No Longer a Niche Product: Why we as Public Relations Communicators need to look at Video Games

By Brady Tatro, Chapter Member

Image Credit: iStockphoto

Image Credit: iStockphoto

What would people say is the most profitable entertainment franchise of all time? Well, for movies it is “Star Wars”, and “Harry Potter”, but after the recent $500 million 24-hour release sales of “Call of Duty Black Ops 2”, the “Call of Duty” franchise has become the most profitable franchise of all time. Not only was the $500 million large enough to make it the largest release of the year, it was large enough to make it the largest entertainment release of all time. This is the fourth year in a row the “Call of Duty” franchise has been able to achieve this feat, and “Call of Duty” is not the only game making waves around the world. “Starcraft” and “Starcraft 2” are still being played as a national sport in South Korea, with both players and casters being able to make a living playing the game. During a 2005 national championship match, 120,000 people gathered in a stadium to watch the games live, 40,000 more than who attended the Super Bowl that same year. “Starcraft” plays a major role in South Korean culture, much like football or baseball does in the west.

Video games are no longer something just played by that one weird guy in his mother’s basement. The number has been steadily growing-even back in 2007 60-70 percent of the United States was playing video games. When including iPhone games like the incredibly popular “Angry Birds” or “World of Goo” this number is sure to rise; however no definite number has been given in recent years.

Despite these large numbers, there seems to be a shocking lack of research into how to communicate with this new medium, beyond simple product placement. All other forms of media, from books to movies, have been studied to understand how a message can be conveyed by the medium and even manipulated for a cause, as is the case with eco-friendly movies or antiwar literature. We as communications experts know and understand the value and power of the medium, but with no research on video games are we missing an ever increasing opportunity to get our message to a public?  Even ignoring the sheer volume of sales, and the amount of people who play, it is important to note how much time a person will spend with a game. Even a short video game is expected to be at least four to five hours in length, with many games having a total play time of over 25 hours. That is four to 25 hours of crafted experience with a consumer that we as media professionals are currently missing by failing to look deeply into the communicative power of video games.

Video games may still be a new hobby, and many still may not fully understand or appreciate them. However, we do not have the luxury anymore to write them off as silly toys. They have produced a massive market share, and so far all we have done to capitalize on it is basic product placement. If we want to keep reaching new markets, we must embrace and communicate our products through video games.

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