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The Role of Information Cascades in Video Games

One subtle and surprisingly effective marketing strategy is “word of mouth.” In a Forbes article, Kimberly Whitler argues that word of mouth is the most important form of ‘social media,’ claiming that consumers trust word of mouth marketing “above all others.” Whitler goes on to describe three significant word of mouth case studies to illustrate the power of word of mouth marketing. Depend, a company advertising adult briefs, employed the help of celebrities and football players in their advertisement. The company simply asked the athletes and celebrities (people who clearly do not need adult briefs) to try the briefs on, give their earnest opinion on the product, and ask the public to try the briefs as well. Depend reported a 720% increase in product requests in comparison to a prior product launch the previous year. Thus, word of mouth marketing is an effective strategy to gain popularity for a product. At its core, however, word of mouth marketing is simply an information cascade on a broad scale. Influential consumers (athletes and celebrities) claimed they liked the Depend briefs, so other consumers decided they wanted to try them too. In this example, all of the criteria for an information cascade is met for an information cascade. First, there is a decision with the same options, whether or not to try the briefs, to make. Next, people made decisions in a sequence, and one can see the sequence, since the celebrities first tried the briefs which allowed others to then make their decisions. Furthermore, each consumer had their own private information to help them, a the good review they chose from athletes. Finally, consumers could see what earlier decision makers, the athletes and celebrities, did, but not what they had.

Now imagine a similar scenario, but this time the directed audience is children and young adults. Video games such as Fortnite, Call of Duty, Pokemon, and Minecraft are all made with a younger audience, 8-18, in mind. Imagine how much more powerful word of mouth advertising is for kids than adults. Most children and teens are constantly obsessed with the latest trends and heavily concerned with what their peers think. Thus, younger children and teens want many of the things that their peers have and vice versa. Minecraft, which has sold over 22 million copies worldwide, relied solely on word of mouth marketing at first. Because many kids gave it a good review to their friends, many more began to play the game, propelling Minecraft into the video game hall of fame. While Minecraft is a few years old to date, Fortnite emerged in the previous year as the most popular video game due to word of mouth alone. Fortnite streamers like Ninja are making millions of dollars by playing this game alone, and the primary marketing strategy for Fortnite has been by word of mouth. EpicGames, the developer of Fortnite, facilitates word of mouth marketing in many ways, such as shareable replays where users can send their favorite clips to their friends. However, Fortnite streamers play a major role in the information cascade surrounding Fortnite. Ninja, for instance, in Season 3 of the game suggested that EpicGames should introduce “vending machines” where players can buy various guns for materials. In the next few updates, EpicGames released the vending machines in Fortnite. Many players supported the decision because they saw their favorite streamer come up with an idea, and they then decided to support the idea to follow suit. Similarly, Ninja supported the removal of the Tommy Gun in Season 5 of the game, and many supporters agreed, leading to the removal of the Tommy Gun. Streamers and YouTubers that play Fortnite can be considered as influencers, similar to the athletes and celebrities, in which their opinion sparks a whole cascade of opinions within the Fortnite community.


Information cascades play an even greater role in multiplayer games like Fortnite and Call of Duty because a major appeal to the games is that pretty much everyone else is playing them. If one person likes the game enough, influencing their friends to play, who in turn influence their friends to play, the game’s popularity skyrockets. The converse, however, is also true, since one player can give a negative review of a game, causing everyone else to avoid playing it. As a result, the evolution of multiplayer video games has placed a greater role on information cascades to promote their popularity. Thus, while major games like Battlefield and Call of Duty advertise traditionally now, many of the popular games today relied on word of mouth marketing, which at its core is an information cascade on a broad scale.



‘Minecraft’ and the Power of Word-of-Mouth


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October 2018