What a free video game taught me about sales and marketing
Over the last few years, I’ve become an avid gamer. I used to play big video games as League of Legends and even got boosts from sites like http://elitist-gaming.com. And recently, I became a big fan of MechWarrior Online (MWO), a massive multiplayer online, first-person shooter game in which players compete in team-based matches—piloting enormous robot tanks called “mechs.” The game’s free-to-play pricing system got me thinking about how free content—of all types—can be the key to your audience’s heart—and wallet.
In the modern gaming industry, free-to-play pricing systems abound—and often follow a common thread. In my game of choice, players earn game currency during each match, which they can use to buy different mechs. The more you play, the better you do, and the more you accumulate.
Since the game is devoid of ads, I began to wonder how they were making money. Premium content, available for purchase, allows for faster accumulation of game currency, plus the ability to deck out your mechs with new colors and designs. Still, it’s not a functional aspect of the game—so wasn’t the company leaving money on the table by employing this free-to-play model?
I spent months—and lots of my free time—playing for free, and enjoying every minute. As the experience drew me in deeper, I felt compelled to make in-game purchases, simply because it enhanced my enjoyment of the game. I had developed such a love and respect for the brand, its product and the accompanying community, that I was happy to fork over the cash. And while I consider myself a very sparing consumer, I spent more money on this free-to-play game than I have on any paid one.
While the free-to-play model doesn’t translate directly to most industries and brands, the principle of it does. Engaging content that aims to entertain, educate or otherwise delight first not only attracts new customers, it sets the hook deeper in the existing ones.
At 2016’s Content Marketing World, Andrew Davis cited one famous example of this: From Disney to The Muppets, networks consistently go over budget to produce shows, and they don’t care—because they reap immense ROI in the form of licensed product sales. In other words, truly inspired content—the kind that builds regular subscribers and true fans for life—sells. A more in-reach idea for brands of all shapes and size? Try how-to-guides, interactive tools and quizzes, ebooks or even a regularly updated, best-in-class blog. Focus on creating things your customers will love—and with some careful planning, distribution and nurturing, the sales will follow.