Student Outlook: To Get More Superfans, “Game On”

Guest post by Alec Steinfeld (UG ’13). We encourage feedback and commentary on all Student Outlook contributions. Leave a comment below or tweet us at @NYUMusicBiz

As I drive down the Miami shoreline, the car’s engine howls as it shifts into top gear. The wind gushes in my face, and I’m having a blast. One of my favorite songs plays on the radio, Tom Petty’s “Refugee.” Then, I run over a crowd of people.

This scenario didn’t happen in real life. Instead, the experience was a fantasy played out in the Rockstar videogame “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.” I played this game when I was a kid and, despite the risque subject matter, acquired lasting memories of my virtual experience. Amazingly though, what has continued to stick with me after all these years has not been the gameplay itself, but rather the lasting connection I made with the game’s musical soundtrack.

The game was a period piece in a sense. The setting was Miami’s glitzy and drugged out heyday in the 1980s. The music reflected this context and played a variety of hits from the era. I grew to really enjoy this soundtrack. However, I now realize my liking of these songs would not have come to be had I heard them independent of another medium. The game told a powerful story providing the context for the music to connect on a personal level.

The put this into context for those who have little experience with video games, think back to your favorite movie. Now, think of the most exciting, emotionally charged scene in this film. Most likely, this moment had a musical soundtrack driving the emotional direction of the scene. And, most likely, you remember the music playing during this moment.

Now think, in a world where the average person is bombarded with information, including music from a variety from a variety of other competing artists, keeping your (at the very least recorded) music memorable now takes more effort or creativity. Studies have shown humans process information visually at a much higher rate than any other external medium. This is the reason why info graphics online are much more effective delivering and inevitably retaining information in the human mind. Now, combine this medium within a visual and interactive context. These findings lead to a time tested and not remarkably novel conclusion: music plus visuals leads to a lasting impression.

Surprisingly enough, the music industry has yet to grasp the resonate power games can make on fans and consumers. While television and movies combine music with a visual medium, video games adds another further solidifying variable: interactivity. The plasticity of and control over a game’s design also leads to benefits over previously used combined mediums. Whereas there are complicated human elements to creating movies and even music videos, game designers can tailor and experience specifically for musical content and vice versa. As a result, we obtain a visceral experience that connects with fans.

Now that we understand the benefits games have when interacting with fans, here are a few pointers to keep in mind before making that call to Xbox.

The Material Must Speak for Itself

While the dissemination of technology has made producing a record easier than ever, and in turn creating a need to find ways to “rise above the noise,” the same has happened within the gaming industry. Finding a designer for your game can now be much cheaper and even decent on a relatively small budget. However, this means the consumers of games have myriad options to choose of all the games out there.

Here we have a catch-22. While the hope for aligning your music to games attempts to rise above te noise, the game will have to do the same among others in the competing marketplace. So, before you make an investment or spend the effort pitching your music to game companies, remember that the game will also have to be memorable for your music to be memorable. Or even worse, your game may even be associated with a bad experience.

(A screenshot from "Skrillex Quest")

A Catalyst: From Fan to Superfan

After years of tinkering, artists have finally figured out how to reach as many people as possible through online tools. With email lists, promoted posts, Twitter feeds, Tumblrs and Kickstarters, bands have the greatest number of tools they have ever had in being able to reach out to fans and non-fans alike. Yet, bands have yet to fully utilize tools that foster fan engagement and in turn retention.

Superfans hold the key to a band’s financial success. After bands acquire interested users – by playing shows, streaming their album on blogs, promoting their material on the social web – their extended success, at least in monetary terms, rests extensively on engaging in interactive platforms (akin to the 80-20 rule). Games hold just one answer to this question, and if handled well, can pay extended dividends.

But again, your game cannot just be another touch point to cast a super wide net for your fan base. Remember the goal: engagement. In order to engage, you must have a strong comprehension of who is in your fan base. Do your due diligence on who has shown to conntect personally with your music. Ask: why did they experience this connection? Answering this question will provide the grounds as to how you and your band would like to move forward.

Player 1 Press Start

Some artists have already taken this initiative. Take electronic dance music artist Skrillex. He recently releases Skrillex Quest (skrillexquest.com), a free online game with the backing of the artist’s electronic dance motifs. The game does a great job of integrating story, gameplay, and the music of an artist.

Online platforms present numerous paths to connect with fans on a personal level, and gaming could lead the way. Keep on the lookout for more music-inspired games in the near future.