Insights

Talent demand and brand connectivity: Optimising talent partnerships for video game brands

17 August, 2020

Key takeaways

• The video game industry is one of the fastest growing entertainment sectors, but is growing increasingly saturated.

• This means that breaking through the noise to reach potential players/fans for your video game brand is becoming harder. A data-based approach is essential.

• One place where data can be easily applied is talent partnerships. Parrot Analytics’ talent-brand connectivity and talent demand data can optimise these partnerships to reach both existing fanbases and the wider (potential) audience for any market.

• Although this article examines the video game sector, the method described can be generalized to other entertainment sectors. Additionally, this can be performed for products prior to release using genome modelling to isolate the performance of the most similar products in the market.

Introduction

While we at Parrot Analytics are currently focusing our attention on the television and TV streaming industry, some of our data and analysis is immediately applicable to challenges facing other sectors of the entertainment industry.

For example, video gaming is by far the single fastest growing category of entertainment. Analysts forecast that by 2020, the global video game industry will be worth 160 billion USD, approximately the same size as the film and music industries put together. (Although to explain our current focus, this is still smaller than the global Pay TV size of 225 billion USD, a figure that excludes the streaming platforms.)

As the gaming industry matures, the focus will shift to sustaining this strong growth. In 2020, early adopters and large parts of mainstream audiences are already strongly engaging with video games. How should gaming organizations cut through the competition, or appeal to the groups of people not yet engaged?

One method is to bring in figures from the more mature entertainment industries: Film, music, and television. Increasing the attention on your product by utilizing celebrities is a method the video game industry has employed for some time; TV & film legend Sir Patrick Stewart served as a voice actor in Bethesda’s 2006 game Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion and featured prominently in the pre-launch marketing.

More recently, the video games industry has iterated on this concept by utilizing full motion-captured performances from Hollywood talent. One recent example is The Walking Dead star Norman Reedus, whose performance was digitized to appear as the main character in Sony Interactive Entertainment’s 2019 game Death Stranding.

As the video game industry saturates, optimizing the decision of which celebrity to partner with becomes more important to maximize publicity as well as ROI. As we will show, utilizing data is crucial to this workstream.

Fortnite uses in-game events to attract and retain the attention of key demographics

One trailblazer in this area is Epic Games with their game Fortnite. Even if you have never personally played it, you have more than likely heard of this cultural phenomenon. If not, then the most important statistic to know is the game has an estimated two billion USD global yearly revenue.

Fortnite has a relatively young fanbase, with third parties estimating that 53% of all players fall in the 10-25 year old age range.

Epic Games have proven they are masters of innovation in ways outside of the gameplay itself to keep the attention of this predominantly youth audience. Fortnite has become known for crossover promotions with some of the biggest intellectual properties on the planet – including Marvel, DC, Star Wars and John Wick – and live in-game events featuring talent like American DJ Marshmello.

Let us look closer at these live in-game concerts and examine the role data can play for them.

The goals of these concert events are simple. First and foremost, the in-game concert should strongly engage the types of players already engaged. It is pointless to host a musician that will not excite a current playerbase. After all, people who are already fans of a game are the best brand ambassadors.

However, a strong secondary consideration is that the event must appeal to as many non-players as possible. Their interest in the musician will hopefully convert them into players of your game, or at least become engaged with your brand.

Identifying the musicians the Fortnite fanbase engage with most

To uncover which musicians engage the Fortnite fanbase the most, we measure the ‘connectivity’ of musicians to the Fortnite brand on social media. Connectivity is simply a measure of how much overlap there is between people who engage with the Fortnite brand and those who engage with a particular musician. As an example, if the Fortnite account had 200 followers and 50 of these followers also followed Lady Gaga, then Lady Gaga would have a connectivity to Fortnite of 25%.

This chart shows the musicians that have the highest connectivity to Fortnite fans:

fortnite-connectivity_V1.png

Of these most connected musicians, Ariana Grande and Cardi B are not directly associated with Fortnite, but their music is played on in-game radio stations. The third most connected musician, Lil Baby, is more directly associated with the game. The rapper appeared as a panelist on Fortnite’s We The People panel on race and racism in America on July 4th, 2020.

This data shows that Ariana Grande is the most connected musician to Fortnite. She would engage the existing playerbase most if she were to perform an in-game concert. This result tracks with the third party analysis referenced earlier that puts Fortnite’s female playerbase at 28% of the total players.

Optimizing for the wider market using talent demand

As discussed at the start, appealing to the existing fanbase is certainly an important consideration. However, how do these musicians appeal to the wider market outside of Fortnite enthusiasts? A niche performer with little appeal outside of Fortnite circles would delight fans (which may well be enough), but perhaps a different performer would achieve that as well as convert curious people into avid players if they like what they see. Because Fortnite is free to play, there are few barriers to prevent someone who simply ‘stops by’ to see a favorite performer from becoming a dedicated player.

To address this question, we add talent demand to our existing data. Talent demand works similarly to our television series demand. Our Help Center has a detailed explanation of how demand is generated. In short, we take multiple types of data sources (e.g. social media engagements, informational site visits) and use complex algorithms to weight each data source and then calculate how much demand has been expressed for any talent each day on a market-specific basis.

This next chart shows the previously listed high connectivity-musicians and adds in their US talent demand from March 2020 to June 2020. We are using the United States as an example market here, but this analysis can be performed for individual markets, specific regions or globally if preferred.

fortnite-connectivity-demand.png

As shown in the first chart, Ariana Grande, Cardi B and Lil Baby are the most connected to the Fortnite fanbase (with blue borders) and so would be excellent choices to excite the current fanbase. Adding demand data lets us see that Ariana Grande is rated higher in both metrics and so should be preferred for in-game events.

