What brand marketers can learn about social gaming from Game of Thrones

As the dust settles on the series finale of Game of Thrones, and we all try to come to terms with the events of the Red Wedding in our own way, perhaps it would be helpful to focus on the positives. In particular, the learnings marketers can take from HBO’s use of social gaming in promoting the third season of GoT.

To accompany the latest season, HBO enlisted the help of developers Disruptor Beam to produce a branded Facebook game, which drip-fed new, playable content to the show’s notoriously passionate fan base, immediately after each new episode aired on TV.

Social media and brand engagement have been seen to go hand-in-hand for some time, but with Facebook manipulating its model to become more like a traditional paid-media advertising channel brands are having to be more innovative in their use of social to communicate with, and offer value to, their consumers.

Ascent: the weekly fantasy fix

‘Ascent’, the Game of Thrones app, doesn’t break any new ground in gaming terms. It’s based on the same ‘freemium’ model we have seen from countless other Facebook games; players have a territory they control, which it is their responsibility to grow and improve, they can upgrade buildings and produce items, these actions take a set amount of time, or users can speed things up by spending (real) cash. What ‘Ascent’ does do though, that games like Farmville and Candy Crush Saga don’t, is tap into a larger brand with appeal beyond social gaming. Simply, HBO gave loyal Game of Thrones fans a chance to engage with the brand in a new way ­– giving them a fantasy fix to tide them over until next week’s episode.

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Disney: branded vs unbranded social games

HBO are by no means the first entertainment giant to explore branded social games. In 2012 Disney spent big money on creating a hugely popular Facebook game that tied into summer blockbuster, ‘The Avengers’. The game pitted the film’s main characters, controlled by the player, against a host of nefarious goons. With cel-shaded graphics and turn-based, combat-centric gameplay that echoed the legendary Final Fantasy series, the game provided the key audience of the movie with another way to immerse themselves in the Marvel universe.

Interestingly, Disney also experimented with unbranded games by producing an app called ‘Gnome World’, which initially did not bear the Disney brand. After a few months of trialling this approach, the entertainment giant added its name to the title of the game. Disney quickly saw a big drop in what it was spending to advertise the game, as players were happier to get on board with a familiar product. The brand also found that players were happier to spend money in-game once they had the assurance of the global Disney brand.

FC Barcelona: the forward-thinking football club

Away from the film and television industry, global footballing force FC Barcelona has also produced its own Facebook game, ‘FC Barcelona Fantasy Football’, in which Barca fans can take control of running their team, much like millions of gamers do in the fantastically immersive Football Manager series. The easy-to-play simulation game is clearly aimed at catching the season ticket holders of tomorrow and building brand love from an early age. With a sequel planned for the 2013/14 season, it’s fair to assume that the club is seeing real returns on their investment already.


Kleenex: making light of seasonal sniffles

It’s all very well for TV shows and football clubs, who have a ready-made, enthusiastic audience for their games, but what about brands with a less engaging core product and little to no ‘fan base’? One such brand, Kleenex, answered this very question last summer when it produced a Facebook game for hayfever sufferers. The simple app challenged fans of the Kleenex Facebook page to see how many tissues they could pull from a box in a short space of time. By no means as immersive as some of the other games discussed above, the Kleenex game still drew the attention of the target audience and staked a claim to part of the social space.

Let us know which games you’ve played on social, and what you thought of them in the comments below. And don’t forget to sign up to email updates from Speak Think Blog.

Author: Tom Owen

A strategic storyteller and compelling content creator, awash with acuity and adept at alliteration. I work for Speak Media. www.speakmedia.co.uk

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