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Five Nights at Freddy’s crazy game marketing - the rise of a multi-million dollar scary franchise (7 min read)

Five Nights at Freddy’s – an indie horror game that got extremely popular and holds a large fan base (some say a cult) for more than 6 years. It has changed the genre’s mechanics.

?Strategy & Tools

Five Nights at Freddy’s History Timeline

  • 2013 – Scott Cawthon, a game developer and animator, released a family-friendly Chipper and Sons Lumber Co. which gets widely criticized for character animations reminding scary animatronic dolls. This sent the author into depression but after that, its flaws have been used to create Five Nights at Freddy's
  • Jun 13, 2014 – Cawthon submitted Five Nights at Freddy’s to Steam’s Greenlight crowdsourcing platform.
  • Jun 14, 2014 – first trailer was released
  • July 24,2014 – a demo is released
  • July 24, 2014 – FNAF is submitted to IndieDB. It quickly rises to become #1 game there.
  • Aug 3, 2014 – one of the first Let’s plays gets released on YouTube by GameOnAileen. It got over 46k views on
  • Aug 8, 2014 – Five Nights at Freddy’s is officially released on Desura–Steam’s equivalent for indie games.
  • Aug 12, 2014 – Markiplier released his playthrough with a reaction of being truly scared. That video goes viral and lands over 90 million views.
  • Aug 18, 2014 – FNAF got released on Steam for $4.99
  • Aug 22, 2014 – PewDiePie releases his FNAF gameplay, it gets over 16 million views. He names the game as „Scariest game Ever”
  • Aug 25, 2014 – FNAF is featured on Monday Night Indie on IndieDB
  • Nov 10, 2014 – Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 are released on Steam for $7.99
  • Dec 30, 2014 – FNAF gets a Player’s Choice award on IndieDB
    May 2015 – YouTube reports that Five Nights at Freddy’s series are the 8th most-watched playthroughs on the platform.

2014-2021 – Five Nights at Freddy’s has become a franchise with over 28 games, 15 novels, announced film by Warner Bros. Pictures, merchandise, and many other FNAF-themed releases

Who created Five Nights at Freddy’s?

The creator of the Five Nights at Freddy’s franchise is Scott Cawthon, a video game developer and a writer. He tried his luck at making some games already as a kid, which surely gave him some basic game-designing experience.

The Story

You’re a new night guard at Freddy’s – a pizza restaurant for children with animatronic characters that seem to be moving at night. The player was instructed to watch over the animatronics, but he quickly discovers that he needs to survive through five nights with animatronics trying to kill him.

Why is Five Nights at Freddy’s so popular – a unique, scary experience

Five Nights at Freddy’s is a refreshing horror experience with a frightening and tense gameplay–although you can barely move. The tools differed across later releases but in the first game, you could only use a surveillance system to check where are the animatronics, use lights and close the electric door if you felt they’re too close. The twist was–you had limited power supply, so you could only use the tools for a limited time.

Sitting in a room and waiting for the plush characters to get you makes the game so intense while failing to block their way towards you results in a jump scare. That was completely different from the usual horror games. They make you explore the world with something lurking in the dark but if it’s too much, you can always catch a breath. In FNAF, you need to keep acting, with limited resources.

Why is Five Nights at Freddy’s so popular – shareability

The main reason why Five Nights at Freddy’s became so popular is its mechanics and story which make it terrifying. That makes it a great material to stream, showing viewers streamer’s reactions while for viewers, it’s just fun to watch. Both scary and funny, with their favorite YouTubers.

Secrets

Scott Cawthon makes players do some egg hunting to uncover the whole story behind FNAF. The main story of a night guard is just a tip of the iceberg. What’s impressive is that the story is told on multiple mediums: in-game easter eggs, mini games, books, teasers and more. Players who wish to look deeper find new scrapes of the story which makes them immerse even more into the game’s universe.

Community

Making players look for clues has contributed to forming a community around the game which gathered over 274k users on Reddit in over 7 years. Solving the mystery together, getting to know what endings and mini-games they could’ve omitted, are what kept the community going and excited on all 28 titles. Although such communities often form by themselves, the Five Nights at Freddy’s game marketing was surely boosted by its fandom.

