The Marketing Cycle May be Complete.
Are games becoming marketing machines? I believe so, and it may just be another evolution of the game industry's business model.
The goal of every commercial game is to attract players and earn income for the developers. To do this, developers incorporate every aspect of marketing possible, so that users want to tell one another about it in some way or another. After all, word of mouth is the best marketing tool.
(Social) Word of Mouth
First, creating a story that interests a customer enough to participate (or creating a place a player can create their own) is core to inviting them into an interactive experience. The better the story, the longer they play. Once players are engaged and enjoying themselves, the game can allow you to share your progress, so those players are your best marketing tool.
How did the Game Industry Integrate Marketing into its Products so Fully?
Business models in the video game industry have constantly evolved. Beginning with a "buy it once" model with software literally sold in "baggies," over the years there were other evolutions including the "try and buy" and monthly subscriptions. Downloadable content for previously purchased games has added extra revenue to developers after the sale. A very successful model is "Free to Play" (F2P), where customers receive a free game, but to enhance their experience they may purchase virtual goods through real money micro-transactions. This is very prevalent in current mobile titles, where customers prefer free downloads because they can try a game with no financial risk.
Designing in-game virtual goods and a way to encourage but not force (i.e. market them) players to purchase them is the core to turning a game into a business that can support a development studio.
In addition to micro-transactions, there are also opportunities for in-game advertising can be used. Done well, integrating advertisements in games in ways that create more immersion into the experience (Pennzoil ads in a racing game) or enhance gameplay (ask a player if they would like to watch a video to earn additional fuel for a tractor in a farming game) can help game developers earn extra income on F2P games.
The Final Loop?
This leads to an interesting situation... marketing of the F2P game drives players to the game, and once they are playing the game, they are encouraged through play to purchase virtual goods, which are in-turn marketed to the player within the game experience. Adding the ability to socially post those purchases continues the game doing its own marketing. In-game advertising allows the game to market even more products.
So, what do you think? Are games marketing?