Even if you don’t play games that much, let alone consider yourself a gamer, chances are you’ve heard about KFC launching their very own dating sim on Steam and the fervid buzz surrounding it. The game, developed by Psyop, is free and became available on September 24th.
Marketers are getting curious and keeping a finger on the pulse while many visual novel and dating sim developers, along with the people who play these games, are expressing their displeasure at this news. So, should you jump on the bandwagon and get into games-as-content? Why or why not? Let’s dive deeper into this concept because making a game for marketing purposes is actually not that recent of a concept, although instant reactions to it is.
The First Rule of Making a Game About Something Is…
You can’t make everyone happy. Someone is always going to be upset about the fact that certain types of games get made, that some games get attention while theirs don’t, or in the case of I Love You Colonel Sanders! A Finger Lickin’ Good Dating Simulator where a major corporation is behind the effort, it can feel like the kind of sacrilege that many underground music fans feel upon a beloved act “selling out” once a major record label or bigger name discovers them.
That is the first and foremost rule before you even think about hiring a development team and finding a project lead. Whether that reaction is bad or good, before there’s even an actual game to play you’re already going to get a more emotional reaction in the first place so your team should be aware of this.
The very nature of games-as-content is more than just offering a form of engagement that video, social, and podcast content can offer: games are a way of providing an experience to people in a fashion that can’t be replicated as easily through other types of content. Games also aren’t monolithic: they can be made to raise awareness of an issue or have an end goal like increasing social shares by having a customizable avatar or outcome. Sometimes games are designed with the express purpose of promoting a product or giveaway, such as the numerous small mobile games that Starbucks frequently links through their app and emails. They’re designed to be available for a short time and don’t require the same development timeline and quality assurance that a game like the KFC dating sim does.
But when it comes to an endeavor that’s not ephemeral and innocuous like Starbucks Hopscotch, you do need to tread more carefully and not just because it’s literally going to take more time and money.
When Does “Ironic Marketing” Overstep Its Boundaries?
The chief criticism that indie developers and visual novel/dating sim fans have lobbed at KFC is that they feel it’s now going to be an ur-example of ironic marketing. After all, you need to be careful when marketing with memes: first because being unaware of their origins or intents can have negative consequences, but also because many people feel protective of memes and don’t like to see brands horning in on what belongs to the people.
The Wendy’s Twitter account is often simultaneously praised and lambasted for the same reason: the brand took snark to a new level in both video campaigns and clapping back at customers in real time, and major outlets constantly gave Wendy’s free press as a result. In turn, other brands began adopting memes and taking a similar snarky tone and while it sparked engagement, it also sparked ire among people who didn’t like to see memes co-opted.
The same is true of certain genres of games. Dating sims and visual novels are considered far more of a niche genre largely created and enjoyed by a significantly smaller subset of people, most of whom are in marginalized groups who often don’t see themselves represented in games, in comparison to titans like Fortnite and CS:GO. While a lot of people are genuinely excited to see what the KFC dating sim is going to be like, people are also understandably upset at seeing a beloved niche get touched by a multinational conglomerate. On the other hand, the fervor this game is already bringing could expose more people to the genre and get them interested in more niche games, in addition to providing fantastic work-for-hire opportunities for indie developers.
So, making games part of your content strategy can be a highly successful move that has more challenges than other types of content– one of them being to tread carefully if you’d like to make a splash into a genre typically enjoyed by marginalized people. If you’re interested in consulting on this matter or need a game writer or project lead, check out my profile!
Rachel P. is an indie game developer, writer, and consultant. She is also a HubSpot Inbound certified content strategist here at Writer Access and would be happy to help you with keyword maps, customer journey maps, and buyer personas in addition to writing for you. Rachel also offers her graphic design skills to create social cards to go with your Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. posts as she has access to millions of quality stock images and illustrations.