4 Things Brands Can Learn From Video Games

Never has there been a more opportune time for brands and marketers to be looking towards the video game industry than right now. Coming from an automotive and hospitality background, I’m all too familiar with the business unusual or business new-usual of our markets across the world. Both industries are heavily travel-oriented and destination minded, aspects made all the more challenging during a global pandemic. 

Video games on the other hand, possess the same foundations of curiosity and exploration, except that transporting its users are not dependent on physical movement. Built on literal escapism, the success of a video game hinges precisely on providing an experience that is a better alternative to “real life”. My own personal experience with games goes as far back as my primary school days but recently, I’ve rediscovered that same sense of child-like delight I thought was lost. This is thanks to Genshin Impact, a game that at the time of writing this, is only a month old yet has commanded almost all of my free time, and that of millions of users across the globe.

Published by Chinese video game developer miHoYo, Genshin Impact is a free-to-play action role-playing game (RPG). With The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild vibes, the game is an open-world fantasy with an action-based battle system that relies on the strategic use of its cast of characters and their elemental magic to cause optimal damage against enemies and bosses. Prior to its release, Genshin Impact saw over 21.3 million registrations, of which more than 75% had originated in China. On release week, the game was downloaded more than 17 million times, grossing an approximate USD 60 million before nearly doubling that the next week and recouping its costs. The game has received positive feedback from the likes of Game Informer, GameSpot and IGN and is also claimed to be the biggest international release of any Chinese video game. But revenue and accolades aside, here are four things I’ve experienced as a user that brands can learn from video games and why Genshin Impact in particular led me to this realisation.

Offering Players An Experience That’s Actually “Immersive”

I’m willing to bet that if one were to play covid brand-speak bingo, the word ‘immersive’ would be on the list. Particularly for those of us in a service-based industry, immersing guests in any kind of experience has never been harder when our hospitality strengths aren’t quite as far reaching. We want to but struggle to establish or maintain our connection with our customers, especially when they may be residing oceans away. To put it bluntly, dream now, travel later only works if the dream is to be believed.

An excellent RPG game is one that convinces the users, for those few and precious moments that they wholly exist within the game. Genshin Impact achieves this illusion through creating one of the most visually striking open-world landscapes I’ve ever seen. I took the screen grab above of my character, Xingqiu, just as the day was ending in the world of Teyvat because it instantly reminded me of the romantic Baroque painting, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich. Running through the world, your character is accompanied by a breathtaking score of music with strong piano melodies that evoke a sense of wonder. Every click of a button triggers its own unique sound and every menu page has been exquisitely designed and extremely detailed. It’s a weird feeling to be captivated by artificial scenery, but it’s simply because I felt like I was there.

In the brand world, that’s taking a 360-degree perspective on your offering. How do we impress users both visually and virtually? Perhaps revisit that stock image you bought and consider if it’s really going to sell the destination or the idea you have in mind. When filming your hotel tour with an old iPhone under low-light conditions, look at it from the lens of a customer who has never been there in person and decide if it’s doing justice to the paradise you want them to see. Upon playing the video back, remember that true immersion is a multi-sensory experience and listen closely. It might be worth swapping muffled audio with music that’s appropriate to the setting. Ultimately, is the content you’ve created a believable dream?

Accessibility and Inclusivity in Channel and Messaging 

The impact of covid-19 may have taken away the luxury of going abroad, but the world remains as interconnected as ever with rising desktop and mobile use plus the yearn for human touch as we all stay home. Even if you’ve switched to a more domestic oriented strategy, don’t forget that eyes across the globe can and are able to still tune in. To ensure that your core messaging is far reaching, it’s important to tell a story that is accessible and inclusive to all.

Video games set on global domination often start with platform accessibility. Not only is Genshin Impact available across almost all platforms (I hear Nintendo Switch is in the works), its co-op function is a cross-platform one, meaning friends can take on quests irrespective of being a Windows, Android, iOS or PlayStation inclined gamer. The lore of the game, whether intentionally or not, invites multiple perspectives with inspiration taken from different cultures. The variety in characters on offer is proof of this plus the current available maps, Mondstadt, which draws from central European influences, and Liyue, that is heavily informed by Chinese motifs. As a person of colour, I strongly identified with these latter elements which reminded me of the last time I was home for Chinese New Year. Compounding this is being able to enjoy the game on co-op mode via my PlayStation 4 in Tokyo, alongside my cousin and uncle via their smartphone and PC in Sydney.

