When Marketing and Rebooting Retro Video Games…
Video game marketing, at least retro video games, is a lot like rebooting an old movie. This much I’ve found to be true. How exactly? Segmentation-Targeting-Positioning still matters. In fact, a LOT. Let’s take a close look how. Let us use Wreck It Ralph as an example. The 2012 Disney hit racked up $497 million at the box office worldwide and another $130 million in domestic DVD sales. The budget? All of $165 million per Wikipedia. What does my math say? 3.8X ROI. Even before international DVD sales and rentals! Personally I love this movie. Both for its “life lessons” teaching moments for us parents. And for the healthy nostalgia to bring back fond gaming memories… And not to mention inspiring a new generation of Generation Z and Generation Alphas to the gaming world.
What did Wreck It Ralph Do Right to Reach Its Audience? Let’s Find Out
First and foremost, who is (ARE) Wreck It Ralph’s target audience(s)? First there are the gamer dads and moms.
Demographically Precision Targeted at Dads and Moms 35-55
First, gamers aged 8 to 18 between about 1980 and 1999 would today be as young as 30 and as old as 58. What are those games we loved? This “Golden Age of Video Games” gave us such fan favorites as Qbert, Asteroids, Pac Man, Donkey Dug, Tapper and more in the 80s. As well as early PvP competitive games, whether FPS shooters like Quake, Doom, Duke Nukem (like I love as my personal video game GOAT greatest of all time) as well as 1v1 PvP combat action titles like Streetfighter and Mortal Kombat.
A fan and student of the video game industry? Then you would recognize many instances of crossovers. Retro video games crossing over and being made into a new animated or live action movies. As well as examples of video game reboot of an older movie or TV IP, being reimagined on a game platform.
Understandably the games we played, like the music we listened to, bring us back to simpler days and memories. I’d venture to say the Disney studio team did a thorough job of market research and consumer insights. Wonder why? First, to pinpoint which retro video games had the highest “awareness” and positive “favorability” among the target Dads and Moms. Second to laser focus on the precise messages and creatives, to best activate our deep-rooted emotions of nostalgia and euphoria. Don’t believe me? Keep reading.
A Healthy Dose of Visual “Memory Lane” Nostalgia for Aging Dads
Even during the “Wreck It Ralph” trailer debuted September 2012, this much was clear. Anyone who grew up with the arcades of the 80s and 90s recognizes the video game icons of the day.
Visual associations of Donkey Kong, Pac Man, Qbert, Streetfighter, and More Stimulate the “Gamer Dad” Brains in under 150 seconds
If you paid close attention to the movie’s launch trainer, you’ll notice it included a barrage of visual associations:
- “Hero’s Duty” the title of which reminds us first-person shooter fans of “Call of Duty”
- Gameplay of Fix It Felix (from the 2D retro pixelated layout, to the large oversized monster – aka Ralph – wrecking and destroying a red brick building that must be fixed – reminds us of “Donkey Kong”
- Visuals of Pac Man and Miss Pac Man
- Street Fighter good and bad guys from Bison and Zangief to martial artists Ken and Ryu
- Cute and lovable Qbert and simple mindless fun of Tapper
One can defensibly argue the awareness and discovery and emotional appeal to the gamer dads and moms is sufficient to ensure both pent-up demand, viewing intent at the box office. One that translated even after the game was released to DVD and rentals, into significant DVD sales and rental revenue again.
But what about new consumers? What about Millennials or Gen-Z who did NOT grow up with these games from the Golden Era?
Exploring New Worlds and Meeting New Friends? Associations of life stage changes, encouraging Gamer Dads (and Moms) to Introduce the Movie to Their Kids.
Here Disney does something really clever. Needless to say, the Disney brand convinces the aging gamer dads and moms that the movie is safe and appeals to families with kids. More importantly, what do dads and moms want more than anything in the whole wide world?
He’s Got One Chance to Play the Hero. Emotional Appeal to Gamer Dads to Be the Hero to Their Kids
The next message really hits home for parents. Wreck It Ralph was said to be nine feet tall. Vannelope von Schweetz was all of three feet six inches tall. The sheer size difference and the humorous exchanges between them? Something that reminds many dads, gamers or not, of the relationships between ourselves and our kids. This emotional appeal to dads truly pulled at the heartstrings.
In clear large captions, Dads and Moms are reminded this was a Story for Everyone.
When watching this trailer for the first time, a lot of dads felt inspired – that this was a “Must See” with the family and kids. Whatever the nature of that relationship may be, Dads and Moms were seeing themselves in the shoes of Wreck It Ralph, to fill in the blank of how the story directly appeals to them (think personalization and user-generated content.) Of course we had to see how the story ultimately unfolds. Just in case, any doubts remained?
But how would it appeal to the kids? No retro video game or movie reboot would be complete, if it didn’t successfully create appeal to multiple demographics. Right?
What about the “Kid” and “Generation Alpha” appeal? Here the Disney studio team went a completely different direction. Retro and Reboots mean nothing to someone who was never exposed to the intellectual property (IP) the first time.
The kids are instead treated to “Retro Is the New Cool” in the movie. Just as the little girl with glasses was playing with Hero’s Duty and accidentally saw the clearly out-of-place, from-another-bygone-era Wreck It Ralph in the game, the kids of Gamer Dads can expect to see:
Visual 3D Rendered Colors and both Environment and Character Art Popularized by Pixar, with a Speed of Storytelling that Generation Alphas Find Familiar and Expect
Beautiful 3D Models and Animated Characters with fully rendered and vibrant colors.
Unconvinced? Look at the prominent shading in vibrant colors on the face of Sergeant Calhoun. As well as the vivid rendering using millions of colors.
Another Legal Drug that Kids Absolutely Adore – Sugar and Sweets
While Generation Alphas knew little to nothing about retro video games, there’s one thing they CAN and DO love. When asked if he or she loves candy and sweets, the exception are those kids who say NO. The subliminal message here? Do you love candy and sweets? If Yes, you will want to watch the visual eye-candy that IS this movie.
Oh, and the fan art like the Deviantart creation of all of the Wreck It Ralph retro video game chararacters, in one place? User Generated Content and celebration of a Disney reboot of not one, but a combination of beloved video game characters and content in one place. Brave, Disney. Can we say, loved by Gen Z and Generation Alpha?
Like movies, like video games. Like I said, when marketing retro video games? There are a LOT of lessons learned from the movies… and vice versa. Deja vu. Reboot!