Gaming has turned into a money-making machine that broke new records in 2018, totaling an estimated $43.4 billion in sales in the U.S., according to the NPD Group. That’s 18 percent more than the previous year.
And yet, despite all that growth, more money flowing in and much better graphics, gamers are increasingly reporting disappointment.
When fellow strategist Tradd Salvo and myself did an analysis of Metacritic.com, a site that aggregates reviews from hundreds of different sources, we identified an interesting trend in gaming: customer review scores are tumbling down.
We could write an extensive list of reasons why: games are being released too early and unfinished, there’s more content being locked behind a paywall and there’s an overwhelming number of microtransactions taking us out of the immersive experience games used to deliver on.
Those are probably the most important factors. But there is one bigger thread that pulls all these reasons together: it’s not that the games are getting worse; it’s that expectations are no longer being met.
Twenty years ago, people discovered games without much prior knowledge of them. The E3 was the place where game companies would make their big announcements to journalists and the press.
The public was dependent on the media to find out about new games. We didn’t have Reddit, Twitch and YouTube to read and view extensive reviews and inform our opinion before the game was released. At the time, all the magic of discovery was saved until you inserted the cartridge into your console. Games completely blew us away and exceeded our expectations because we didn’t fully know what we were getting into.
Those days are over. The proliferation of digital and social media gave marketers the opportunity to inform consumers more frequently and set bigger and bolder expectations. We now see amazing CGI trailers two years in advance, with ongoing, polished peeks at a game up until its release.
However, as soon as the game comes out, all those efforts fail to culminate in an amazing post-purchase experience. In fact, gamers are often disappointed when they see marketing assets that don’t show actual gameplay.
It’s not that we need to reduce our marketing efforts to maximize excitement upon release; it’s that the pre-purchase experience needs to be as good as the post-purchase experience.
This also applies the other way around and can be said for every industry we work in. You can have an amazing car to sell, but if the online configurator and website are completely broken, it influences a person’s entire perception of the brand.
No longer does advertising alone define a brand. Brands are now the sum of all touchpoints, from the marketing and retail experience to the online and post-purchase experiences.
We can do more than just reverse the downward trend in customer ratings of video games.
It's time to delight customers in every industry we work in and treat every touchpoint as a place we want to exceed expectations. In the future, success for brands will come from holistically designed experiences.
By Thijs van de Wouw, Senior Strategist, Droga5.