Games Go to College

A dramatic development is taking place on campus and online. It’s a result of academia’s acknowledgement of the game industry’s need for talent and student demand for courses that prepare them for their “field of dreams” careers. Not surprisingly, academic institutions are accelerating efforts to define, enhance, and differentiate their programs. And, marketing plays an important role in positioning, promoting, enhancing, expanding, and refining those academic offerings.

Let’s start at the macro level and drill down to examples of the exemplary and questionable marketing strategies being employed to achieve academia’s goals in the game industry.

Game Industry Growth

“The video game industry set the pace over all others in 2007, with record-breaking sales, off-the-charts consumer demand, and innovation reaching from galactic exploration to guitar simulation,” Entertainment Software Association (ESA) CEO Michael D. Gallagher told ARS Technica, an online publication.

Game Industry Jobs

The U.S. computer and video game industry’s annual growth rate from 2003 to 2006 exceeded 17 percent, according to a November 2007 study from the ESA. Game industry sales for 2007 totaled $18.85 billion, the association reports. In contrast, the U.S. economy only grew at 4 percent during this same period.

College Enrollment in Game Industry Courses

“As computer games have become part of our culture, the process of producing them has found a niche in academia,” wrote Eugene L. Meyer in “The Washington Post” article, “Gaming the System,” back in 2006.

Today, hundreds of colleges and universities around the world — including respected schools such as Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Southern California — offer courses and degree programs in computer gaming, as do a growing number of community colleges.”

Exemplary Marketing Tactics

In my opinion, there are five key components to the most effective game art, design, and programming marketing initiatives. They are:

  • Formulation of non-exclusive relationships with top game development studios and publishers.

  • Integrate marketing into the prospective student’s most popular online destinations and communities. A good example of this is evidenced by the “social network” extensions into MySpace and YouTube at Dave School at Universal Studios.
  • Expressed commitment to the game industry’s enhancement through underwriting and sponsorship of emerging game enthusiast channels. More specifically, communities that are empowering consumer-generated game content as opposed to general game enthusiast sites. Examples include the Art Institutes’s sponsorship of the Mod of the Year Awards and the Game Concept Art Competition.
  • Showcase the student’s work at a college at the institution’s Web site and through syndication to relevant communities and social networks. Additionally, institutions should encourage students to display their work in consumer-generated game communities and social networks — and acknowledge their school. The latter comes with inherent but worthwhile risks. Let down your guard and you are likely to get more hugs than punches.

    An example is Full Sail, a school of film, art, and design and its student showcase. Other examples include the Art Institute’s scholarship competition and DigiPen’s student showcase.

    In a conversation about gaming initiatives, Nathaniel Kennedy, marketing director at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh’s online division, wrote to me: “Gaining acceptance into game and design communities is often difficult. Utilizing a scholarship design competition, we were able to engage these communities, increase brand awareness, and garner significant public relations exposure.”

  • Data mining, research initiatives, and lead generation initiatives that elicit the target’s feedback and analyzes needs and trends. Symbiotically, these efforts should build a database of interested potential students while enhancing the academic program offering.

Questionable Marketing Tactics

In my opinion, there are a couple of strategies to avoid.

  • Game content offerings designed to attract students that can be perceived as exclusive relationships. Executed properly, a relationship with a big developer or publisher can be a fantastic lure. However, an initiative with only one partner can be counterproductive. Without a clearly articulated intent to grow beyond that one arrangement, the institution risks association with the selected partner’s philosophy, processes, and sometimes their worst games. To the potential student this strategy can reflect a limiting program. An example of this is Devry’s Vivendi games relationship.

  • A lead generation only initiative is a recipe for “second rate program” perception among potential students. An all or nothing approach to capture information followed by a multi media barrage of solicitation will not define, differentiate, or enhance the program offering in the long term. An example of this is the University of Phoenix’s incessant inquiry initiatives and its use of banner ads everywhere.

What marketing strategies do you think academic institutions should employ to attract gamers to their offerings?

Thanks for your mindshare.

-KC

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