That’s So Meta: The Social Marketing Strategy of Cities: Skylines

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March 14, 2017

Colossal Order’s marketing strategy for their wildly successful city simulation video game, Cities: Skylines, is a solid example of a company using social media outlets to promote their product while simultaneously building a strong community of dedicated fans. Like many video games, Cities: Skylines is extremely active on Facebook and Twitter. Most posts and email campaigns advertise game expansions and development diaries via video trailers, photo albums, and links to established sites that provide video game reviews and previews. Colossal Order regularly releases progress updates, game patches, and development diaries, and openly listens and responds to feedback from fans. Also, the company makes an extra effort to give away freebies like cosmetic add-ons to the game, which makes customers feel like they are well looked after. What I found most interesting about Colossal Order’s social marketing strategy is the company’s choice to include news articles of real life applications of the game, like this one about two fans who turned their passions for creating custom content for the game into legitimate careers in game development after tinkering around with Cities: Skylines modification application.

The meta-game

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Within the game itself, Cities: Skylines features its own version of Twitter, called “Chirper.” This extremely irritating friendly blue bird, inspiringly named “Chirpy,” updates the player with tweet-like messages at the top of the screen that are supposed to represent reactions and commentary from in-game citizens of the virtual urban world being created, and help the player, as mayor of the city, feel more connected to the game. Perhaps surprisingly, given our social media-obsessed culture, hatred for Chirpy is quite well established. (I won’t lie: I disabled it after 5 minutes of game time.) Using a virtual social media platform within a game to communicate to the player about aspects of the game itself is pure meta. Note: there is even an actual Twitter page for Chirper. Meta to the max! And along the same lines of self-referencing, what really seem to be working for Colossal Order, especially in the realm of community-building through social marketing strategies, is their integration of user-created social media content on their own social media platforms. In-game screenshots from Imgur and Reddit, and YouTube videos featuring fan innovations and customized content are shared on a daily basis by the game developers on the Cities: Skylines Facebook page. Additionally, YouTube videos and tutorials made by players around the world demonstrate unique ways to customize cities and other elements within the game, which further encourages sharing of ideas, and helps foster a dynamic social presence for the game and helps instill trust in Colossal Order as a company as well.

Modding is so mod

Cities: Skylines openly welcomes modification and customization of in-game resources, and many users have created elaborate “set pieces” for the game which are featured on the Steam Workshop. Along with providing a platform for virtual urban planners to showcase their latest designs, the Workshop also allows helps create a larger social community surrounding the game – users subscribe to, and rate community-created content, which can be incredibly detailed and offer the opportunity for highly personalized game play. In many ways, the experience of incorporating custom content, or “mods” into the game is reminiscent of the world of model railroads. In an amazing show of community support and connection with fans, Colossal Order chose several mods from the community to sell as fully-supported add-on (downloadable content or “DLC”) “content creator packs” within the game. In a recent interview, Colossal Order CEO Mariina Hallikainen explains that fan feedback influences future developments for game and that it’s “important to listen to your fans.” 

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As long as Colossal Order continues to nourish their community by interacting with and listening to their fans via social media, Cities: Skylines, future titles, and the company as a whole seems destined for continued colossal success.

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