For the last decade, Valve’s STEAM platform has been the premier videogame marketplace and social space for gamers. Game developers can sell and advertise their products through the platform, and gamers are given an endlessly customizable network through which they can find friends and participate in a surprisingly deep virtual economy.
It’s powered by software that can make personalized recommendations based on what the customer wants based on past purchases, trending videogames within the user’s social circle, and scalable pricing which finds the perfect spot for consumers on the supply & demand curve.
Yes, I’m a total nerd. But I’m also a marketer, and the STEAM platform combines big data and artistry to take its place at the forefront of the field of marketing and the multibillion dollar videogame industry. Here are a few things they’ve done to stay at the top of the pack:
STEAM Sales are legit.
Like many online retailers, STEAM users will receive automated e-mails alerts notifying them when a game on their wishlist is available at a discount.
STEAM takes it a step further with their STEAM Sales, which are timed for peak gaming seasons during the holidays and Summer periods. Each sale is marketed and branded like an event: they’re virtual Black Fridays featuring sales on hundreds of games, which frenzied gamers across the Internet promote amongst each other.
The discounts themselves are fantastic – prices are slashed up to 80% – but are only part of the appeal. Certain sales donate their proceeds to a charity, or highlight indie game developers that get lost in the shuffle of big-budget AAA titles. Other deals will offer several videogames in bundles that allow you to set your own price. The flexibility of STEAM’s pricing allows for a variety of demographics to find their unique price point in the traditionally expensive hobby of gaming.
Generally, younger consumers trust endorsements from their friends or like-minded individuals over professional criticism and review. This is perfect for the growing niche of young gamers, who post on forums, watch YouTube videos, and read blogs to keep a finger on the pulse of what’s hot.
The STEAM Friends List shows you what games your friends are playing at the moment, what videogames they play most frequently, what they plan to purchase in the future. There is also an active forum community in place to discuss games and hardware.
If you wonder why teenagers and young adults are leaving traditional social media like Facebook and Twitter, it’s because platforms like STEAM allow for them to interact with their friends in the ways that they want to.
A Real Marketplace of Virtual Items
This is a very specific form of marketing personalization, but one that is perhaps the ultimate outcome of the field: players can design, market, and sell their own in-game items and videogame “mods” to other players.
Older videogames and fan-favorites are kept current and updated at no cost to the developer: it’s all outsourced to the community as a labor of love. STEAM customers are given the tools to develop new levels, items, and game modes for existing products. Individuals can freely create and sell these products, and in return, STEAM receives a cut of the transaction.
Designing, flipping, and trading items can literally become a full-time job for dedicated users. There is a real chance for user-generated content to become part of the official game – the popular series Team Fortress, Counter-Strike, and DOTA, for example, were actually conceived as modifications to existing games and have become multi-million dollar franchises in their own right.
The videogame industry is so closely tied with new innovations in technology and communication that it’s kind of always been on the forefront of marketing personalization. STEAM is perhaps the field’s most coherent example of excellent marketing: a platform that’s price-scalable, responsive to the needs and wants of its consumers, and constantly adding value to itself by outsourcing customization/development to its created community.
Point being: STEAM just works really, really well, and any marketer looking at extending the longevity of their existing products and creating an active community around its services would benefit from following Valve’s example.