potential players.
When it comes to reaching gamers, a better strategy is to focus on robust video content including video reviews, live streaming, and Twitch Drops, which have increasingly standard compensation models, including revenue share (paying out a percentage for referred sales) and sponsorship (paying a flat fee with a potential performance bonus). Using Xsolla Partner Network, for example, gives you access to multiple compensation models, plus hybrid options.
No matter which compensation models you choose for your micro-influencers, the most important thing is to make sure they feel like they feel appreciated and respected with fair compensation. To ensure your influencers feel valued, you should send them satisfaction surveys at the end of each campaign and get their feedback.
For your highest performing influencers, you can schedule conversations to collect their thoughts and ask for ways you can improve your collaborations. Stay motivated to work with and learn from your influencers, and you can level up an ongoing partnership.
Remember: all macro-influencers begin as micro-influencers. Influencers remember the developers who value them, and are more likely to continue working with ones that treat them with respect and reward performance. Like any partner, they also appreciate return business.
The relationships you establish now could potentially pay off progressively better over time as both your game and your micro-influencers grow together. Your studio's reputation matters, particularly as you continue promoting your current game, or even release new ones. So make the effort to support the micro-influencers who contribute to your game as you continue to scale. The more micro-influencers you can foster strong partnerships with, the better.
Scaling influencer marketing is no small feat, which is why we've created Xsolla Partner Network, a toolset that empowers developers from indie to enterprise to create, manage, and grow performance-based marketing campaigns from start to finish.
Partner with verified influencers, create revenue share programs via Xsolla and cross-platform campaigns using a Creator Tag, track individual influencer performance with attribution tracking, and automate fully compliant performance-based influencer payouts. You can also run Twitch Drops campaigns* with Partner Network.
*Special conditions apply for launching Twitch Drops campaigns
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