An Ultimate Guide on Email Marketing for the Gaming Industry

An Ultimate Guide on Email Marketing for the Gaming Industry
07 February, 2024 • ... • 60 views
Daria Zhuravleva
by Daria Zhuravleva

The gaming industry has its specific marketing channels like Steam, app stores, Twitch and YouTube streaming, and themed blogs and media. One might think that ASO (app store optimization) for Google Play or regular Steam updates will do a lot more than a newsletter for promoting a video game or a mobile game. While you’re not incorrect, neglecting email marketing is a missed opportunity.

This article is all about email marketing for a gaming company. Keep reading to learn about the benefits of gaming email marketing campaigns and how to do them the right way.

The role of email marketing in the gaming industry

Email marketing is often overlooked by gaming companies — mostly, as we said before, because other industry-specific platforms for gaining traffic and downloads are seen as more relevant. That’s why, when it comes to email campaigns, game developers run them on the leftover principle. It means that gaming emails are sent too often and offer mostly salesy content. As a result, gaming emails have one of the lowest open and click rates compared to other industries. 

So, should you bother? Actually, yes. These statistics shouldn’t discourage you from starting a newsletter to promote your game — here’s why:

  • You can always do better — in the pool of bad gaming emails, you can always do good ones and stand out among the competitors. Truly engaging email campaigns can get open rates of up to 46% — 4 times more than the industry average and an impressive number for any other industry as well. 
  • Emails are a great community-building tool compared to social media. Imagine yelling in a loudspeaker in a crowded street compared to performing a standup in a small bar. Emails are a personal channel by nature, so they allow you to create closer relationships with fans. Video gamers are also a very loyal audience, so once you establish a connection, your subscribers are going to stick around.
  • Emails are not just for players but also influencers and potential partners that will help grow your business.

Finally, emails can be more effective than industry-specific promotional channels. Here’s a great example from Chris Zukowski’s lecture at the Game Developer Conference. He mentioned Butterscotch Shenanigans, a gaming company that created a secret unlockable side quest to draw attention to their older and less popular game. The team ran an A/B test on two channels to attract players to the offer: push notifications and emails. It turned out that emailed players were 2.8 times more likely to play the game! By the way, this is what the email looked like:

Email from Butterscotch Shenanigans that introduces an unlockable character, its race, and backstory
Source: YouTube

It’s not a fancily designed email, it doesn’t even have buttons, only links — but it worked better than push notifications! This is solid proof that gaming emails work if you do them with the right strategies in mind.

Benefits of email marketing for a gaming company

Still not convinced that emails will do any good for your gaming business? Here are some of the benefits of email marketing for video games:

  • Personalized messages. Social media or Steam updates don’t give room for using gamers’ personal data to create unique tailored marketing messages. Meanwhile, dynamic content in email campaigns allows you to automatically send cool content like personalized yearly stats, Spotify Wrapped-style. It’s one of the best strategies in gaming email marketing. You can see a lot of examples of such gaming recaps online — most of them look like this email from Valorant:
Yearly stats email from Valorant showing the player’s rating, shot accuracy, and more
Source: Reddit
  • Guaranteed content delivery. Not all of your audience will check out all your pages on Steam or social media — and, speaking of the latter, many posts tend to drown in the users’ feeds due to the algorithms. Meanwhile, email campaigns land right in each person’s inbox, so fewer people will miss your updates or offers.
  • A higher ROI. The ROI of email marketing campaigns can reach up to $45 for every invested dollar, which is close to impossible with other channels. Don’t sleep on that opportunity!
  • Protection from social media perturbations. You don’t own YouTube, Twitter, or Instagram — these big corporations get bought and sold, and get updates that can negatively impact creators and draw users away. Meanwhile, email campaigns are your channel, unaffected by algorithms or Elon Musk.
  • Potential virality. When it comes to viral content, people mostly think of social media — emails are not public enough for that, right? Wrong! If you create especially good or weird email campaigns, people will post them on Twitter and Reddit, which is free advertising. 

This is an example of the latter. The Far Cry 6 email went viral on Reddit and received 4.5k upvotes. Even though it’s not a good email — as you can see, it has a typo — it turned out effective.

