End The Influencers

End The Influencers

Posted by on Sep 11, 2017 in Editorial

It appears the Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg is at it once more. Over the weekend, the popular live-streamer casually dropped the n-word while playing PUBG, and naturally, it did not go unnoticed by the Internet At Large. I was only made vaguely aware of it through reactions of the people I follow and had to look up the specifics this morning, but this post had already been knocking around in my head before the details were made clear. Clearer, I should say.

The video games industry likes chasing shinies and the somewhat recent adoption of the term “influencers” is the latest example. Like so many things these days the term “influencers” has no specific meaning, but we know it when we see it: a person, usually a young, attractive person, using his or her own know-how and personality, employs technological tools available to them in this day and age to garner a large following of other apparently like minded people who tune in to watch, listen, or read what they have to say and what they do. People tend to like these people because they appear personable, and are either good at what they do or are so comically bad at what they do that they’re actually good at what they do (welcome to Irony 2017). Companies like these people because with the right partnership details, they can gain access to a potential pool of thousands to millions of new or existing customers through hip, non-traditional channels.

It seems to me, though, that this non-traditional marketing scheme is just a minefield of bad decisions for game companies. When they contract these kids to promote their products, they’re applying the old world constraints (i.e. threats to the partner’s livelihood by pulling sponsorship) to new world players (i.e. people whose audience is loyal to them, not the company). Unless there’s actual legal action that a company can leverage to decimate the content creator, it doesn’t seem to me that losing sponsorship is going to affect mega-streamers like Kjellberg in the slightest. In fact, I don’t think Kjellberg’s antics are going to have much of an effect on his viewership. On top of that, the younger these partners are the less…let’s say “refined”…they potentially are. When pre-teens are making extremely popular Minecraft videos, then any company willing to go after anyone carting around significant viewership is probably going to willfully overlook the fact that these partners aren’t going to understand how to behave in the best interest of the company that’s sponsoring them (which has got to be a concern for the company, even when it’s not for the kid).

I think we instinctively know the dance that companies engage in when they partner with these “influencers”. First, they’re excited to announce the partnership, because it’s a message to the existing audience that they’re “cool by association” if their celebrity is willing to endorse their product. Things might go well forever — there are legions of straight-up legitimate content creators out there who people love for all the right reasons, don’t get me wrong — but when they fall apart, they fall apart in spectacular fashion. Kjellberg had partnerships with Disney and YouTube until his anti-Semetic “comedy” garnered widespread attention. People who were quick to claim that they never cared about him suddenly had an opinion on Kjellberg (as is the way of the Internet), yet he kept on trucking. In light of his recent public debacle, we’re getting reports that other companies are put up DMCA take-down notices of his playthroughs of their games, leading me to wonder why they didn’t do that during his first public firestorm. But once again, he’ll be extremely popular; in fact, there are already cases of people saying that his behavior is “typical gamer behavior”, and while it might not be your behavior, nor is it my behavior, it must be someone‘s behavior because millions of people still don’t see enough of a problem with him to abandon him. Do the math. The sad and pathetic math.

Personally, I think it’s about time companies started examining their attachment to “influencers”. It’s a stupid concept, anyway, and it’s leading to a culture where if you’re not someone you’re no one. I and others have talked about Fortnite‘s “Streamer Missions” as a mechanism which withholds gameplay perks from those who can’t or doesn’t want to participate in streaming culture, and on some levels it’s creating an environment where those who are “useful” to the companies are elevated and expect that everyone else is just a wallet that opens on the “influencer’s” command. If companies want to continue to take their chances that their latest wunderkind isn’t going to burn their brand down through association, that’s their business, I suppose. As someone who’d been gaming for over 30 years now, I’m old-school enough to prefer a company that’s interested in fostering its own community through, you know, not hiding behind shitty kids just to get easy access to a ready-made army of consumers. I just don’t get the feeling that companies are all that into my and my demographic, though.

