This piece was first published in #TheFutureByDesign. Click here to download the publication with insights from leading marketing, creative and advertising minds.
Video games are big. Bigger than big. Think of an adjective that describes colossal and they’ll be bigger than that. As the US economy idles, the games industry is an engine on nitrous. Late last year, the Entertainment Software Association announced that the video game industry grew at a rate four times faster than the economy of the US.
The Future By Design gets advice on what brands and marketers need to know about games from LazyGamer.net managing editor, Geoffrey Tim.
TFBD: What do marketers need to know about games?
Video games are big business. Anybody in the industry will gleefully tell you that video games earn more money every year than the film industry does. With global annual earnings of over $76 billion, they’re not wrong – and forecasts expect that to go up by 10 billion over the next 50 years. Gamers, it seems, have a great deal of expendable income.
The fact that the gamer demographic is not actively marketed at by anyone other than the games industry is mind-boggling. It’s likely caused by a number of pervasive misconceptions. Chief among those is the belief that games are for kids. The truth is that the average person who identifies as a gamer is over 30 years old, and has been playing video games for over 15 years. For them, gaming is more of a lifestyle than it is a hobby.
Another chief misconception is that the demographic is primarily male. An audience breakdown reveals a nearly even split, with women over the age of 18 actually representing the game-playing population more than 17 year old males.
Gaming is also not quite the solitary experience it’s often perceived to be. More than half of the people who play games do it with other people, whether in person or online. Games are increasingly becoming a connected and social, emergent experience, flooding media networks like Twitter and Facebook with game invites, shared pictures and videos. They’re the sort of thing young adults chat about, displacing TV and film at the proverbial “water cooler.” In fact, games are becoming the water cooler – not just the topic of discussion, but also the venue for it.
Gamers who engage this way online, on social media networks and forums are always looking for new ways to connect and engage with each other – discussing not just games, but politics, current events, trends and day-to-day life.
~ Geoffrey Tim
TFBD: Describe the relationship between big brands and gamers.
Big brands and personalities have of course attempted to capitalise on gaming’s popularity, with differing degrees of success. It’s not something new either. Since the 1980s, brands have plastered their logos all over hastily made games hoping to weasel their way into consumer hearts and minds. It makes sense. Marketers have to meet consumers where they are already active, and now consumers spend half their lives buried in their phones.
It’s seen the rise of the advergame; small, casual, mobile games that blend entertainment and advertising, commissioned by brands that hope they will go viral on Facebook, or rise to the tops of mobile gaming charts.
As far as traditional advertising and product placement go, two big international brands immediately spring to mind where gaming is concerned; Doritos and Mountain Dew. For years, Mountain Dew used the term “Game Fuel” to market their soft drinks to the video-gaming subculture, later launching entire product ranges aimed directly at gamers. Doritos, likewise, has been inextricably linked with gaming, perhaps helping perpetuate the myth that gamers are an unhealthy, slovenly lot.
It’s starting to change, with bigger, dare I say more illustrious brands realising that games aren’t just for children. Recently, Mercedes Benz partnered with Nintendo to offer digital versions of the luxury automaker’s iconic cars in Mario Kart.
It’s worth keeping in mind though that gamers are sensitive to any sort of advertising that they feel exploits their hobby, or their passion for it.
~ Geoffrey Tim
TFBD: How has gaming evolved over the past decade?
With Moore’s Law still very much in effect, traditional console and computer games obviously look better, have better artificial intelligence and offer more realistic experiences, rich with cinematic storytelling. More importantly, the hardware limitations that kept gaming confined to dedicated gaming systems are gone. With those barriers removed, we’ve seen video games break out from the confines of consoles and computers to phones and tablets. As a result, we’ve seen changes in the way that games are sold, marketed and even made.
Many games are free to play or try, which has been a tremendous shift away from games that were only available for purchase or by subscription. This has dramatically increased the variety of games available, so players are now trying more and more games that they download to their devices, rather than sticking to just one or two games they’ve bought from a brick-and-mortar store. These games make their money by offering in-app purchases and micro-transactions, selling extra lives and digital resources at 99 cents a pop.
It’s seen the rise of pop-culture phenomena like Angry Birds, Minecraft and Candy Crush; quick and often simple – but constantly updated – games that just about everybody plays when they’d otherwise just be twiddling their thumbs. In some ways, it’s also like a devolution. It’s steering games away from being products, and more about being services that aim to nurture long-term engagement.
~ Geoffrey Tim
TFBD: What does the future of gaming look like?
Wherever there’s bleeding edge, revolutionary technology, there’s inevitably somebody trying to use it to
make video games better, more interactive and more immersive. The next big thing in video games, if the ebullience within the gaming industry is any indication, is the revival of virtual reality: immersive, multisensory experiences that simulate physical presence within a virtual world. It’s a trend that pops up every decade or so, but the technology is finally at a stage where the frame rates, visuals and latency are sufficient to produce convincing, whole body virtual experiences.
The other side of that is Augmented Reality; an extra layer of information overlaid on top of our own reality in real time, enriching the real world with digital information, 3D models, videos and other media.
Since games have existed, game developers have been trying to breach the uncanny valley, creating virtual characters that look and behave as people would. Although we’re still not even close—and as we edge closer to authenticity, the tiny inaccuracies become increasingly disturbing—I do think in the near future we’ll see digital people that closely resemble real people. Imagine looking into the eyes of a video game character and knowing that they have lied to you, or that they’re scared, or that they love you. Coupled with virtual and augmented reality, it could happen.
Of course, games don’t need to be realistic, big budget experiences. Thanks to the internet making distribution of games significantly easier, more people are making and releasing games, giving rise to a new wave of independent game developers, who are freer to experiment with the types of game experiences they create. There’s a game for everybody, it just might not have been made yet. With more people making games, more people will be playing them.
~ Geoffrey Tim
TFBD: Any other thoughts?
It’s important to consider the gamer demographic as a house divided; though there’s a certain overlap, the traditional “core” gamer who gorges on games and games media is derisive towards the casual or mobile gamer, who’s scarcely aware that the other exists. Some exist in a single-game bubble: professional gamers who play just one game; bored housewives who play naught but Farmville or Candy Crush; sports fanatics who buy expensive gaming systems just so they can kick around a digital ball in the latest annualised football game. Instead of one games industry, there are rather several, each operating according to its own logic, so it’s important to know your audience.
No matter which box they’re in though, gamers are engaged, and ripe for marketing – and fun can blur the line between marketing and entertainment. Gamers as a whole are ready and willing consumers, wanting to not just play games, but watch other people play games. Sites like Twitch, where people can tune in to watch other people play games have exploded in popularity. In fact, Twitch ranks fourth in US internet traffic – ahead of sites like Facebook.
Felix Kjellberg, known on YouTube as PewDiePie, earns over $4 million a year from the ads on his unfathomably popular YouTube channel. He’s garnered over 8 billion video views and 35 million subscribers. For what? For talking, screaming, and swearing on camera while playing games.
“With so many eyeballs and so much time spent, it’s making gaming as an entertainment expression a very attractive media platform,” says Matt Wolf, Global Head of Gaming for The Coca-Cola Company. That such a job title even exists should tell you everything you need to know about how important a market segment gaming is.
~ Geoffrey Tim