Email from Far Cry written from the perspective of El Presidente and in a lowkey passive-aggressive tone. It also has a typo: “rein” instead of “reign”
Source: Reddit

Building an effective email marketing strategy for a gaming company

Now that you know the benefits of email marketing in game development, let’s learn how to make it work. We’ll tackle all the aspects of an email marketing strategy from building the list to optimizing emails to the moon.

Build your email list

There are many ways to build an email list — for example, including a pop-up on your website, adding a link on your Steam page, or collecting email addresses on social media. But even if you craft the best pop-up form ever, people won’t have an incentive to enter your mailing list. What do you do? Offer a lead magnet.

A lead magnet is a freebie that you give in exchange for subscribing to your list. It’s used in many businesses — for example, Selzy offers expert tips for list growth when users subscribe to the blog digest. In the case of the gaming industry, your lead magnet can be:

  • A PDF with game concept art that hasn’t been published online before
  • An exclusive issue of the game’s soundtrack
  • A bonus mini-game, access to special areas, characters, and side quests
  • A full and detailed digital map of the world where the game is set
  • Exclusive gaming strategy tips that will let your players become top dogs

These are just the basic ideas — feel free to brainstorm your own.  In this example, the company uses in-game content as a lead magnet:

Sonic Superstars subscription form that invites people to subscribe to a newsletter and offers an in-game character’s classic look in return

Choose your email platform

You can’t send bulk promotional emails using regular free email clients like Google or Outlook — to do this, you need email marketing software. Aside from the mass mailing feature, here are other benefits:

  • Better list management. Apps for email marketing allow you to store several separate contact lists, regroup your contacts based on their activity, and more.
  • Higher deliverability. Email marketing software allows you to monitor and improve your deliverability — for example, how many people report your emails as spam. Many tools for email marketing also provide users with dedicated IPs that have a great reputation and ensure you land right in users’ inboxes.
  • Better email design. Email marketing apps offer a stunning choice of beautiful templates for all your email marketing needs. For example, Selzy offers 100+ free responsive email templates. And if none of them is to your liking, you can always build your own using HTML code or the no-code editor.
  • Access to analytics. Each tool for email marketing has an analytics dashboard where you can analyze all your email metrics, assess the efficiency of your efforts, gather insights from your subscribers’ behavior, and seek room for improvement.

There are many offers out there, differing in pricing and unique features. It’s okay if you get a little lost while doing research on your own. Here’s a helping hand — we wrote a guide on how to find the best email marketing service. You can also check out the comparisons of some of the popular email platforms.

Create relevant content

The first thing to remember while implementing email marketing in any industry, including gaming, is that you’re not writing emails for yourself. You need to create content that is worth subscribing to and brings value to the users in your contact list. Here are some examples of how your email content can be valuable:

  • It saves money. This includes offers and bonuses — for example, a promo code for a bunch of free in-game coins.
  • It’s useful. By useful, we mean anything that may help gamers be better at your game if it’s competitive. For example, strategy tips, cheat codes, and more.

Here’s a brilliant example of a tutorial email from Two Dots. Notice how you don’t have to send a 20-page manual to make it work. This guide is short, beautifully illustrated, and fulfills its purpose in the blink of an eye. The email also has a button that redirects subscribers to the game so they can test it out.

Tutorial email from Two Dots that shows how to play Beetle Dots, the copy is brief and well-illustrated for better clarity.
Source: Really Good Emails
  • It’s exclusive. Exclusive means that it’s either only distributed via email or appears there earlier than on other channels. The freshest updates, insider information on how you developed the game, revealing the voice actors, invitations to beta testing features — your imagination is the limit.
  • It’s part of the game. Emails are a great way to feed your subscribers breadcrumbs of complex hidden lore or additional quests. This channel can also be an essential part of your game mechanics, which is often used in alternate reality games.

