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Leveling Up: How an Online Game Became AWAL’s Secret Marketing Weapon

In pop artist Lauv's new online game Billy Meets World, players navigate a pixelated cityscape as an animated version of Lauv's real pet puppy. But for Lauv's label, AWAL, the game is also a way to…

In pop singer-songwriter Lauv’s new online game Billy Meets World, players navigate a pixelated cityscape as an animated version of Lauv’s real pet puppy. The free game, inspired by the fondly-remembered 2013 app Flappy Bird, is silly, fun and just the right level of challenging. But for Lauv’s label, AWAL, it’s also a way to boost his listener base as he prepares to release his debut album.

The game launched in conjunction with “drugs & the internet,” the lead single from Lauv’s debut album ~how i’m feeling~, which will be released track-by-track through 2020. Each single release will unlock a new level — over the weekend, AWAL launched the brand-new level for Lauv’s “fuck, I’m lonely” with Anne-Marie.

To play, users sign in through Spotify or Facebook, allowing the game to automatically follow Lauv from the player’s account — which, among other things, helps land Lauv on those Spotify users’ customized Release Radar playlists. Players collect rewards, like an exclusive acoustic video performance or discount codes redeemable on Lauv’s merch site, for completing levels. Meanwhile, players are directed to hit play on an embed of the artist’s songs on Spotify, which streams as the game’s background music.

“We really find that with younger fans and with pop fans, having the direct ask of ‘follow an artist on Spotify,’ they’re less likely to engage in that,” says AWAL vp marketing Justin Macchio, who developed the game alongside associate director digital marketing Kelsey Miller

The day Billy Meets World went live in July, AWAL says that the number of Lauv’s Spotify followers per day doubled. To date, the game has been played more than 100,000 times by some 10,000 individual users. The average player spends eight minutes per game session — much longer, Macchio notes, than someone might spend looking at an advertisement or even reading a news story.

Miller thinks the game concept particularly hit home for Lauv’s fans, who are deeply connected to internet culture. The 25-year-old posts a steady stream of selfies and memes to Instagram for his 1 million followers, and Lauv even made an Instagram for the real-life Billy, with 23,000 followers and counting.

“The origin of this was really from ‘drugs & the internet,’ which had a very Windows 98 feel to me,” Miller says. “I’ve been trying to figure out, on the digital side, how to activate those fans that love his personality into being a bigger part of his artistry. The game connects those dots.”

AWAL tapped London-Based digital agency The Creative Corporation, which has worked on virtual games for The Gorillaz and Bombay Bicycle Club, to develop Billy Meets World. Lauv recorded all the game’s voiced instructions (including the introductory “prepare your paws”), and the team took headshots of Billy to render the digital dog avatar. 


Of course, all this can be both time-consuming and expensive for artists and their teams. The Creative Corporation founder and managing director David Stansbie says it took three months to get Billy Meets World’s first level ready for launch (part of a 12-month deal with AWAL for Lauv’s game), and though he declined to divulge the project’s cost, he says similar games can cost upwards of $100,000 to develop.

Even so, “If the game ties into the artist and the campaign effectively, and you’ve got this extra layer of rewards which AWAL came up with, it’s brilliant,” Stansbie says. “You’d be questioning it if Lady Gaga came out with a game, or Ed Sheeran. Lauv is perfect.”

Stansbie predicts that more labels will soon seek out opportunities at the intersection of music and gaming: “Games are big business.” Back in February, Marshmello’s virtual concert within online video game Fortnite drew upwards of 10 million attendees, driving a surge in streaming and sales gains. In October, Drake and new Big Machine Label Group boss Scooter Braun became co-owners of competitive e-sports organization 100 Thieves (after Drake made headlines with several viewership-record-breaking gaming sessions of his own), while Universal Music Group’s Berlin-based division entered a multi-year partnership with ESL, the world’s largest e-sports organizer and production company. 


Meanwhile, Lizzo just rolled out an online “DNA test” quiz that will tell users exactly what percent “that bitch” they are, referencing the lyrics to her chart-topping hit “Truth Hurts” — after, of course, they log in through Spotify.

Over the next year, AWAL hopes to livestream a Billy Meets World session on leading gaming platform Twitch — where in July, nearly 1.3 million people simultaneously tuned in to the finale of the first annual Fortnite world cup. As album release day approaches, players will need to ramp up their support for Lauv to unlock further levels, through actions like pre-saving the album on DSPs or pre-ordering a copy. Miller and Macchio also hope to rope in support from online influencers.

“A game launches in several different stages, and that’s what builds success, which is so different from a song rollout,” Miller adds. “We’re able to give this thing new life for months and months to come.”