    8 Comments

  1. I’ve never been comfortable with ‘influencers’ and lately, they’re everywhere. It raises people above others for no other reason except whatever criteria the game company / stream company / sponsors have and it fosters a “better than the rest” attitude. I understand the idea behind it, and influencers think it’s great because they get special perks that the rest of the masses don’t get / have to pay for – but what happened to passionate people being rewarded for sharing a positive experience instead of it being all about the numbers. So many streamers have a ‘hitch’ a ‘catch’ these days. A ‘gimmick’ to their streams. I have no interest in any of this. I’m also not interested in catering to an audience who wants this. In the end though, it all comes down to $$ and eyes on you means $$. It doesn’t matter if it’s a good experience so long as you have the numbers.

    • “what happened to passionate people being rewarded for sharing a positive experience instead of it being all about the numbers”

      This also came to MY mind this morning! I know blogging isn’t as sexy as it used to be, but there’s a lot of people out there who have been supporting titles for YEARS without so much as a wave in their direction. They’re still doing it, though, without millions of page views or ulterior motives aside from the fact that they love the game. Now, I’m sure many streamers also love the games they play, but there’s more emphasis on the live streaming these days.

  2. First of all… PREACH!

    I am so very on-board with your message here. I don’t get why you and I don’t matter to marketing teams when we keep seeing demographic studies that show the median age of a gamer is somewhere in the 30s. Yet companies seem to want to cater strictly to teenagers.

    • That is the question of the century! Also, since if the people we know who are IN the games industry are representative, it’s not like the games INDUSTRY is totally skewing younger either! Maybe it has to do with disposable income theory. Or maybe it’s ALL about which demographic is spending more time OUTSIDE of the game talking about the game (+ or -) in verified venues, and who feels comfortable engaging with other people. As merketeers, we’re not the BEST people to carry their message, TBH. We don’t tend to reach out, and sometimes actively shun other people. Maybe that’s the benefit of targeting the youngsters despite the sales figures. I dunno.

  3. As the demographics tell us, the games companies already have the 30+ audience. They need the generation, generation -and-a-half below that. Just because video games have been – and still to an extent are – seen as cool, youth thing doesn’t mean they always will be. If (when) video gaming becomes something children and teenagers perceive as a typical interest of their parents’ generation then who knows whether they’ll keep buying?

    I’m not saying that’s a likely development but marketeers run as much on fear as they do on belief. Having those “influencers” on board is in part a hedge against that fear, although the degree to which streamers and vloggers genuinely do influence their followers shouldn’t be discounted. I don’t know about the commercial effect on the video games themsleves but i can tell you from personal experience that vloggers and streamers shift a LOT of units when it comes to the books publishers manage to spin off from their online activities.

    • I have no doubt that “influencers” are actually influential among their demographic. As someone who grew up and continues to grow up relying either on my friends or just diving in and suffering the consequences, I am not attached to the idea that some random jaboni’s opinion is any better (or worse, really) than that of people I trust based on tried and true similarities and differences. I guess also what you say about having the 30+ demographic kind of self-sustaining makes sense, so marketing focuses its energy on those “not yet formed” as consumers through these personalities.

      But damn if it doesn’t make things look BAD when stuff like this goes down. There’s a web going on here: as a 43 year old can I claim association with a demographic that is represented by this kind of behavior? If someone sees me through their antics and is content with their stereotyped opinion, that bothers me as such a thing would bother anyone. And game companies relying on this just to reach the younger generation seems…misplaced, in a way. Like getting the right people for the wrong reasons or somesuch.

  4. On ‘The Bachelor’ the other nite one of the guys career title was “social media influencer”. As much as seeing a grown ass adult trying to proclaim himself that both made me lol and want to throw up at the same time, it’s just come to that now. Businesses literally hire online personalities to pimp their products. Its a career path.

    • Wow…just wow. I GUESS if you can make your own title and get people to pay for it, it’s a win, but…wow.

What do you think?