How brands can level up by embracing gamers

Advertisers can no longer ignore gaming as a means of reaching consumers.

It’s time to stuff the stereotypes. For too long in the minds of too many, gaming has been thought of as a sub-culture populated by teenage boys sitting indoors and playing shoot ‘em ups on either a console or computer.   

The statistics to disprove this have been around for a long time – the average age of a US games buyer was 36 last year and women make up more than 40% of gamers. Nearly two-thirds of US households contain at least one frequent gamer. Staggering stats that make it hard to pinpoint who the ‘typical’ gamer is – because there isn’t one anymore.   

However, the preconceptions surrounding games and gamers are proving hard to dispel. It’s helpful when cultural figures like award-winning playwright Lucy Prebble champion gaming culture. She has said that playing video games is more involving and creative than reading a book or watching a film and encourages people to be active and sociable. And six out of ten people now think that the quality of video games is just as good as film, TV or literature. 

But it’s time that the contribution of the sector to wider culture trends and the size and variety of the audience engaged in some way with gaming was reassessed by brands. This is not about a sub-culture – it’s about a phenomenon that is becoming all pervasive. The potential to develop innovative and exciting ideas that can involve and resonate with this vast and varied audience is huge.

This explosion in gaming has partly been driven by the rise of the smartphone. A computer in the pocket means the opportunity to tackle a fiendish puzzle in a fantasy quest or join in a battle of Roman Legionnaires is just a fingertip away.

The rise of mobile also means that YouTube now sits at the heart of the multi-faceted gaming world, providing a hub and focal point for the many different communities that revolve around a passion for gaming. YouTube is helping to drive the culture around gaming by providing a means for people to find news, interact, create and access relevant content. 

When online gaming content is mentioned in conversation, the normal ‘go-to’ thought is usually around game reviews and ‘how-to’ tips and hacks. But the reality is that there has been an influx of massively differentiated formats, ranging from live action streams to gaming-based comedies and fully scripted episodic content to inventive cosplay displays. Brands looking for new audiences and marketing opportunities will be surprised by the variety on offer. 

Therefore, a change in attitude towards gaming content is long overdue. When trying to understand this new kind of content, brands should start thinking about why people might be coming to YouTube, and what do those people want? Are people watching to rekindle their love of gaming, or do they want to explore this intriguing world that is having such an impact on all aspects of modern life, from film to fashion and music to architecture?   

Make no mistake – gaming culture is influencing the wider world. We can see this reflected in myriad ways –  for example, the Victoria & Albert Museum, a leading authority on design and art, has embraced the culture. Among other initiatives it held the Parallel Worlds videogame design conference last year and a Minecraft exhibition. Then there are the hordes of musicians, DJs and fans who have sampled or reworked vintage game soundtracks – again there are YouTube channels catering to this enthusiasm. 

Senior curator of contemporary architecture, design and digital at the museum Kieran Long said at a recent advertising industry event: “Games design…is the avant-garde of what creativity will look like in the future. It’s about how we define creativity today. Video games are one of those fields that tells you what is coming next.”   

People take risks in the gaming world and then other industries follow – just look at Virtual Reality and how the games industry has taken VR tech and ran with it – out-pacing Hollywood in ideas and implementation.   

Brands have many options for the kind of content they can devise. For instance, given video games have been around for 45 years, it’s no surprise an audience segment has emerged that enjoys nostalgia and retro-gaming. Dedicated retro channels make up a huge strand on YouTube, with examples including ‘Ahoy’, which discusses many aspects of gaming history, including the development of graphics.   

However, real power and opportunity within the games community lies in the unique way in which it opens up to creativity and hierarchies of knowledge and expertise are flattened. The multiplayer online battle game League of Legends was originally designed with help from developers from different fields of life who were brought together by their enthusiasm. Brands can harness that collaborative, crowd-sourcing spirit for feedback and inspiration. 

However, despite all of the innovation, energy and engagement, along with industry growth of 6.6% annually, gaming still remains an area untouched by many brands. This in part due to the misconceptions around audience and demographics but also because brands are unclear on how to actually connect with the gamer audience. 

For brands that want to engage with gamers but only want to dip a toe into this world, then it’s important to get under the skin of the audience. Brands need to analyse the demographics of viewers, players and the communities’ interests.  

It’s also worth spending time with the community at the large-scale trade and consumer calendar events such as Insomnia, EGX and E3. The massive size and popularity of these events demonstrates that this is not an insular and private world. These mass participation events are massively commercial and all about the shared experience.  

For those who want to go a little further, there are learnings to be had from brands that have taken the plunge. For example, Nissan with its GT Academy, has provided Gran Turismo gamers with the chance to go from a virtual experience to a real-life professional racing career with the car marque.   

Nestle’s KitKat worked with JWT and Google to recreate the mobile game Crossey Road, by creating a video of two top YouTubers dressed as characters from the game hopping out of the way of traffic as they competed against each other – all while being cheered on by real fans. 

Any brand looking to work within the gaming world does need to ensure that its involvement feel genuine and reflects the values and language of the community. This does not mean that brands without a strong association cannot forge one. Luxury car marque Porsche collaborated with YouTuber Ali-A, whom posts gaming videos to the platform and has 8.5 million people subscribed to his two channels. They may not seem natural partners but because the brand immersed itself in Ali-A’s world, and translated its messages into a visual and verbal language the gaming audience would value, it got their attention. Take a look at the concept here

It’s also important to realise that gaming content is enjoyed by a huge number of non-hardcore gamers. For instance, the booming world of esports (yes, that’s people watching other people playing computer games in a semi-professional capacity – either live in arenas or via streaming/broadcast) attracts viewers who hardly ever pick up a joystick.    

The bottom line is, gaming is fast catching up in terms of cultural cachet with the worlds of beauty, fashion and music that prove so alluring to brands. It’s time advertisers started realising the potential for strong engagement and pioneers will reap the rewards of recognition and acceptance from the diverse gaming community. 

David Black, MD, Branding & Consumer Markets at Google UK 

Image Credit: Lalesh Aldarwish / Pexels