Here’s an example of the latter. Walker Creek Broadcast Station is an alternate reality game focused on a small town in America where uncanny things are happening. Its main medium is the YouTube channel where a guy named Daniel posts digitalized VHS recordings from the local TV broadcast. But there’s more to it — the game had a newsletter disguised as updates from the official Walker Creek Tourism Bureau. It gave the players more information on what was really wrong with Walker Creek and created an ominous atmosphere. 

A screenshot of a Google Forms survey about the Harvest Festival in Walker Creek, the last question about activities of interest includes a weird “becoming a host” option while other options like fireworks and pumpkin patch seem normal for a local festival.
The “tourism bureau” also seems to like surveys with some interesting choices — note the “Becoming a Host” option that is directly connected to all the scary things happening in the neighborhood. Source: Walker Creek Tourism Bureau

The content “value” can also be just entertainment. For example, in their newsletter, Square Enix provides a selection of game soundtracks every month. Take a look at this January 2024 issue:

An email from Square Enix that promotes a January playlist of game soundtracks available on different streaming platforms

Optimize for engagement

So, you’ve already sent out several email marketing campaigns but you discovered the performance of your emails is below desirable. Don’t rage quit email marketing yet — optimization can help! Email marketing optimization is improving your campaign metrics by tweaking different email elements. It helps you get the most out of your emails, boost ROI, and decrease unsubscribe rate — the latter is especially important. Here are some optimization ideas to try out:

  • Testing subject lines. If you see a decrease in email opens, improving subject lines may help. One common mistake in email marketing for gamers is using boring subjects like “Update #42” — it has no valuable information and gives users no reason to open your email. Instead, try something like “Fixed bugs, new location, and other updates”.
  • Tweaking the copy. You can both experiment with different types of marketing content and improve the writing of existing texts. For example, try using stronger language while asking subscribers to wishlist your game or give donations for development. Instead of “Sorry for bothering you, do you have a minute to add our game to your wishlist, no pressure, sorry again” write a short copy with action verbs.
  • Crafting the perfect CTA. CTA (call-to-action) is arguably the most important element of your email. It’s usually a text on a button that prompts your subscribers to do something for you — wishlist your game, buy in-game coins, leave a review, etc. If you want your email click and conversion rates to skyrocket, test out different CTA copy options, button placements, and design.
  • Improving visuals. Striking high-quality images that fit your game aesthetic and overall email design can do a lot for email engagement.

Let’s take a look at the example of the latter. Notice how well-crafted visuals elevate even the simplest and shortest message — in this case, it’s “Our game is out now”.

A release update email from Team Alto that features a very short copy and high-quality screenshots of the game with pastel colors and beautiful landscapes.
Source: Really Good Emails

Automate email campaigns

Remember when we said that it’s better to use email marketing software instead of regular email clients to send emails? Here’s one more benefit for you: email automation. Automated email marketing campaigns save you time and ease the email marketing management process — you only need to set them up once and they’ll keep running until the end of the world. Automated emails also mimic the feeling of live and real communication since they’re sent in response to user actions or after a certain time has passed.

Here’s an example of an automated welcome email sequence for an indie game development company, as told by Chris Zukowski in the book “Email Marketing Basics for Video Games”:

  1. Lead magnet. This is a freebie you promised in exchange for a subscription.
  2. Lead magnet confirmation. This is an email you send a day or two after the lead magnet to make sure your subscribers have downloaded it.
  3. How’s the water? Two days later, ask your subscribers how they like the free thing you sent them. Write in a conversational tone and ask them something small talk-ish, like “Who’s your favorite video game character?”. Top tip: if the email gets responses, it moves from Promotions to Primary in Gmail, and your sender reputation will be better, which means higher deliverability.
  4. Free tips. In your next email in the sequence, share some tips on playing your game.
  5. Welcome to our community. Invite your subscribers to a subreddit or a Discord server dedicated to your game.
  6. The origin story. Tell your subscribers about yourself, your team, why you created the game, and so on — give them the lore of your company! Note: it shouldn’t be a salesy email, focus on yourselves as people instead. 
  7. Here’s what’s in store. And, once you’ve established the fan-creator relationships with your subscribers, pitch them other games created by your team.

Keep in mind that it’s only an example — you can tweak this sequence to fit your email marketing objectives. The point is, selling all you have at once is a frequent mistake: don’t throw sales pitches until you established a rapport with your subscribers.