If appeal to the wider market is a more important goal for the event than appeal to the existing fanbase, then the area of the chart marked by green-bordered musicians (e.g. Rihanna) is a great place to find an artist. While still solidly connected to the Fortnite fanbase, they both have strong appeal to consumers in our target market.

As Ariana Grande has the highest connectivity and second highest demand, she the most optimal choice to achieve our two objectives of engaging the Fortnite fanbase while also maximally appealing to the general audience.

Please note that this is a limited example of the analysis method that ignores other factors like availability, talent fees, exclusivity, etc, which may influence the final choice. We are aware that partnering with one of the biggest musical artists in the world is a difficult recommendation to action, so a more complete analysis could specifically look for lesser known, up-and-coming acts that would have most of the impact but would likely be easier to book.

Please note also that this example used US data only; audiences in other markets may have very different preferences.

Marketing the Assassin’s Creed franchise with Hollywood actors

We used Fortnite’s in-game concerts and musical talent as our first example, but as noted Fortnite is a trailblazer with few directly comparable games in the market.

While Fortnite has established themselves as trailblazers with their use of in-game concerts and high-profile musical events, a more traditional games publisher is more likely to be concerned with strengthening their AAA franchises. As gamers expect higher levels of graphics and increased game size, the development cost for games at this level can exceed one hundred million USD. As the games segment matures, the marketing spend also increases. Hard figures are difficult to find, but rumors suggest total costs trend toward multiple hundreds of millions of dollars.

With this level of investment, the success of these games becomes critical to the health of the company. As with Fortnite, Parrot Analytics data can refine the marketing approach to ensure a better chance at attracting the attention of consumers and maximizing marketing ROI.

For the next example, we analyze one of the most attention-grabbing ways to promote a video game: The inclusion of talent from other entertainment sectors.

One of the most anticipated game releases of 2020 is coming from the publisher Ubisoft. Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is the newest entry in the highly successful Assassin’s Creed franchise and is scheduled for release in the Holiday 2020 window. The marketing campaign for this title is already underway at time of writing but let us imagine that the next step is a surprise actor or actress reveal.

The hypothetical question then becomes which star should Ubisoft partner with to bring a Valhalla character to life? The huge character list of Assassin’s Creed games means that no talent is off the table. Although Valhalla is set in the Viking era the franchise’s history means the game will likely include characters ranging from gods to modern-day scientists and even aliens. This allows us to cast a wide net to determine who Ubisoft should partner with to achieve maximum attention from both Assassin’s Creed fans and from the wider US gaming audience.

We start by seeing which actors are associated most closely with the existing Assassin’s Creed fanbase. Ensuring that existing fans approve of our choice will aid in the organic word-of-mouth spread of the casting news. The following chart shows the stars that have the highest affinity to the existing fanbase:

ac-connectivity.png

Of Hollywood talent, Ryan Reynolds is the most connected to the Assassin’s Creed brand. While he is not directly connected to the franchise, this is not a surprising result. Ryan Reynolds has a lot of existing appeal to video game players: He starred in the Pokemon movie Detective Pikachu, currently stars as the video game-inspired superhero Deadpool, and in the upcoming film Free Guy, will star as a self-aware video game character.

Assassin’s Creed fans also have a high regard for actors from the Marvel Cinematic Universe such as Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth, as well as for former wrestler and current action movie star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Interestingly, the star of the 2016 Assassin’s Creed movie, Michael Fassbender, is not one of the most connected stars.

Optimising for the largest possible audience

As before, we now take this selection and add their US talent demand data from March 2020 to June 2020 to see who of these stars has the best appeal to the wider market audience:

ac-connectivity-demand.png

While all of these would be fine choices, we can refine our selection based on the more important goal for the Valhalla marketing campaign.

To optimize for wider market appeal that will still appeal to the existing fanbase we can select from the area of the chart with green borders, encompassing Selena Gomez, Chris Evans and Dwayne Johnson. This is probably the best direction for a games product with a one-off purchase price (the Assassin’s Creed business model) as the dedicated fanbase is already highly likely to buy it.

If instead we wanted to optimize for existing fanbase appeal, the blue-bordered area of the chart encompassing Robert Downey Jr. and Ryan Reynolds contains the best talent for that goal.

Based on our goals and these metrics, we see that the optimal choice here is Chris Evans. While Selena Gomez does have more of the US market demand we are prioritizing, Chris Evans is a more balanced choice; a close second based on demand but has more appeal to the core Assassin’s Creed audience.

This data-based thought exercise considers the very top end of the talent pool and does not incorporate other factors that would influence such a casting decision. Parrot Analytics can include other factors such as talent fees in our analyses to narrow down talent recommendations.

Conclusions

• The video game industry is one of the fastest growing entertainment sectors, but is growing increasingly saturated.

• This means that breaking through the noise to reach potential players/fans for a video game brand is becoming harder. A data-based approach is essential.

• One place where data can be easily applied is talent partnerships. Parrot Analytics’ talent-brand connectivity and talent demand data can optimise these partnerships to reach both existing fanbases and the wider (potential) audience for any market.

• Although this article examines the video game sector, the method described can be generalized to other entertainment sectors. Additionally, this can be performed for products prior to release using genome modelling to isolate the performance of the most similar products in the market.

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