Case Study: The Impact of Paid Social Media Campaigns for Indie Game Launches
This article is presented as part of an editorial partnership between CMF Trends and Gruvi. ©  All rights reserved.
Tracking game sales through online advertising can be a nightmare without the appropriate setup from marketing and technical standpoints. That is why many game producers and publishers choose to focus their attention and budget on PR activities and influencer outreach. Why? The results are tangible and relatively trackable in terms of articles, videos, and audience feedback. The following case study involving the release of Expeditions: Viking demonstrates the impact on sales attributable to ads run on Facebook and Twitter.
Gruvi’s ad campaign delivered a total return on advertising (ROA) of 3.87, meaning that for each euro invested, Logic Artists generated €3.87 in profit.
If this had been timed with the game’s initial release, we estimate—based on our film experience—that this figure could have been improved by anywhere between 30% and 80% as a result of the network effect of combining PR, influencer and paid media campaigns. That clearly demonstrates the power of intelligent, attribution-based advertising geared toward game sales and provides clear evidence that paid media is important to ensure the success of a release strategy.
In April 2017, Gruvi helped with the online marketing campaign for Logic Artists’ game Expeditions: Viking (EV). Targeted countries were the US, the UK, Germany and Scandinavian countries. For promotional purposes, we decided to use the ad platforms of Twitter and Facebook. Twitter just released cards and this format looked like a great creative option for promoting the game. On Facebook, we used our own tool—the Gruvi Player—to cross-promote multiple videos once the user had pressed Play.
The main game trailer created by the Logic Artists team included a great voiceover and stunning cinematic artwork that focused on the game’s folklore. It was a fantastic creative piece to work with.
The campaign was split into two tactical buy formats:
- An engagement campaign providing information on the game – We used video ads and gameplay videos to explain the concept.
- A conversion campaign – Due to particular qualities of game development, this campaign again was split into two parts:
- Early seeding and testing immediately following the release (release date: April 27)
- Launch after the first major patch (May 3–7 and May 23–30)
Expeditions: Viking officially launched on April 27 and a series of patches and updates followed:
- Patch 22.214.171.124 – May 2
- Patch 1.0.2 – May 4
- Patch 1.0.3 – May 10
- Patch 1.0.4 – May 19
- Patch 1.0.5 – June 15
Standard online distribution platforms (Steam, PS Store, Xbox Store) do not provide any kind of service for reporting on conversions either directly to clients or back to an advertising platform. It is therefore impossible for you to determine which part of your ad strategy generated the sales seeing as information is wrapped up into weekly progress reports without any breakdown. That makes it extremely complicated to figure out what part of the advertising worked from a conversion perspective.
The film industry faces a similar problem seeing as movie theatres do not report back with numbers either—a reality that hinders the ability to track and optimize campaign performance since most of the major ad platforms, including Facebook, are less about targeting and more about algorithm training. The training is done through the behavioural data that is fed back to the platforms by audiences who engage in the process of trying to buy the product.
In an ideal world, developers should connect their games to platforms like Facebook via software development kits (SDKs), but we understand that most game production efforts are focused on developing games rather than conducting late-stage marketing analytics. At the time of EV’s launch, there was little in the way of reliable third party tracking services to help with this kind of detailed analytical setup. Services like Buffpanel and Goldfiz were not widely known or available within the industry.
During the launch, we were forced to resort to a less effective alternative by tracking shop button clicks on the EV site and reporting the data to Facebook and Twitter. And that led to the second problem: HOW we can prove that campaigns actually had any kind of impact? We decided to opt for another solution: delay the campaigns and use third-party tools like SteamSpy to track sales volumes on the different dates that we advertised. Here are the results:
The final campaigns had a direct impact on total sales during the second (post-patch and post-DLC from May 23 to 30) phase of conversion-oriented campaigns. The goal of the third phase of the campaigns was to generate clicks on the Steam page from the game’s site. We used people who watched 95% of the video and created lookalike audiences from them as a retargeting option.
Overall results were as follows:
Online advertising has a positive impact on game sales. The strategy should be used as part of any marketing campaign along with influencer marketing and public relations. By using financial tracking tools like SteamSpy combined with attribution tracking services like Gold Fizz and Buff Panel, it may be possible to develop effective retargeting strategies while generating a clear return on investment for a profitable game launch.