Tips to improve email marketing for a gaming company

We discussed how to build an email marketing strategy for promoting video games. Now, let’s talk about how to improve it using best email marketing practices. Save this list to make your emails truly work!

Segment your subscriber list

Email list segmentation is the practice of sending tailored content to certain groups of subscribers. You can create these groups based on demographic or behavioral characteristics — check out our guide on email segmentation ideas to learn more.

Segmentation is a great way to send more relevant emails and “work” with certain groups of people, as in:

  • Improving retention. You can create a segment of subscribers who haven’t been opening or clicking through your emails and send them a win-back email
  • Nudging indecisive users. You can send your subscribers messages that motivate them to create a free account, buy your game (or use in-game purchases), or fool around with new features. In this case, the email content will depend on subscribers’ activity in the game or on your website.
  • Giving useful tips. For example, if your game has three playable characters, you can segment accounts based on which character the users chose, and send them emails with strategy advice and background stories.

One of the ways to implement segmentation right away is by doing it in the subscription form. For example, Thunderful Games invites you to set up which kind of email content you prefer:

Subscription form from Thunderful Games where you can choose to not receive different types of content like news and updates, promotions, newsletters, development updates, and so on
And this is how you resolve the issue of unwanted sales emails that disengage your subscribers in the long run. Source: Thunderful Games

Incorporate interactive elements

Interactive elements in emails are the future of email marketing. They can vastly improve email engagement metrics and are just entertaining. These include GIFs, embedded clickable content like videos, and even built-in games and surveys. Here are some ideas on what interactive content may benefit your gaming emails:

  • GIFs. You can include meme GIFs to spice up your regular newsletter so it doesn’t look like a straight-up wall of text.
  • Videos. Released a trailer? A new streamer played your game? Send it to your subscribers! Note: it’s important to include a non-interactive option for better email accessibility — for example, add both the video and the link to YouTube.
  • Surveys and star ratings. Ask your subscribers if they like the game and what they want to improve — or ask them about your newsletter so you can create better content.
  • Quizzes and mini-games. Quizzes like “Which character of the game are you?” work wonders for increasing subscribers’ interest in your emails.

Here’s a great example from Square Enix. In one of their newsletter issues, the gaming company included a one-question “Choose your fighter” survey with several characters from the Foamstars game. It’s simple, well-designed, frictionless for users, and general survey stats create a sense of community.

Email survey from Square Enix that invites subscribers to choose their favorite Foamstars character
Source: Deal.town

Create a “street team”

A street team is a separate, smaller email list of devoted fans who get exclusive insider updates, more personal content to get to know you as a developer, the freshest news, an opportunity to get in touch directly with you, and a lot more. It’s like different levels of a Patreon subscription but free for users. How is that profitable to you though? 

The thing is, you can ask your street team for favors. These may include leaving a review, asking their favorite streamers to play your game, taking part in a UGC campaign, and so on. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask the rest of the subscribers to do so. However, your street team is in a way closer relationship with you, so they’re more likely to do a favor.

Personalize email content

As we mentioned before, the current problem with gaming emails is that they are too salesy — they mostly promote new offers, Steam discounts, or in-game bonuses, while disregarding users’ interests. And, as we mentioned before as well, email marketing can go far beyond being a digital coupon journal. So, one way to stand out on the gaming industry email scene is by personalizing content. 

Email personalization can take many forms and it’s not just limited to addressing your subscribers by first names. This includes using location, behavioral, and other data to create content like recommendations. You can also use gaming data (for example, hours played or the current level) for personalized tutorials. However, the most popular personalization strategy in gaming emails is stats. Here’s a great example from Far Cry 6. As you can see, not all of their emails have typos and go viral on Reddit.

