Video Games Battle for High Score on Social

by Matthew Chernov

This month, the entertainment world celebrates a major event. No, we’re not referring to the Academy Awards (we’ll get to that later this month). We’re talking, of course, about the 30th anniversary of “The Legend of Zelda.”

Released in Japan on Feb. 21, 1986, “The Legend of Zelda” revolutionized video games with its unique blend of exploration, puzzle solving and character-based RPG (role-playing game) elements. Modern blockbusters like the Grand Theft Auto franchise and “World of Warcraft” owe a debt of gratitude to Nintendo’s fantasy classic.

With epic quests in mind, we ranked the 10 most-engaged console video games and video game companies in the U.S. in December 2015 on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. The gaming industry, which earned a record $61 billion last year, sells more products during the holidays than any other time.

The top 10 companies on social generated nearly 6.6 million total actions (likes, comments, shares, retweets and dislikes). Of those, more than 60% came from Instagram. Overall engagement with video game companies increased 4.5% percent compared with December 2014.

Josh Harmon, Associate Editor at Electronic Gaming Monthly , and Mike Futter, News Editor at Game Informer Magazine , joined us to discuss why these companies and games are successful on social.

On the company side, Rockstar Games earned the high score with more than 3.2 million social actions. “It’s no surprise that Rockstar has a ton of engagement,” said Harmon. “That’s just purely attributable to how passionate gamers are about the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ in particular.” Though the game was originally released on the previous generation of consoles more than two years ago, it’s still routinely in the top 10 sales charts.

Rockstar Games generated 77% of its engagement on Instagram, but it was the top overall console video game brand on Facebook with nearly 552,000 social actions. Rockstar posted 23 times in December, including seven (30%) videos. The videos generated nearly 333,000 actions, 60% of its total actions for the month. Its most-engaged post was the top Facebook video of the month, a trailer for the newest Grand Theft Auto installment.

After Rockstar Games, Nintendo captured more than 903,000 social actions. “That’s a bit of a surprise, because they are, by a significant margin, last in terms of console sales numbers,” said Harmon. “But as one of the oldest brands and the creators of some of the most beloved franchises of all time, it makes sense. Their support may not be as broad as some of the modern game makers, but I guarantee it’s a lot deeper.”

Nintendo generated more Twitter engagement than any other company. It used hashtags in 61% of its tweets, which drove 82% of its Twitter engagement. Nintendo used #smashbros in just 11% of its tweets and generated 33% of engagement. The hashtag was used in three of Nintendo’s top five tweets in December to promote the addition of characters to its “Super Smash Brothers 4” game.

Harmon chalked up Ubisoft’s more than 439,000 social actions to the large number of games it produces each year that fans can engage with. “They do pretty much everything you’d expect a company to do on social media,” Harmon said. “They make sure that 52 weeks a year you’re hearing something about a Ubisoft product in a way that makes it seem like you’re hanging out with them, not being marketed to.”

Ubisoft has a strong YouTube presence, posting more videos (46) in December than any other company. Top videos include game walkthroughs , trailers and even a Q&A with developers .

Like the companies, the games generated most of their engagement from Instagram, 66% of more 10.6 million actions. However, overall engagement with the top 10 games slipped by 7% in December compared with the same time from the year before.

“EA Sports FIFA” led the way with 4.9 million social actions in December, nearly 80% on Instagram. The game’s #16DaysofFIFA campaign accounted for nearly half of its December actions. The posts generated an average of nearly 130,000 actions, 17% more engagement than the rest of its content during the month.

“EA is enormous, so I’m not surprised they’re on the list,” said Game Informer’s Mike Futter. “They’re responsible for all the major sports games, including the FIFA soccer series, Madden, NHL and an NBA game.” Since sports and trash-talk go hand in hand, gamers often take to social media to engage with the company. Futter explained, “When it comes to EA’s sports (gamers), there’s always a lot of banter back and forth, which means a huge amount of social traffic.”

Day 14: Legend Pele FUT item! Tag a mate and LIKE for a chance to win. #16DaysofFIFA

A post shared by EA SPORTS FIFA (@easportsfifa) on

With more than 2.3 million social actions, the blockbuster Call of Duty franchise is perched near the top of the game ranking. Its “Call of Duty: Black Ops III” was released in November and drove engagement for the brand.

“When you’re talking about a franchise as big as Call of Duty, you’re going to have a lot of people engaging with it every single day,” Futter said. “And Treyarch, the developer behind this particular entry, is constantly making changes, making adjustments and pushing out new stuff.”

In addition to releasing expanded maps for the game, Treyarch also added an emblem creator, which gives fans the ability to customize their weapons.

Next on the list is the latest Star Wars game, which scored more than 1 million social actions. Nearly half of those actions came on Facebook, where “Star Wars Battlefront” generated the most engagement among games. “Star Wars Battlefront’s” top posts were holiday-themed sweepstakes ( incentives ) for cheat codes , copies of the game or a limited edition PS4.

Let's Play Star Wars!

Posted by EA Star Wars on Thursday, December 24, 2015

“’Star Wars Battlefront’ trades on nostalgia,” Futter said. “It’s a very accessible game that’s designed for people who don’t usually play shooters.” Though Battlefront’s content is based almost exclusively on the original trilogy of films, it does contain a nod to the latest installment in the blockbuster franchise. “And since December was the month that ‘The Force Awakens’ arrived in theaters, it’s no surprise that Battlefront appears on this ranking,” Futter said.

Summing up the social dynamic between gamers and game companies, EMG’s Josh Harmon thinks the connection began long before the invention of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and other social platforms.

“Prior to the rise of social media, gamers had a sense of identity that was prefiguring that relationship,” Harmon said. “Because of the nature of video games, which was seen as an outsider hobby, gamers wanted to find a group of people who understood them. And that’s kind of the relationship that’s developed in social media. It’s the notion that you’re not just interacting with a company that makes a product you consume. You’re interacting with someone who actually shares your hobby.”

Which games and companies do you think perform the best on social media? Let us know in the comments.

Matthew Chernov is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. Follow him @MatthewChernov .

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