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Why Now is the Time for Brands to Get Serious About Gaming

The first D&AD Awards Gaming Jury President blows away misconceptions about the category

Illustration by Lauren Morsley

Rosh Singh is Managing Director at UNIT9 a global Innovation Studio. He is a seasoned leader, passionate about the creative application of technologies for brands, and has been involved in the agency, production and start-up worlds, running successful businesses and executing innovative and award winning work for some of the world’s biggest brands. He is the jury president of the Gaming category, new to D&AD Awards for 2021. Here, he tells us why gaming is enjoying such rapid growth, and what it means for brands. 

Accelerated by social distancing and a yearning for escapism, the popularity of gaming has exploded worldwide over the past year. We’re now seeing a 115% increase in gaming usage compared to a typical day before Covid-19, but the pandemic can be seen as a catalyst to the inevitable rather than the sole reason for success. 

The huge variety of games now available – from traditional console through to newer iterations such as mobile and social gaming, esports, and hyper-casual formats - means there’s something for everyone, and attitudes are changing. Gaming is no longer just a part of fringe culture – 2.5 billion gamers worldwide are testament that it’s officially hit the mainstream.

With an influx of high-profile virtual gaming events in 2020 – from the revolutionary Travis Scott Fortnite Concert, through to Balenciaga collection launch – the innovative potential of this medium is huge and its popularity shows no signs of abating in 2021.

A shifting demographic

We all think we know the standard gamer persona. They’re all male adolescents right? Wrong. In 2019, 63% of mobile-gamers were women, and were also found to be 79% more likely to make in-app purchases. Bumble has been quick to react to this growing cohort of female gamers, teaming up with e-sports company Gen.G to unveil the first female-only Fortnite team. Gillette’s collaboration with Animal Crossing on a ‘Skinclusive’ fashion line within the game is another great example of tapping into the female gamer trend. And we’re also seeing an increasing number of older adults (and their higher disposable incomes) playing video games frequently, with numbers jumping up 25% in just three years. This expanding demographic is huge for brands and unlocks numerous opportunities to connect with target audiences on unexplored platforms. 

The rise of social gaming

In the past, gaming has required a certain amount of opt-in from the user. But integration into social media has been a game changer in terms of increasing accessibility and enabling brands to engage with an already captive audience. With Facebook’s daily average users topping 1.7billion and TikTok racking up 800 million users per month, the potential reach is huge. The introduction of shoppable AR – such as in Adidas’ world-first Snapchat game – makes the opportunity even more lucrative.

But we’re also seeing the lines blur between video games and social platforms themselves. Gen Z-ers in particular are spending increasing amounts of time hanging out with friends in-game, with 40% admitting they play mainly to chat to mates. Virtual worlds such as Fortnite have quickly become the hottest social destinations.

This means there’s new potential to tap into these online communities, as League of Legends creators Riot Games have recently done with the launch of the new Wild Rift mobile game. Using YouTube Live, the game plays out as a collaborative multiplayer experience, with the live chat functionality weaponised to enable viewers all over the world to unite and influence gameplay through their chatbox comments. Expect to see more of this shared experience gaming style in the months ahead.

A chance to break boundaries

Using gaming as a marketing tool offers a deeper level of engagement - the dynamic energy and two-way interaction of gaming when measured up against the staticism of traditional advertising should make the decision a no brainer. Allowing users to get involved and feel a part of something is a powerful thing, especially at a time when traditional experiential marketing is off the table.

We’ve seen a wave of unexpected gaming collaborations which are really making an impact, particularly in creative industries such as fashion. Louis Vuitton and Moschino have led the way, with capsule collections launched within League of Legends and The Sims respectively. Gucci has even taken this one step further, launching their own Arcade game function on their app. This is a really smart move from the fashion house, encouraging ongoing relationships with their customers on a platform that they own and control.

Gaming is now everywhere, and it’s impossible to miss. With technology advancing, consumer behaviour shifting and gaming excelling as a media platform in it’s own right, it is time for brands to get serious about gaming.

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