Death Stranding: Lessons from Video Game Marketing

November 8, 2019 - Reading Time: 4 minutes

Death Stranding, one of the most highly-anticipated video games of the year, was just released. Whether you’re an avid gamer or a marketer with other hobbies, there is much to learn from the marketing team behind the game.

We took a closer look at some of their marketing activities; here are some takeaways.

A Good Trailer Arouses Curiosity

Video game trailers are amazing and the trailers for Death Stranding are no exception. Cinematic and jaw-droppingly beautiful, these trailers are made to get audiences interested and invested (both emotionally and financially).

They also tend to be pretty cryptic, story-wise, as one would expect. Death Stranding, however, took this to a whole new level. In fact, its premise is so arcane, it became a running joke in the comments section.

You can watch two of the trailers below and see if you can decipher what the game is about.

What’s the lesson here?

A good trailer doesn’t reveal all. In fact, the less it reveals, the more interest it garners. We are not advocating for all trailers to be as disorienting as Death Stranding’s. (There’s a reason Death Stranding is able to get away with confusing its audience this much; we will explore this later.) Our point is this: to pique interest, there has to be an element of mystery. Brands need to keep their audience hooked and wanting to find out more. A trailer that arouses curiosity makes a great hook.

Stories Sell

The story behind Death Stranding remains a key feature in almost all of its trailers. Stories are powerful marketing tools that have been an important part of video game marketing for a long time. A compelling story gets people interested. A well-told story creates hype. That is why game developers invest a good deal in creating cinematic trailers that solely focus on introducing players to the game’s lore and premise. Gameplay is often explored in separate trailers. You can see this strategy employed by the team behind Death Stranding as well as other game developers.

Games with solid storytelling, such as The Last of Us, Heavy Rain and the Uncharted series, have gained both critical and commercial success. Stories tap into emotions and emotion is the basis upon which most buying decisions are made. The functionality of your product is critical to the success of your product but if you have a great story attached, half the battle is already won.

The Power of Influencers

Despite being a video game, Death Stranding has enough star power to rival an Avengers film.

It will feature The Walking Dead actor, Norman Reedus, as the protagonist. Guillermo del Toro, Mads Mikkelsen and Léa Seydoux are also part of the main cast of characters. Players can also expect to run into minor characters played by celebrities like Conan O’Brien and Edgar Wright.

Even Hideo Kojima, the creator of the game himself, is a big reason why there’s so much hype surrounding the game. Known as the brains behind the highly successful and influential Metal Gear Solid franchise, Kojima has been labelled an auteur of video games and listed as one of the top video game creators of all time. With Kojima’s influence, coupled with an impressive celebrity lineup, it is no wonder Death Stranding gained so much attention and interest despite its bewildering trailers.

Name recognition is important in marketing. Use influencers to raise awareness of your brand or product. It may be an old tactic but it’s one that still works, even when it comes to selling video games.

Be on Different Mediums

Death Stranding’s marketing team isn’t content to just upload trailers on YouTube. The game was also promoted at major gaming events like the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) and the Tokyo Game Show.

Kojima Productions also recently kicked off a global launch tour called the “World Strand Tour”, which Hideo Kojima himself will attend. Much like how the game is about connecting people, the aim of the tour is for Kojima to reach out to fans from all over the world.

Apart from the global tour, Kojima Productions also tapped into television and Spotify to promote the game. Kojima was featured on Conan, a late-night talk show hosted by Conan O’Brien, where he gave the host a tour of his office. The clip aired on television and is also available to watch on YouTube.

To reach out to young music lovers, the team also released a Spotify playlist that includes “tracks from the soundtrack, trailers and other songs inspired by the game”. There’s nothing like great music to get you hyped and to give you a sense of what the game is like.

With the vast number of marketing platforms out there, the days of sticking to one form of media are long gone.  Be where your audience is. That includes every platform they are on – online or offline.

The video game industry is expected to become a $300 billion industry by 2025. With mobile gaming, VR gaming and cloud gaming gaining traction, game developers are going to need to get creative to grab a piece of the pie. As marketers, we should always be on the lookout for innovative marketing tactics and campaigns, regardless of which industry they emerge from.

The video game industry, however, is a good place to start.





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