Having a multi-pronged channel approach for your brand only makes sense. Populate each them with content that’s optimised for the channel as well as for the users of that channel. Whether that means specific image ratios for your website versus social media or creating rich and nuanced translation for foreign markets, the goal is to touch as many lives as possible with your brand.

Build A Product, Listen And Keep Building

Games can take years to release, but it’s not uncommon for patches and updates to be sent through to users regularly. Some are to address bugs in the game while others serve as game expansions as new characters, worlds, abilities and quests are created. Not only does this practice provide developers with the leeway to continuously improve their product and rectify any mistakes, it also gives them the opportunity to take onboard player feedback for the next iteration. Within just the span of a month, Genshin Impact has already introduced more characters, more maps and updates to their gacha banners, all of which propel the narrative forward while also keeping users engaged with new and interesting content. Forums are filled with chatter on things players love or hate, while Twitch and YouTube influencers publish daily videos and streams about the game with brutal honesty. Players are taking the time out of their day to do this for two reasons, because they care for the game and they know that they are being heard.

Think about your product positioning or brand in the same way. Rather than reinventing the wheel over and over again, is there a way to build on top of what you’ve previously said or done? When creating a new offer, devise a way to leverage the reputation of your last successful campaign through positioning it with a similar name, visuals or approach. Then, reflect back on all the things your customers said they liked and what they didn’t like and try to build their comments into what you’re currently working on. Keep your channels of communication open and welcome such feedback, whether by responding on social media, keeping your DMs open or ensuring timely replies of the enquiries e-mail on your website. From an automotive brands’s social media standpoint, you could even combine this all up into a user generated content strategy of drivers and their cars to be shared on your channels during a set schedule every week. Consumers will not only respond to familiarity and repetition, but they’ll appreciate the co-ownership you’ve extended to them through making space for their feedback and input.

Creating and Rewarding Player Loyalty

Many online games rely heavily on player retention to ensure a steady revenue stream. For players, the gaming experience also becomes better and more enjoyable as they spend more time in it, developing their skills and learning more through the story. Simply put, it’s in everyone’s best interest for players to stay invested in a game. A classic strategy often implemented are daily login bonuses of items and in-game money or a series of rewards that changes monthly, enticing players to play to win this month’s selection and hang on for the next. 

Genshin Impact, has all of the above. There are also core features of the game such as the above mentioned co-op mode and Battle Pass which are rewards in and of themselves, unlocked for players who reach Adventure Level 16 and 20 respectively. Daily commissions which act like mini tasks also ensure there is something new for users to do each day, even if they’ve finished all of the main and side quests. In-game expeditions which don’t require active playing can also be timed to finish at specific hour intervals, ensuring players come back to reap the spoils and reset to continuing “mining” for more items. It’s almost dizzying, how many reward systems co-exist within a single game, but it’s also no wonder that Genshin Impact players keep coming back for more.

Just as player retention rate is important to video game developers, keeping your existing customers should also be one of your key priorities. It can be tempting to focus solely on acquiring new customers or followers but it will be at your detriment if you cannot hold onto and create loyalty within your existing base. There are many examples of this, such as continuing to provide coupon codes in e-newsletters to maintain mailing list subscribers or establishing a point system to reward repeat purchasing on your e-commerce store. But you can also take it to the next level such as a surprise giveaway, exclusively for fans who watch your brand’s Instagram Stories or an Easter Egg buried within a TikTok video specifically for those in the know. 

I had as much fun writing this piece as I do actually playing Genshin Impact! Inspiration is everywhere and I encourage everyone to look outside your country, your field of expertise and even your industry for fresh perspectives. While some of these tips aren’t new, I hope through reframing them in the context of video games sparks some creative thinking on how to tackle a digital brand strategy. Last but definitely not least, my UID is 810358508 on the Asia server. I’ll see you in Mondstadt!

This article was originally published by me on LinkedIn

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