Email from Far Cry 6 that features gamer’s stats like the number of kills and time played, and also promotes an interactive map as a reward.
Source: Really Good Emails

And here’s a much simpler personalization example from Blizzard. They only included the player’s moniker in the opening line of the email, and it’s already become a bit more personal:

Email from Blizzard on Warcraft updates addressing the player by their in-game moniker
Source: Really Good Emails

Create urgency

Not all your emails should be salesy — but some of them have to. One way to make your promotional emails more effective is to create a sense of urgency in your subscribers. This can be achieved in many ways, for example, by creating limited-time offers and setting up deadlines to make a decision. 

For example, this email from Twitch promotes Cyberpunk 2077 and also in-game outfit drops that are available for a small amount of time. As you can see, the deadline is clearly stated, and the offers are under a red headline with multiple “Attention” signs:

Email from Twitch promoting in-game outfit drops in Cyberpunk 2077 and using a mild sense of urgency
Source: Really Good Emails

Want a more direct method? Countdown timers work wonders for creating urgency when you promote events. Here’s an awesome example from Square Enix:

An email from Square Enix promoting a Final Fantasy-themed festival in Las Vegas and using a countdown timer to create urgency

You can use these and other strategies to create a sense of urgency and boost the efficiency of your promotional email marketing campaigns.

Use the gaming language

Since you’re not writing for yourself, you need to speak the language your audience understands. In this case, one way to win the hearts of your subscribers is by using gaming slang, memes, and so on. Since you’re in the industry, you probably know the specific jargon better than us, so we won’t pretend we’re experts. The only advice is: don’t overdo it with the memes, or subscribers will see you like this:

Steve Buscemi wearing a T-shirt that says “Music band” imitating the AC/DC logo, carrying a skateboard, close captions says: “How do you do, fellow kids?”
Source: Giphy

Here’s a great example from Ubisoft. Here, gaming language like “loot” is used to describe specific phenomena related to games, which makes the copy clearer for a certain audience:

An email from Ubisoft promoting the Mighty Quest game with a tagline “Loot big or die trying”
Source: Really Good Emails

You can also use the language specific to your game and its lore. Here’s another great example from Ubisoft. Here, by “alliance” they mean a phenomenon that exists within the Assassin’s Creed series:

An email from Ubisoft promoting Assassin’s Creed Valhalla with player stats and an invitation to form more alliances and “spread the influence”
Source: Really Good Emails

Sell wisely

As we mentioned earlier, the abundance of explicitly salesy emails is the reason why the general benchmarks for gaming emails are worse compared to many other industries. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t sell via emails — it’s a tool for generating revenue, after all. But there’s a difference between selling and being an intrusive salesman.

Here’s a great example. This email from Chess.com is what your promotional emails can (and, honestly, should) look like. Notice how clearly all the benefits are explained to a subscriber. If you follow the same tactic, your potential customers will think of buying something from you as a win-win deal, not a “just give me cash” situation.

An email from Chess.com explaining benefits from a paid subscription like no ads, unlimited chess lessons, unlimited tools for analyzing the player’s moves, and more
Source: Really Good Emails

Final thoughts

If you’re a game developer looking for ways to promote the fruit of your labor, don’t neglect emails as a channel! Even though gaming emails have low benchmarks on engagement metrics, they still can work wonders for your game development project — if done right. Here’s how to start:

  • Build your email list using lead magnets as an incentive to subscribe.
  • Choose your email platform depending on your budget and goals.
  • Create relevant content that makes your subscribers’ day in some way.
  • Optimize for engagement to achieve the best possible results.
  • Automate campaigns to save time and create a seamless communication experience for your fans.

Implementing a new marketing channel can be scary and risky — especially if you’re an indie game developer who has to do everything, including promotion, by yourself. Selzy is a great starting point for your email journey: it’s so simple and user-friendly that you can set up and run a campaign in under 15 minutes! The best part is, our free plan is generous enough to fully cover the needs of a small business. Start for free and create a gaming newsletter that’s worth subscribing to!

07 February, 2024
Article by
Daria Zhuravleva
I'm a writer with 3 years of experience, knowledge and interest in all things IT and marketing, and a passion for the English language. As a staff author at Selzy, I see my mission as an educator who makes your life easier by explaining complex topics in a digestible and somewhat entertaining way. Hobbies include birdwatching, all things music and art, writing freeform poetry, and hiding in the woods.
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