Everything I need to know about marketing I learned from GTAIV…

GTAIV_LogoWhilst perusing threebillion the other day, I was reminded of a little piece of silliness I wrote up late last year, just after completing Grand Theft Auto IV.  I’d been asked to write a piece on advergaming, but as things tend to do around me, it evolved into something else entirely.  Upon a second read, six months later, I actually think it was still spot on.  If you haven’t played GTAIV, you really should go check it out.  Hopefully this makes sense even if you haven’t.  

Let’s take a look at this little list, here dubbed “Everything I Needed to Know about Marketing I Learned from Grand Theft Auto IV”.

1)    Show value.  Simply put, everything that you CAN do in the game actually MEANS something.  Changing your clothes affects how people view and treat you in the game, women notice the car you drive, and grabbing a bite to eat ups your health.

2)    Social networking isn’t just for fun, it’s a must.  The moment that the character Dwayne called me up after I took him bowling and he offered me thugs to help out on missions whenever I called, I realized the importance of chatting with all of the characters within the game.  Get involved with your consumers! 

3)    Mobile is an essential part of the mix and best used as a connector.  The mobile in GTA connects me to the world around me, facilitates missions, and is not simply a miniature video player.  Similarly, stop thinking of standalone mobile campaigns and start thinking of how mobile can become an integral part of a larger campaign. 

4)    Plan for varying levels of consumer involvement and journeys.  No matter what I decided to do within the game, whether it was to tear around the city stealing as many cars as possible or see how long I could survive with a five star wanted level, it was always easy to jump back into the storyline, and I was always having a good time.  Not every consumer will wish to be 100% involved with your brand, so offer them the option to choose their involvement level.    

5)    Timing is everything.  Calling Kiki up for a date at 3am Monday morning only made her mad, but calling her at 5pm on a Friday got me a date.  Always ensure that your marketing targets the consumer when they’re open to receiving the message. 

6)    Authenticity and transparency are essential.  Quite often within the game you are required to make a choice between doing a dodgy deal for money, extracting revenge, or sparing a person’s life, and the choices you make are not only remembered, but they affect how the citizens of Liberty City deal with you in very real terms.  Treat someone badly or lie to them and they’ll remember it forever. 

7)    Continuously track and optimize.  As much fun as it may be to blow up armored trucks with bazookas, each round costs a princely sum of $5,000, and it just might make more sense to use up those sniper rifle rounds at $100 – especially when the value of a mission is only $4,000?  Clearly, you don’t always need to have a full run of site on Yahoo! to have an effective campaign, no matter how warm and fuzzy it might make your client feel.      

8)    Deliver your message in a consumer centric way.  One of the more straightforward elements of GTA has to be the delivery of mission criteria.  Not only would I get mission instructions within each cinematic sequence with the various game characters, but following each sequence I would get an update on screen explaining exactly where I needed to go, along with a marker placed on the city map showing me graphically how to get there.

9)    Experiment, experiment, experiment!  I don’t think this can be emphasized enough, but the greatest joy you can have in GTA is discovering that random bit of interactivity – be it realizing you can play that arcade machine in the bar or that you can indeed fire your bazooka one-handed around a corner.  Always set aside a percentage of your budget for pure experimentation, without this you simply will not discover exciting new opportunities. 

10)  Sometimes, gratuitous sex and violence works.  What can I say – $500 million in first week sales is a hard thing to argue against.  The moral here is simply push the envelope – and frankly, all press is good press.  

Thoughts?  Any other key lessons that can be learned from this excellent little piece of game design?


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