Five Nights at Freddy’s community

Easy to learn, hard to master

The gameplay of FNAF has been designed to be as intuitive as it could be but to master the tools and maintain accuracy under stress is a whole different level of mastery. You fail a lot in this game but try again and again, as your failure usually comes from details you forgot about.

Five Nights at Freddy’s game marketing – capitalizing on the hype

FNAF by design must be easy to develop - only one location is playable and the rest is animations. Having this in place, it’s easier to design new locations and this might be why new chapters are released so fast. They land, however, just in time to maintain the momentum created by the first games.

Five Nights at Freddy’s game marketing – low price

The first game was released for $4.99 while the second and others cost $7.99. That’s still cheap enough to buy the game without much thinking and quickly try it for yourself once you’ve had too much of watching YouTube reactions.

Free demo as a part of the Five Nights at Freddy’s game marketing

One of the best Cawthorn’s decisions regarding the Five Nights at Freddy’s game marketing might be releasing the demo early on. It quickly got to over 6k downloads per day, allowing the game to be seen by many players, who then referred the game to others.

Five Nights at Freddy’s marketing

Selling toys to children – Five Nights at Freddy’s game marketing

When you think about it, FNAF is a scary horror game, but it doesn’t portray any blood or violence, although the story behind the game is really disturbing.

Five Nights at Freddy’s merchandise toys were selling like crazy, as for example Funko Holdings LLC stated that only Disney brands sold better than FNAF at their stores. The kids that saw the toys in the shop eventually wanted to learn about the brand for themselves and tried the game – but getting so scared by a game when you’re 7 or 8 is no good. We can’t deny that it brought more players in, though.

When did Five Nights at Freddy’s become popular?

The game got its popularity basically soon after the release, scoring an unofficial bestseller title at the end of the week on August 18th, 2004.

Why is Five Nights at Freddy’s so popular?

It got viral because of several YouTube “Let’s Plays,” which made the game more visible to the potential audience.

Apart from that, the franchise games worked so good because some people simply like being afraid and uncertain when some reward awaits for their struggle (winning the game in that case is fairly enough).

Five Nights at Freddy’s game revenue

The whole Five Nights at Freddy’s games franchise is highly successful, and just on App Store, the Five Nights at Freddy’s Collection reached $1.2 million as of January 2022 (and you still need to add their earnings from Google Play), which gave it a place in the app’s top 5 bestsellers. The games from the franchise all cost $2.99 at that time.

fnaf game

?Psychology

Social proof

All the YouTube titles stating that Five Nights at Freddy’s is „the scariest game out there’, worked as a major social proof to others–if you’re into horrors, you’ll definitely want to check out the one claimed to be the scariest. Hearing that from influencers you know and follow makes the message only more powerful.

Storytelling

The story of FNAF is at first simple but uncovering it makes it more immersive for the players and harder to resists not following it. After all, humans are wired to remember and focus more on stories.

Feedback loop

FNAF employs a simple feedback loop that makes the game more addictive. You’re doing your best to survive but die and have to start over – doing better next time. There’s always the feedback of what you did wrong and the urge to try again to do better.

Jump scares

Jump scares unleash a wide range of emotions as they unleash excitatory hormones throughout the body. While experiencing them in a safe place, players detach from the game and with the hormone, they feel better. This makes them go for another try.

Emotions

Brands are built through emotions. The Five Nights at Freddy’s game marketing doesn’t seem to be much of a different situation there. Experiencing emotions with a certain brand makes the name more memorable.

?Window of Opportunity

Five Nights at Freddy’s wasn’t the first game of Scott Cawthon, and it was born from a previous hardship. For creative ideas, that means if one idea seems to be bad and widely criticized, spinning it another way might turn into great results.

FNAF proves that with a great, shareable product, you can do very little marketing to succeed. In fact, most of the events (such as numerous “Let’s Plays” or a vivid fandom) that helped the creators with their success have made the Five Nights at Freddy’s game marketing basically unnecessary. All Cawthon had to do was give the game visibility through adding it to catalogs such as IndieDB, and then it was a combination of timing, luck, and the game itself to make it go viral.

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