From Berlin to Belgrade: How games marketers have reacted to COVID-19

how online game marketers have reacted to covid

Few industries have profited as much from COVID-19 as online gaming. A sector that had already been booming – and one that spans generations and genders too – the widespread stay-at-home orders implemented across the world led to a whole host of people turning to their phones and devices for a little bit of escapism. 

We had originally planned to have this event in-person back in March, which the COVID-19 measures made impossible. But instead of game over, we seized this opportunity to take our SCALEup panel on gaming online. We were excited that we could get Nate Barker of Kolibri Games, Andrej Kugonič of Nordeus and Melanie Zimmermann of Wooga to join our online webinar, talking with our moderator (and big mobile gaming stan!) Julian Reitzig. They spoke about their specific experiences of the current global situation, how they adapted their marketing strategy accordingly and what they are planning long-term, in case of a second wave. Then there was a Q&A culminating in a rather cheeky question: Wanna find out how often they actually play their own games? Watch the video to find out. 

A quick thank you to Berlin-based games initiative games:net for co hosting – and particularly to their own Maria Wagner for doing the introduction. And here’s a big tip for games marketers: Keep an eye on their upcoming online events for more gangbusters content

Here’s the highlights from each speaker, although if you want all the scoop, we’d recommend watching the video!

Nate Barker, Director of Business Development at Kolibri Games

“We want to be the number one idle games producer in the world.” The first speaker was Nate Barker of Kolibri Games, a Berlin-based games company behind games such asIdle Miner Tycoon and Idle Factory Tycoon. He explained how the COVID-19 crisis came at a unique time in their history, just as they closed their acquisition by Ubisoft. “The ink wasn’t even dry on the contract when the crisis hit.”

As with most gaming companies, the initial days were one of crazy numbers. “While COVID-19 saw a big boost in DAU (daily active users) and organic installs, the initial wave has started to abate,” he admitted. The increase in new users didn’t necessarily translate to increased in-app spending.

All in all, Kolibri is currently trying to look for stability and using data to understand their regular players. Furthermore, they’re concentrating on brand marketing to increase loyalty and customer lifetime value beyond the pandemic. On the way there, and to navigate the latter, they’re using ingame messaging to remind players during the crisis to stay inside and recognise social distancing.

Andrej Kugonič, User Acquisition Lead at Nordeus

Julian then spoke with Andrej Kugonič, User Acquisition Lead at Nordeus, streaming in live from Belgrade, Serbia. Nordeus is focused on free to play mobile games, with their biggest hit being the game Top Eleven Football Manager – which counts the legendary manager José Mourinho as its brand ambassador.

Did COVID-19 see a big boost in demand for Nordeus? Yes! Andrej went on to explain how they quickly increased their marketing budget to capture the increased demand (and to take advantage of the sudden availability of cheap TV media placements!). 

That’s not all, they’ve been focusing on brand marketing, too – with a clear top-of-mind mentality for single games brands. “If you develop a really strong brand … all those other brands that appear will just be second, third and fourth,” said Andrej. “Leaders in any category that have a strong brand can live for 20, 30 years.” He also mentioned a recent partnership with Unicef, one that aims to help encourage social distancing measures amongst their players.

Melanie Zimmermann, Head of Marketing at Wooga

The grand finale of our star-studded panel discussion saw Julian speak with Melanie Zimmermann of the Berlin-based mobile game developer Wooga, which focuses on casual gaming for a female, 35+ target audience and are best known for the games June’s Journey and Pearl’s Peril.

How did Wooga become such a key player in the industry? Their integrated marketing approach is key. “Consistency and authenticity is important because if one part of your story is out of alignment, everything is out of alignment – and your players won’t trust your story anymore,” she says. And by this Wooga’s growth has continued into the COVID-19 era, as they managed to capitalise on the situation and scale, particularly in the USA and Canada.

It’s not all been about performance-based installs and metrics though: “We had a collaboration with the WHO to encourage social distancing by playing games apart together while physically at home. One of our community managers also did a livestream playing Pearl’s Peril, so our community could play simultaneously. With things like this we show the community we care. #playaparttogether.” Melanie Zimmermann told us.

Those are our highlights from a strong panel with even stronger insights – one that leaves us assured that Europe’s online gaming publishers are alive and kicking, and intelligently navigating the COVID-19 situation by constantly adapting and innovating. Thanks to all who participated and see you next time…maybe at our OMR digital masterclass on June 18th?

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