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Advertising in Gaming: A Perspective

By March 14, 2024Author's Opinions, Gaming4 min read

Multiple low-to-mid-budget games released within the last few months have gone viral showing the power of social media in the gaming space.

Since its release on Feb. 8 2024, Helldivers 2 has reinvigorated many gamers’ passion for the pastime. Crafted by Arrowhead Game Studios, Helldivers 2 peaked at over 450,000 concurrent players on Steam, so far, on top of those playing on PlayStation.

The game was announced in May 2023 to some hype; story and gameplay trailers dropped less than a month before the game’s release. However, when the game launched and subsequently went viral on social media, interest really started to rise.

The Power of Going Viral: The Good and the Bad

Small game studios lack the money to heavily invest into marketing and advertising, but virality and word of mouth appear to be viable alternatives. If a game gives players moments to share and people see others having fun, of course more people will want to buy it.

Other games from small development teams have seen something similar play out. Palworld went viral on social media with almost no build up or advertising, going on to become the second most played game ever on Steam. Lethal Company, developed by just one person, exploded in popularity late last year.

All of these games experienced server issues in some way or another. Helldivers 2 was forced to cap its player count to deal with server capacity issues. This hints at the idea that the developers were not expecting such a large audience.

‘Discussing the CCU internally is crazy. I mean… “We need 100k more” is a statement that I didn’t expect to say or hear just yet. It’s on a scale of some medium sized cities in Sweden,’ says @Pilestedt, CEO of Arrowhead Games, on X.

Looking Forward

As indie and AA titles continue to dominate the gaming market, it is unclear where the AAA space is headed. Is it time for a change in the way games are marketed?

Recent AAA releases like Rocksteady’s Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League and Ubisoft’s Skull and Bones, which had a lot of pre launch hype and marketing exposure, were met with lukewarm reviews from both journalists and gamers. Players can not know how much they will enjoy a game until it is fully released.

There are still plenty of AAA titles to look forward to in the coming year. This is not to say that any game that does spend a lot on advertising will fail, but an overreliance on advertising and other marketing tactics might hint at a studios lack of confidence that their product will engage consumers to the level of actually sharing their experience.

There is undoubtedly an element of luck involved in a game going viral. Advertising is a safer way to generate buzz, but limits exposure to those who actively engage with the marketing. Advertising will likely never go away, but we may see more and more AAA studios cut back on advertising spending as “development budgets are reaching unprecedented ranges,” according to a report from the UK Competition and Market Authority.

Trends in the gaming market are rewarding products that lend themselves to virality. Giving gamers a way to share their experiences and connect grows the community surrounding that game and leads to more success.