This month saw some big news in the gaming world — but before you tune out this isn’t yet another article about the dominance of Fortnite. OK, yes, Fortnite is involved. But I’m more interested in the way the new kids on the block are leveraging influencer marketing to staggering effect.
With little build up or fanfare EA released Apex Legends on February 4th, a game that few knew was even in development until it launched. A new entry to the extremely popular ‘Battle Royale’ genre, 25 million players have already waded into combat with over 2 million playing simultaneously at the peak. One of the key drivers of this stratospheric growth was a strategic and intense burst of influencer driven content, primarily on the live streaming platform Twitch.
What piqued my interest was an observation from Paul Tassi in Forbes  who mentioned that EA had spent big to get Twitch streamers playing straight away. The game flooded the platform and drove Apex to the top spot, with more than 5x the viewers of Fortnite . The marketing push only lasted for the first week after launch, yet the streamers continued to play — delivering the same continued impact that the campaign set out to achieve but without the cost to EA.
So why are they still here, long after the sponsorship money has dried up? On the one hand, the game is great fun. By all accounts it’s genuinely a fantastic product.
However it’s the mechanics of Twitch, and the relationship between influencer and fan, that can tell us how to make our own influencer drives click.
A successful influencer campaign needs to give the influencer more than just cash. Twitch is predominantly an audience led platform. You need to keep people coming back to your channel regularly, and throwing unexpected content in their faces can quickly drive viewers away. I think this is true of any genuine influencer relationship — it should provide them with additional value for their existing output, not a clumsily shoe-horned in product placement.
The other key learning is not to forget the fans. Not only do you need to appeal to them to sell your product, but what Apex has shown us is that the streamers have kept on playing the game because their followers want to see it. There’s been a hugely positive response as fans get involved and form their own relationship with the brand — benefitting both EA and the individual streamers who rely on growing audiences for revenue. This pairing has seen the relationship develop beyond simple paid placement and we will no doubt see branded tournaments and bespoke sponsorship deals in the near future. This seems (and is) simple — but it’s so often overlooked. A truly two-way relationship can bring benefits for years without seeming contrived or forced — think Casey Neistat and his near constant use of Boosted Boards and DJI drones. He loves using them so he features them regularly, and his audience have adopted them into part of their own relationship with him as a creator.
At Flying Object, we’ve worked on a lot of influencer driven projects — mostly with YouTube creators. The most successful campaigns have never been about the money. For us, the biggest impact has come when we’ve given influencers the chance to make the content they know their audiences want to see. We’ve taken them around the world to offer their followers a glimpse into another part of their favourite stars’ lives, and allowed them to tell their stories in a voice their fans are familiar with.
Like Apex Legends, we’ve always approached influencer campaigns with a view to hitting the right note with both creator and community, not just chasing the biggest numbers. Ten creators who will share their (genuine) experience of your brand with their 50,000 attentive fans is worth far more than a one-off feature in front of a million uninterested followers, waiting for the main show to begin. Don’t make a trailer. Star in the movie itself.