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Console Wars: Video Game Brands Get Creative & Compete For Audience Engagement

November 30, 2020 Melissa Ledesma

Shutterstock_663218446 The guy is playing on the console

The booming video game market is experiencing impressive growth as a result of the global pandemic. Consumers seeking socially-distant ways to connect with others and pass the time while staying at home were drawn to the entertainment value of online games and consoles. Due to unprecedented growth in 2020, brands like SONY and Microsoft continue battling for market share among diverse player audiences. SONY is leveraging unique brand partnerships to attract target audiences, while Microsoft is focused on delivering affordable, omnichannel player experiences. With competition heating up as the holidays approach, innovative digital marketing and advertising campaigns positioned Microsoft’s Xbox and SONY’s PlayStation to creatively reach audiences as consumers prepare for holiday shopping. 

Brands Take Notice Of Gaming Market Surge During Global Pandemic

global games market forecast source newzoo

Based on updated projections, the global gaming market is expected to generate $159 billion by the end of the year — with $42.5 billion from console sales alone — and $201 billion by 2023. Carter Rogers, an analyst at Nielsen's SuperData, noted that with less competition from movies, live sports and other entertainment, video game brands have a unique opportunity. According to the Drum, as a result of events surrounding COVID-19 (namely quarantines that kept many people home and buying video games and consoles), video game ad spend doubled in April, surpassing original expectations as brands rushed to capitalize on opportunities to connect with new audiences. In the first half of 2020, Nintendo found success with the re-release of Animal Crossing in March, which attracted consumers to purchase the Nintendo Switch game console. More recently, longtime competitors SONY and Microsoft launched new gaming consoles in November, the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S, respectively.

SONY Aims To Dominate Gaming Wars With Release Of The PlayStation 5

Since the release of the original PlayStation console in 1994, which was the first gaming console to sell more than 100 million units globally, SONY PlayStation has been a major force in the gaming industry. The PlayStation 2, which debuted in 2000, introduced online gaming to console players for the first time and remains the best selling console of all time. In fact, of the top ten highest selling consoles, SONY occupies five positions. In 2006, SONY launched the PlayStation 3, and with it, introduced the PlayStation Network, a digital content hub for online gaming, communication and entertainment. 

From 2015 to 2018 sales of the PlayStation 4 had an impressive average of 5.3 million consoles per year, until SONY saw a dip in 2019. Eager to get back on top, SONY has focused on promoting the new PlayStation 5 (PS 5) console. In September, SONY released the new ad-spot promoting the PS 5, which has been viewed more than 1.2 million times on YouTube. “With our new brand spot, we highlight what the PlayStation brand means to us and to our fans. We take the viewer on a journey of the solitary player as he is joined by other gamers within his community as they reach the edge of the known world and then charge bravely together into the unknown,” said Mary Yee, vice president of global marketing at SONY.

SONY Transforms New Console Into A Lifestyle With Creative Marketing Efforts

SONY initiated a series of creative and unique marketing efforts to capture the attention of gaming audiences to coordinate with the official PS 5 console launch, including strategic partnerships and virtual experiences.

Burger King Promotes BK App With PlayStation 5 Contest

In October, Burger King and SONY announced a giveaway promotion offering BK customers the chance to win a coveted PS 5 gaming console from October 15 to November 22. To enter for a chance to win one of 1,000 available PS 5 systems, along with free digital downloads of games Demon Souls and Sackboy: A Big Adventure, consumers had to download the BK App and order the 2 for $5 combination meal. Even if a customer did not win a PS 5, they could secure a free three-month subscription to SONY’s subscription service, Playstation Now, which allows gamers to play on-demand. While Burger King competitor Taco Bell has been a major partner in the gaming industry for some time, this was Burger King’s first collaboration targeting gaming audiences. 

SONY Partners With Travis Scott, Coming Off Major Fortnite Marketing Success

In October, SONY announced a creative partnership with rapper Travis Scott to promote its PS 5 game console. In addition to being a well-known rap artist, Scott is a big force in the gaming world. Describing the multi-tiered creative partnership, Scott said, “I’ve always been a fan of Playstation and the brand they’ve built, and this is another example of finding a partner who believes in and trusts [me] to execute for their brand.” On November 12, Scott performed a live unboxing of the PS 5 console. The unboxing video has already received more than 2.3 million views on the rapper’s YouTube Channel. The creative partnership also includes a Travis Scott branded merchandise shop on Scott’s website and the Travis Scott x PlayStation x Nike Dunk Low sneaker collaboration. 

