As game developers realize the marketing potential of individual content creators, they are investing in programs and platforms to help creators turn their pastimes into businesses.
Last month, game developer 2K announced the second class of its NextMakers initiative, a training program that gives a selected group of gaming creators privileged access to the company’s intellectual properties and professional network. The expansion of the program brings content creators further into the 2K fold, evidence of the company’s increasing awareness of their increasing role in generating and maintaining interest in gaming IP.
2K selects participants for the program based on their alignment with the brand and their “investment in the future of content creation” rather than their current popularity or follower count, according to Mitchel Inkrott, a senior influencer marketing manager at 2K. “We are able to break it down by title,” Inkrott said, “so that we’re not sitting there looking at a list of 4,000 applicants and being like, ‘well, what do we do now?’”
Building on the first iteration of the NextMakers program last year, the new class of 200 trainees will be mentored by creators such as Tess and Mitsu, who participated in NextMakers last year and continue to work with 2K on content such as The Bordercast, a podcast based on the developer’s popular Borderlands series. (Both streamers, whom 2K put in touch with Digiday, requested anonymity due to a desire to keep their personal lives separate from their careers as entertainers.)
“I was working at Starbucks at the time while doing content creation, and through the NextMakers program, I don’t have to do that anymore,” Mitsu said. “I have stability; I have the ability to take care of my family.”
2K’s NextMakers program provides creators with resources to transform their hobby into a full-time job, including training sessions about building a personal brand and marketing it to potential sponsors, a self-care Discord channel featuring a dedicated personal trainer and talks with industry leaders such as James Davidson, director of talent strategy for prominent esports organization 100 Thieves. “We joke a little bit that it was enlightening for some creators to hear that pitch decks are a thing,” Inkrott said.
There is no exchange involved, and the company does not put pressure on participants to stream or otherwise produce content based on 2K titles. “There’s nothing from them that says ‘you have to do this’ or anything like that,” Tess said. “I just want to because I have this trust and love for the game that is encouraged and valued by 2K.”
While participants don’t receive paychecks, stipends or company benefits, 2K sends them content kits, creates work opportunities and generally treats them as if they are a part of the company — which, as creators promoting 2K’s original IP, they essentially are.
“Content creators are our colleagues in so many different ways,” Inkrott said. “So many companies tend to look at ‘influencers’ in some sort of transactional way — we are looking at it as the future of marketing.”
The end goal is to help creators bring in consistent income, whether by employing them to create officially supported content such as the Bordercast or by supporting their independent brand deals. The arrangement raises the tide for the whole flotilla of online gaming creators that build their communities around 2K titles.
“One of the things the program has really provided is that stability,” Tess said. “Before this, I was basically streaming every day, like eight to 12 hours — it was a lot, and it was very stressful, and I was definitely starting to get a little burned out. Coming to work with NextMakers has given me this understanding that quality matters more than quantity, and that quality will improve if you’re not overworking yourself.”
NextMakers is not the only program of its type, but rather the latest of a number of initiatives that demonstrate a rising awareness of the power of individual content creators. Last year, EA rolled out its Creator Network, which similarly provides content opportunities and logistical support to creators whose content focuses on EA titles. Outside the developers, dedicated start-ups such as Infinite Canvas have sprung up to help creators monetize their work, though founder Tal Shachar pointed out that his company is focused on creators in metaverse platforms such as Roblox and provides more in-depth marketing support and monetary grants to its participants. “What we’re doing is, effectively, a version of what these guys do on some level,” Shachar said. “But we primarily work with game developers on open-world platforms like Roblox, Fortnite Creative, and so on, so we’re working with a different type of creator.”
Indeed, the rise of creator power has come alongside a serious expansion in exactly what it means to be a creator. Developers in Fortnite Creative and Roblox are creators; so are TikTok stars and Twitch streamers. There’s never been a more opportune time to make a career out of online creation — and yet there has never been more confusion or disagreement about what exactly it means to be a creator. “Are all of these people, in some form, creators? Yes. But I do think we’re starting to get to the point where the blanket term is so broad that it can sometimes be confusing,” Shachar said.
For the 2Ks and the EAs of the world, this distinction doesn’t really matter. Even before the rise of developer-backed initiatives such as 2K NextMakers and EA’s Creator Network, gaming creators inherently marketed their titles, generating interest and conversation around games without their developers having to lift a finger. Now, developers are lifting their fingers — in 2K’s case, perhaps even a whole arm — and creators are starting to reap the benefits.
“It’s really part of this even broader shift in the content sphere, towards individual creators and communities being the most important part of the distribution mechanism,” Shachar said. “As opposed to the previous era, where you just pushed stuff out — and if you were a user or community, you got what you got.”