Finnish mobile game company Next Games opened in 2013, and has firmly established itself as a leader in game development and marketing strategy. In just under five years, the company has grown to 100 employees and launched two popular mobile games.
Next Games created the mobile game Walking Dead: No Man’s Land for AMC’s TV series The Walking Dead. YouTube stars Lele Pons and Anwar Jibawi collaborated with Next Games to promote the game, which has been a massive success. Both videos created by the top YouTubers to showcase the game have millions of views to date.
We spoke with Joonas Virtanen, Marketing Director of Next Games, about the company’s influencer marketing efforts, upcoming product launches, and the future of the gaming industry. Read the interview below:
1. Tell me a bit about yourself and Next Games.
Well I’ve personally got a background in advertising and digital agencies and hopped the fence to the gaming side of things when I joined Rovio to work on the Angry Birds franchise. I’ve been at Next Games now for a couple of years, working as the Marketing Director in charge of overlooking the marketing for all of our products.
Next Games is about 5 years old, has launched two games to date (Compass Point West & The Walking Dead: No Man’s Land), and employs approximately 100 people now. We’ve got a couple of new products in the pipeline, an augmented reality location-based shooter The Walking Dead: Our World, and a game based on Blade Runner 2049 which we haven’t announced any details about yet.
2. What’s been the major driving factor for pursuing and scaling your influencer marketing efforts?
I’ve always been a firm believer in not doing advertising but instead doing cool things. Generally, people like authenticity and hate when things are being force-fed to them. Influencers fit well into this scheme as it’s easier to promote your product in an authentic way, coming from a trusted source.
Obviously, there’s been a huge shift in the gaming marketing space towards influencers but I think most companies are still approaching influencer marketing the wrong way and looking at it as another UA (user acquisition) channel. This is a very shortsighted approach. We treat influencer marketing as its own entity and a playground to test out different theories and ideas.
3. How has marketing with social media influencers helped you target the right demographics?
Oh it’s great. If a certain type of influencer resonates particularly well with your audience, there’s gotta be a reason for it. While we always start our influencer marketing efforts with an idea of who we want to reach, many times along the way we discover something new which allows us to hone down the target group even further.
4. Your game Walking Dead: No Man’s Land is the official mobile game for AMC’s, The Walking Dead. How do you take a hit TV series and transform it into a successful mobile gaming experience?
By being truthful to what the show is about.
Fans love it for a specific reason, and if we can’t create something that those same fans love, we’ve failed. For example, with The Walking Dead, the appeal of the show goes way beyond fighting the undead. There are different subthemes that different audience segments enjoy and it’s important to create something that appeals to everyone, whether they enjoy the show because of the apocalypse setting or intense human relationship drama.
5. Augmented reality is becoming increasingly more popular in the gaming space. Mobile phones are also beginning to support AR in a more mainstream way. How will these two trends converge for Next Games?
Well we have a game coming out which is all about AR. The Walking Dead: Our World will fulfill the ultimate The Walking Dead viewer fantasy, allowing you to actually experience the apocalypse in your own neighborhood, city or home.
We’re pretty pumped about it.
6. Any other big projects, initiatives, or launches on the horizon you’d like to share?
Our Blade Runner game will be really interesting as sci-fi is a genre we’re excited to get into.
7. What are some other emerging marketing trends in the mobile gaming space you feel will gain even more traction in 2018?
The only constant is change. Looking at my crystal ball I can see the following patterns:
For sure previous trends will keep growing stronger. Big players in the UA space will dominate it even further and Apple & Google’s role will get it even bigger when it comes to discovery.
The influencer marketing space will get more tightly regulated and run-of-the-mill type content will become less and less effective.
8. Anything else you’d like to add?
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This interview has been edited for clarity.