The decision by SONY to collaborate with Scott is likely based on his recent success with gaming audiences. In April, Scott’s virtual Fortnite concert drew an audience of 27.7 million players globally. The collaboration between SONY and Scott converts the PS 5 from a gaming system into a consumer lifestyle brand, elevating the brand’s connection with it’s target audiences. 

Xbox Leverages GameStop Partnership & Subscription Service To Promote Xbox Series X|S

Although Xbox entered into the market following the success of SONY’s PlayStation, it has cemented its place as a top brand in the gaming industry. Even though it was not the first console to offer online game streaming, Xbox and Microsoft can be considered responsible for bringing online console gaming into the mainstream with the Xbox 360 console. Four years after Xbox 360 console debuted on the market, Xbox launched Xbox Live, a global online gaming community connecting more than one million Xbox users. By 2007, there were three million active Xbox Live subscribers and two years later, the integration of social media introduced Facebook and Twitter to Xbox’s online community and subscription services. 

Ahead of the launch of the newest console, the Xbox Series X|S, Microsoft announced the official debut of the xCloud Service. The xCloud Service is a cloud-based game streaming service that provides Xbox players and Windows users the flexibility to access their games anywhere from Android mobile devices. To connect to diverse audiences who are seeking a seamless gaming experience and affordability, Xbox has committed to expanding its subscription service offerings and reintroduced its alternative payment platform through GameStop. 

Xbox Focuses On Building An Online Gaming Population With Xbox Game Pass

While Xbox is still fighting for the number one spot, its focus on community, collaboration and access is impressive. To grow the Xbox community, Xbox focused heavily on its subscription service, Xbox Game Pass. The Xbox Game Pass is a subscription service that allows players to access more than 100 games via on-demand downloads for a monthly fee. The service offers gamers more variety without investing in individual game titles. Combining the capabilities of xCloud Service and the Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft is focusing on delivering an omnichannel gaming experience. Liz Hamren, head of platform engineering and hardware at Microsoft, said, “Gaming is no longer device-centric; this new era is all about the player. The player is at the center of everything that we do at Xbox, and that’s informed the ecosystem we’ve built for this next generation of gaming.”  

Xbox Offers Gamers Reprieve With The Return Of A Pay-As-You-Go Option

Microsoft’s efforts to provide options and frictionless shopping experiences come together with Microsoft’s desire to help consumers afford the games and consoles they crave during uncertain economic times. In preparation for the launch of Xbox Series X|S, Microsoft brought back its exclusive offer with GameStop, Xbox All Access, originally introduced in 2018. Xbox All Access is an alternative payment strategy that allows Xbox users to subscribe to a monthly service that lets them pay off the cost of their console over time. In addition, customers who opt for the Xbox All Access service also get Xbox Game Pass included with their purchase. Currently, neither SONY nor Nintendo are offering anything similar to Microsoft’s alternative flexible payment option

Advertisers Must Promote Creative Messages That Stand Out To Gamers

The video game industry is booming, with an audience who represents a large population of users, and growth that is expected to sustain powerful positive momentum into 2023. Online play and on-demand subscription services have elevated video games beyond a console and screen. As consumers seek connectivity, interaction and engagement, brands have an opportunity to connect with gamers in unique and authentic ways. From in-play advertising to creative collaborations, as the video game market continues to expand, more targeted and sophisticated monetization options are likely to grow with it. Both the PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X|S experienced massive launch sales and inventories of both consoles are already limited across the U.S. With supply dwindling and demand surging, consumers will likely continue to be interested in purchasing these systems well beyond the holiday season. As the global pandemic persists, brands looking for innovative advertising strategies should look to the gaming industry for possibilities and inspiration. 

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About the Author

Melissa Ledesma

An innovative problem solver by nature, Melissa Ledesma is both experienced and passionate about the digital marketing industry. She has held a number of high-level positions within the real estate, mortgage, entertainment and digital advertising industries, including Director of PR and Business Development at NJ Lenders Corp. and Director of Communications & Government Affairs at Eastern Bergen County Board of Realtors. As Director of Content & Communications at Digital Media Solutions (DMS), Melissa demonstrates a strategic, creative and tactical approach when handling the thought leadership programs and marketing and communications efforts for DMS and its family of brands. She manages all conferences, sponsorships and event execution and plays a pivotal role in the creation of written, digital and video content for all campaigns. Melissa has consistently positioned the team at DMS as experts in performance marketing across multiple industries.

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