A couple months ago, we wrote about influencer marketing as a marketing channel for gaming. Today, we want to discuss the rise of virtual influencers, a niche that we believe will see increasing interest as more and more brands begin to explore their metaverse identities.
First, what is a virtual influencer? A virtual influencer is a digital character that is given a personality defined by a first-person view of the world, and made accessible on media platforms for the sake of influence (VirtualHumans.org).
The most popular examples of virtual influencers in gaming is the digital K-pop group K/DA, created by Riot Games (League of Legends). The group was initially born from Riot’s desire to explore musical content, promote the League World Championship, and to sell in-game K/DA skins for the characters Evelynn, Kai’Sa, Ahri, and Akali. However, since their debut at the 2018 LoL World Championships, the group has hit a far wider reach than many anticipated, with their music video topping Billboard's World Digital Song Sales chart and surpassing 100m views on YouTube within the first month (472m at the time of writing). The group has also “collaborated” with Louis Vuitton, which subsequently was tied to in-game sales of Louis Vuitton skins for their matching playable characters (Nylon).
Why use virtual influencers?: In our piece on influencer marketing, we pointed out three key considerations when crafting an influencer marketing strategy: choosing the right format and channel, choosing the right influencers to tie the brand to, and defining your strategy and how you measure success. Virtual influencers mitigate many of the potential pitfalls we highlighted:
Additionally, virtual influencers that are associated with a specific brand have the ability to bring new life to the brand’s image as they bring in a new following of consumers. Geico, one of the older users of a digital-native identity, has been using their Geico Gecko since 2000 and is one of the most recognizable digital personas (USA Today). Mattel’s Barbie has also adopted a digital “Vtuber” personna to stay connected with fans through sharing tips on makeup, cooking, DIY, tutorials, fashion, and other topics (Prestige). The YouTube channel now has almost 11m subscribers (YouTube).
On the other hand, these types of influences have unique pitfalls that are specific to this form of media:
Takeaway: Virtual influencers can be very powerful and scalable for gaming companies to use and we have seen evidence (through games like LoL and gaming-specific Vtubers) that gaming consumers are receptive to this type of marketing; games are after all filled with imagined characters and made up worlds. We believe that in addition to IP extensions, the use of virtual influencers can be extended to other areas of the gaming industry such as esports and game discovery. However, it is critical to highlight the importance of authenticity and transparency with your player base in crafting each influencer’s daily interactions and personal history.