Borderlands 2 and the Golden Keys of Social Media
To kick this for those unfamiliar with Borderlands (seriously it's awesome, check it out) here is the trailer from the first game:
The Original Borderlands Trailer
Okay now that's out of the way let's talk marketing! A big selling point of the original Borderlands is the number of guns available - 97 gazillion in fact. Yep I counted them all, that or gazillion is a made up word. But netherless Borderlands is about guns, guns and more guns. There's also RPG elements and other stuff. Anyway this isn't about the first Borderlands but about the sequel - Borderlands 2.
So what are these Golden Keys?
In Borderlands 2 they introduced 'Golden Keys' - these are perhaps one of the most simple yet effective forms of marketing I've seen in gaming somewhat recently. Golden Keys were obtained by entering SHIFT codes into one of the main menus in Borderlands 2 (as well as in the Presequel and other games). Then in the main hub of the game you could open up a special chest with these keys to unlock guns that were randomly generated from a list. In short - get code from social media (ie Facebook), enter code into game, play game and lastly open chest to get free guns. Profit.
So let's take a look at what one of their Facebook posts looks like:
(Also please note they have a time limit, sorry this one is expired)
Why this strategy works:
Let's discuss some key points that helped make this strategy so successful:
Borderlands 2 is primarily a player-versus-environment (pve) game
Some of the success of the original Borderlands can be contributed to word-of-mouth (wom) marketing (friend referrals)
Guns, shields etc. cannot be purchased with real money (except for rare exceptions) which does not interfere with any monetization startegy.
A major element of character progression and growth is by acquiring new or different guns (as mentioned before that the original had 97 gazillion)
How do these benefit the creators:
So now you're wondering how exactly these golden keys are awesome. Well....
They are giving the player something for free (good will) and as mentioned before it has some significance and value to them. Good will helps in maintaining and growing your player base and your brand/s (both game and as a developer or publisher)
They are encouraging people to log in more regularly which means:
It increases retention for current players who are then more likely to buy dlc, refer the game etc
It generates brand awareness as player's friends see them playing Borderlands 2 (ie friends lists on Steam, PlayStation, Xbox) which may lead to an increase in sales
It may eventually become a habit and that's when the game becomes a part of your schedule... as well as a part of a player's identity (bit similar to daily/weekly quests)
It helps increase player engagement with their social media pages:
Therefore it means they have more organic (non-paid) reach for updates on sequels, dlc, announcements etc. (which is valuable for filtered social media like Facebook which has shown a yearly decrease in organic traffic)
People are more likely to like, share, retweet these posts (once more contributing to word of mouth and a larger reach) because it is of their interest
It also increases the amount of people who follow them on the various social media (which helps with concepts like 'social proof')
It potentially gives analytical information on:
When to post social media content (ie if the keys are regularly posted they can test when is most efficient by eliminating other variables)
The 'lifespan' of a player which can help in determining the time between dlc content releases
The difference between platform behaviour (such as do their social media followers use Xbox, PlayStation or Steam; as well as if it increases after sales etc)
The 'value' and the Return of Investment (ROI) of their social media
The Golden Chest From Borderlands 2
I'm not experienced in coding or networking or anything of that sort of field however I would be under the impression this would be relatively easy to do (code = key, and then it pulls from a table of randomly generated possibilities). So the potential benefits can outweigh the effort needed. Moving forward a huge element in gaming will be ways to adapt the game so it can be integrated into other aspects of marketing or just in general. Gearbox with their Golden Keys shows a very solid way on how it can be done.
Now I should mention Gearbox and Borderlands 2 is probably not the first game to do this nor are they the only one. I remember seeing Bandai Namco try something similar with one of their 3DS Dragon Ball Z games and costumes for it. Plus I have heard a couple mobile developers do something similar with a password style feature. However it seems very few developers do this as most instead go for something such as a free skin for following them on social media (ie Smite and League of Legends). This may work for them as they have other solid social media strategies to back them up. However as social media strays away from followers and more into retention it is important to have marketing strategies and tactics in place to accommodate this. So in conclusion could you possibly use something similar a game you are working with? Just keep in mind the variables that helped with Borderlands 2 (and maybe not so much with Battleborn... but that's another story) and how it compares to your game. Good luck!
Written by Kaydos
Kaydos likes Borderlands 2 so much he did a game design video on how it improved the tutorial section. Nerdy stuff - watch it here. If you want to talk video game marketing hit him up at firstname.lastname@example.org