Built for Play. What the wine industry can learn from Video Game design.

close up of hands playing video games

Lately, I’ve been pondering my GenX husband’s secret guilty pleasure: MMORPGs, huge multiplayer online games with complex story plots that often rely on community-building to master. Dear Hubby has been a gamer for as long as we’ve been married, and before life got busy with kids and businesses and mortgages, I spent many an evening watching him kill mobs while interacting with like-minded folk seeking a moment of escapism.

Lately, in my exploration into the role empathy and delight in marketing, I found myself referencing video games as an oddly apt analogy. Both require a sweet blend of technical skill, creative vision, and relationship-building to make a profitable end product. Both ended up in a super-saturated market where differentiation has become key to success. And both rely on distributed teams to develop and promote products that might take years to be ready for market.

While some of you might argue that games are entertainment, and wine is….food (?), I would counter that neither are basic human needs and creators of both must, therefore, create a compelling reason for a potential customer to buy and have buy-in to the product.

There is a lesson here.

Game design is driven by a concept that few other industries have adopted: the Core Experience. Simply put, the Core Experience is what we want the user to feel as they interact with our product. Not what they see, hear, taste, and touch, but what they feel.

From the game designers and producers to scriptwriters, artists, animators, audio, editors and programmers, a game development team uses a clearly defined core experience to empower a scalable team to work toward a cohesive game feel. And the end product immerses a player in that experience, whether they jump on for minutes or stay for hours.

So what does this have to do with wine?

Simply put, core experiences create emotional response and tap into basic human desires and needs. In doing so, they empower brands to create genuine delight and lay the foundation for long-term customer relationships. The gaming dev team is not so very different from what it takes to make a winery work: leadership and vision, winemaking expertise, branding and marketing, sales and distribution, cellar door staff, somms and retailers on the front lines. And in the case of wine, these teams are often all working in different locations, sometimes globally, to build a successful brand.

My task for you this week is to ponder, “What is your desired Core Experience?”

  • What do you want your customer to feel when they interact with your wine brand?
  • If you’ve undertaken brand discovery, look at your personas: what needs is your brand meeting?
  • What emotional responses do you wish to foster?
  • How does a customer currently experience your brand? If you don’t know, do an audit!
  • Do each of those customer touchpoints create a cohesive core experience?
  • What existing systems or communications can be a starting point for change?
  • Even better, what team members can champion this shift with you?

We are talking about a full-scale organizational shift from Wine = Transaction to Wine = Experience.

Here’s the deal. Status quo, whether bad or good, is always easier than change, and I know not every reader will be ready to hear this. But we know wine marketing must evolve to remain relevant. If there is one takeaway from the game-wine analogy, it’s that we cannot relegate our product, with its blend of artistry and skill, with its ability to bring delight and build relationships…we cannot relegate wine to mere transactions when we have all the needed parts to build experiences.

5forests A black-and-white photograph of a woman with medium-length hair wearing a striped beanie. She appears cheerful, embodying the customer-first marketing philosophy with her mouth open in a wide smile, and is

Polly Hammond

Polly Hammond is a dynamic speaker, podcaster, and consultant, and founder of 5forests. She helps businesses build and implement robust strategies that drive measurable growth.