Marketing, Research, and Chasing Trends in Video Games

In a recent post by Jerry Holkins, a.k.a. Tycho Brahe of Penny Arcade fame, he talked about how some marketers of games may track how well a game is doing. He wrote of how Apex Legends is now dominating Twitch, and it has overtaken Fortnite in the top spot. Jerry notes how he once overheard a marketer say that, if you’re not near the top of Twitch’s list, you don’t exist. Jerry then wondered that, since viewers usually aren’t playing the game that they are watching, then should this really be the main concern of a video game marketer? More of, should the number of viewers of a game be indicative of how well a game will generate revenue? He discusses how the “core metric” of advertising has changed from “page views” to “unique” views, and tracking these may not pay off. For media that’s found on the Internet, the Kindle, or even video games, these constant change-ups are less likely to pay off. As Jerry writes, “The best you can hope for in media is that a billionaire pays to keep you around as a pet, the same way a supervillain might deign to have a white cat close at hand.” And this is one of the tragedies of this sort of advertising.

A marketer will collect all of this information (these “metrics”), hand it off to an analyst, and ask how those metrics transform into profit. The analyst will try their best, do some research, perform some careful analysis, and hopefully come up with a winning model. If it predicts how the market will go, then the analyst succeeds, the marketer succeeds, the firm succeeds, and everything is peachy. That doesn’t always work, though.

Analysis is tough. The researcher doing the analysis must ensure that they’ve had enough time to analyze the data, gain valuable insight, and have explored it enough to know whether a change in one variable will actually affect another variable (preferably the variable connected to profit). This process could take weeks, months, or even years just to gain knowledge that describes the market. How should they approach analyzing it? What should be the methodology? Another problem could be with the data collected. Was it tainted? Did the researcher have a large enough sample size? They don’t know until the analyst can make a good prediction of the entire trend of the target market. If that doesn’t work, then the researcher has to collect more data, and marketers don’t have that sort of time.

When a potential market is found by a marketer, they must ensure that, for their clients, they maximize the client’s profit. Usually, time is of the essence; time wasted is money wasted. So when a researcher finds a promising link between a “core metric” and the chance of profit, a marketer must seize on it, or lose their job. So they push on, hoping that the market research gained is a solid lead to profit. Since market research is, presumably, an exact science, where conclusions are carefully derived from good data and unbiased observations, the link that the marketer finds between the “core metric” and the gain in profit may be only as good as a roll of the dice.

Market research, especially for markets pertaining to video games, movies, digital books, and web advertisements, is difficult to pin down. While market research in the Internet age has matured over the past 25 years, with research on which models work, and which trends could pay off, marketers are still chasing that dragon, that metric found in some market which will lead them to riches. Sadly, the research and analysis they may do could be incomplete, either due to not enough research, a small sample size, poor data, or just incorrect observations. Since the marketer has to advertise and push the product in a market, while the market still has profit to be gained, they cannot wait while the data is analyzed, trends are found, and facts are verified. And so, the public will hear about another market force, a new “core metric”, every quarter, every year, when a researcher publishes a hot find about a new video game, a new book, a new Internet fad, or just a new source of entertainment.