Fortnite concerts, Roblox worlds, Minecraft maps. After two years of lockdown-fuelled entertainment it feels like everyone in the marketing industry is talking about gaming – and there’s good reason.
In 2021 the global gaming industry reached $203 billion USD in total revenue, beating the global film industry by 11%. Meanwhile, the average time gamers spent playing reached 8 hours and 27 minutes per week, a year-on-year increase of 14%.
Here in Australia, the total audience of gamers has now reached over 17 million. With this growth, we’ve seen a dramatic shift in demographics. Gamers are no longer the basement-dwelling teenagers unfairly characterised by popular culture. They’re all of us.
The average Australian gamer is now 35-years old. The gender split is roughly even, with 46% of females identifying as gamers. Age-wise it’s a pastime with broad appeal, with 42% of 65-year-olds playing in some capacity. A key reason is the diversity of modern games; just like film and TV, there’s a game for every audience and mood – ranging from the casual and social play of Wordle, to the competitive action of Apex Legends.
So what does this mean for marketers? To help understand the opportunity for brands to get involved, We Are Social have identified four important trends.
#1: Gaming Unbound
Video games are no longer bound to an expensive console or PC. Years of mobile innovation and new cloud game subscription services mean anyone with a modern phone has the ability to play quality games wherever they are. As a result, mobile is now the fastest growing gaming category, representing 60% of the global market.
In a gold rush to win attention, we’re seeing TV giants such as Netflix launch exclusive games in their mobile app, while TV manufacturers like Samsung partner with Xbox to offer their subscription service Game Pass on new TVs, allowing customers to play AAA games without the need for a physical console.
For marketers, the opportunity is two-fold – a long runway of future audience growth, plus a growing selection of moments to activate around. Whether it’s on the commute or the outdoors, each new location offers a different context for your brand to show up.
#2: Culture In Play
Gaming has moved well beyond the fringes of popular culture. This year’s global hit Elden Ring eclipsed the hype of Hollywood blockbuster Top Gun: Maverick, driving 5.6 times global web searches and selling 13 million copies in just one month. At the same time, big name crossovers like Balenciaga and Fortnite’s real-life and in-game clothing line brokered an exchange of cultural capital between fashion and gaming
Another key driver has been the huge impact of game streaming. 1.3 trillion minutes of content was consumed on Twitch last year as mainstream celebrities like Snoop Dogg, Sergio Aguero and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez streamed to millions of viewers.
Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert proved gaming activations have the potential to influence a huge swathe of audiences, attracting those who may not have considered playing the game previously. For brands looking to grow relevance, games offer cultural impact with an added creative freedom that other media can’t match.
#3: Virtual Playgrounds
Large multiplayer games like Grand Theft Auto: Online and Minecraft are becoming true social spaces, where a player’s online identity and relationships are just as important as in the real world. A global study found Gen Z are now spending twice as much time with their friends in-game compared to real life, and half report feeling ‘most themselves’ in games.
The ability to create branded items for your character or build your own virtual world offers immediate opportunities for brands. Clothing marketplace Depop recently partnered with real-life sellers and recreated their products as shoppable items in The Sims, while Greenpeace spoke to Gen Z’s climate fears with a multiplayer Grand Theft Auto map which simulated rising sea levels.
For marketers, a great place to start is your own IP and assets, with a focus on which ones would resonate most with consumers looking to express themselves online. From there, the creative possibilities are endless.
#4: Esports Arrival
Esports teams are now commanding bigger prize pools than traditional sports leagues. In 2021, the Dota 2 International set new records with a crowd-sourced pool of $40 million USD. Recognising the opportunity to create the next generation of high-earning athletes, local universities in Australia have even created their own Esports league.
Non-endemic brands are also cashing in, with Gucci launching their own Esports academy and Renault and BMW activating around popular car-based game Rocket League.
For marketers the potential is huge. Winning endorsement from this next generation of digital athletes, or the thousands of Twitch-streaming amateurs aspiring to reach the top, is a chance to gain advocacy from an audience gaining scale and influence each day.
How Brands Can Get Involved
The wide ecosystem in gaming offers marketers a sliding scale to activate, ranging from more traditional tactics like in-game ads or esports sponsorships, through to custom map or branded game design. KFC, who have created their own gaming console and dating game, are a great example of a brand who has built long-term equity with gamers, allowing them to push into fun and unexpected territory.
The best place for any brand to start is determining how much technical expertise they are willing to invest in, and measure the desired impact accordingly. For those ready to take the leap, we offer three pieces of advice.
Firstly, start with the audience, their behaviours during the game and the context around them, to ensure you’re always adding value. Then look for the easy wins – build around an existing game behaviour or partner with a popular new streamer. Finally, consider the whole ecosystem. Like KFC, the best gaming marketers make a genuine commitment and activate across many of these touch points. This last piece is crucial, as gamers need to know your brand is in it for the end-game, not just the tutorial.
Zach Rippon is a Senior Strategist at We Are Social. He loves creative tech, and the brands brave enough to try it.