90s’ mascots have seen a resurgence in the last few years.
Seemingly dead series’ like Crash Bandicoot have found themselves back amongst the top sellers. Now you may think enough time has passed for nostalgia to set in hence the influx of titles.
And whilst it’s true people cling to throwbacks to their childhood, there may be something else at play here. Namely marketing. Like many aspects of gaming, marketing has changed significantly with the emergence of the internet.
Pop culture juggernaut YouTube has emerged as a key cornerstone to video game marketing. To the point where YouTube can practically single-handedly launch or destroy a game. And that’s what we’re going to look at today.
The Impact of YouTube on Game Sales
According to Superdata Research, around 44% of people go to YouTube for their gaming content. Dwarfing the next highest competitor, Twitch, with a meagre 16% of the demographic.
Gaming channels and let’s play videos dominant the platform. That’s because of the way YouTube judges quality content. The YouTube algorithm classifies videos based on viewer retention over actual views. Simply put, how long someone watches a particular video.
A fair measure of quality. The loophole for let’s play videos is they’re quick and easy to produce, requiring no scripts or set up. So dedicated channels can upload hour-long videos daily, creating a core audience and an illusion of quality.
The ease of the approach has seen let’s plays explode on the platform to the benefit of game developers. To understand why, we must first look into the three key pillars of marketing, owned, paid and earned media.
YouTube and Earned Media
To blast through the first two concepts owned media is company websites, channels, etc. and paid media is basically advertising and sponsorships. Earned media is the significant pillar here because that’s where YouTube fits in.
Earned media is any promotion a product gets for free via word of mouth. Something that has increased inexorably since the rise of the internet. Let’s play videos fall into the category of earned media because they’re voluntary promotions of popular games.
YouTube set a new standard for earned media because channels are scrambling to promote the products for free. Channels popularity can be defined by having the latest and hottest games, so everyone wants to be in early for major releases.
With hundreds of channels showcasing the most popular games and therefore increasing their own popularity. It’s a model where everyone wins, the content creator makes more money and the developer sells more copies of their game.
And with the aforementioned 44% of all gamers coming to YouTube for consumer advice, prominently featured games enjoy a massive surge in sales.
Changes to Brand Safety
Now the reason we’re telling you all this is that YouTube recently made changes to its brand safety regulations that have massively changed course for this trend. With increasing pressure on violence in gaming, YouTube has taken a harsh stance.
Changes to the censorship rules of the site are being specifically targeted at violent or offensive games. Anything depicting blood, foul language or sexual references is almost certain to be demonetized. Meaning the creator won’t make any money on that content.
With no incentive, major and minor game channels are been gradually turned away from more and more AAA games. Games that would be deemed too risque for the new brand safety rules. Which has, in turn, led to a surge of videos showcasing safer games like Fortnite.
And that, in short, is how a fairly simple FPS has endured for such a long time, even winning game of the year awards. It’s that illusion of quality. Because it’s safe, it’s always trending on YouTube keeping it culturally relevant to the YouTube generation.
The Rise of the 90s’ Mascot
This is rapidly leading to the decline of mature games, with many recent entries like Rage 2 enduring an underwhelming launch. That earned media has become engulfed in family-friendly titles.
Meaning if you want to produce a successful FPS game, you better get the wallets out a start funding an aggressive campaign to counteract the swing. This is not beyond major studios and publishers but it’s simply not viable for all games. It’s too expensive to run a major brand that way.
So if you’re PlayStation what do you do? Fill your middle tier releases with family-friendly titles that can get inside that earned media bubble. Simulate nostalgia for titles like Final Fantasy VII and Crash Bandicoot, then remake them.
Anything within the brand safety regulations that can perform well for significantly less investment in advertising. Allowing you to revert dollars back to your AAA campaigns like Death Stranding and Last of Us Part 2.
That’s what’s got us all pining for games that aren’t even 25-years-old yet. Surely a first significant landmark before something can become nostalgic. It’s a new generation of marketing brought on by the new media dominance of YouTube.