Opinion

PART I | Get into the Game: If you’re not in gaming, you’re behind the curve

As the industry faces declines in linear TV, surges in ad-free entertainment, and increasingly fragmented user engagement, why do some brands and agencies still overlook one of the most obvious opportunities for audience engagement - gaming?

In this two-part deep dive, PHD strategy director Zac Kelly does more than just bang the drum of gaming as a valuable channel. He explores the various, often misunderstood, opportunities within the space and explains why ignoring these could spell game over for brands.

Gaming is a foreign space for brands. But it shouldn’t be.

Gaming is the second most popular activity in Australian homes (BOND University 2022), trailing just behind streaming. Australians spend an average of 9 hours a week playing games — three more hours on average than podcasts. Surprisingly, more brands and money are consistently invested in podcasting.

At its simplest, advertising is about reaching people with motivating messages where they are spending time. With an increased amount of time being devoted to gaming, brands should take notice. But they aren’t. Gaming is set to become the most underinvested mass media moment of all time.

SMI, our industry benchmark for ad spend, doesn’t even include gaming. Whilst advertiser spending in gaming is understandably challenging to quantify, neglecting to do so causes us to greatly overlook the significant role gaming plays. NGEN, our pioneering industry education body, offers an array of great training courses from TV through Meta, but currently lacks content on the importance of gaming and how to involve brands. As an industry we have a way to go before unlocking the power of gaming.

In the absence of industry bodies acknowledging gaming, we as individuals must actively learn and understand the role gaming plays in the modern media mix to capitalise on opportunities for client’s brands.

So, how can we get our brands involved?

Despite the obvious scale and opportunity gaming presents, it suffers from three ingrained misconceptions among the media and marketing community:

  1. My customers are not gamers
  2. Gaming is not relevant to my brand
  3. Gaming is too complex

This is Part I of a two-part series exploring the barriers we face as an industry getting into gaming and how to overcome them. In Part I, we will discuss how your customers are gamers and gaming’s relevance to all brands. In Part II, we unpack the gaming landscape and provide a simple framework you can use to get your brand effectively into gaming.

Misconception #1: my customers are not gamers

The face of gaming has undergone a transformation. It is no longer synonymous with the stereotypical slightly unkempt and overweight dude. Figures like Bailey Smith (the Western Bulldogs captain), AOC (a US senator), Post Malone, Rihanna, Drake, and Mila Kunis are among the growing list of popular figures who have publicly embraced gaming.

This shift signifies the normalisation of gaming behaviour in the minds of many. What was once hidden without apparent reason is now openly celebrated. The widespread use of smartphones has taken gaming beyond traditional consoles and PC. It has placed a gaming device in the hands of 99% of the population. I vividly recall my dad’s initial foray into gaming with Angry Birds, conquering all levels with three stars – an anecdote highlighting how gaming has become accessible to all.

Today gaming has evolved to serve a range of needs from grandmas keeping their minds sharp playing solitaire, to nephews connecting with friends on Fortnite. It caters to a variety of desires like escape, achievement, stimulation, and connection.

Gaming is therefore far from homogenous, comprising of four distinct gamer segments:

  • The Escapist: individuals who use gaming as a means to disconnect, often engaging in solo pursuits.
  • The Builder: people who derive achievement from creating their own worlds within the gaming environment.
  • The Puzzler: individuals who enjoy playing puzzle games and brain teasers as their gaming preference.
  • The Contender: gamers who thrive on multiplayer competition and value connecting with friends online.

For brands, the question is not whether your customers are gamers, but rather, what type of gamer they are. Understanding these distinct profiles can shape a more targeted and effective approach to engaging with diverse gaming audiences.

Misconception #2: gaming isn’t relevant to my brand

In today’s pop-culture landscape, gaming plays a central role.

It is the cultural currency for young people. Whether discussing favourite streamers, YouTubers, or eagerly anticipated new game titles. Across the globe, young people connect and form bonds through shared gaming preferences and interests.

This influence has etched itself into our everyday language with terms like “Noob,” “Juicer,” “Easter Egg,” “Nerf,” and “NPC.” Moreover, gaming has left a permanent mark on our behaviour, with people incorporating in-game dances from popular titles like Fortnite.

It is not just for young people. Games are more broadly cross pollinating with pop-culture. Narratives from games such as ‘The Last of Us,’ ‘The Witcher,’ and ‘Arcane’ are permeating mass culture through large-scale productions.

Notably, in 2023, ‘Super Mario Bros.’ became one of the highest-grossing movies, raking in over $500 million at the box office and securing its place as the second-largest animated film of all time. If you are a brand playing in the entertainment industry, be it film, music or sport don’t overlook gaming as a key part of that strategy.

Zac Kelly

Gaming offers new media touchpoints and category-specific opportunities for brands, ranging from food delivery services supplying mid-game snacks to fashion brands creating immersive virtual worlds. Despite this, the relatively lower investment in gaming, compared to other media channels, presents a significant opportunity for brands to capture a disproportionate share of attention away from their competitors.

Now it is clear gaming is relevant to all brands audiences because the majority of people game. The key lies in understanding the specific gaming preferences of your audience.

It’s evident that gaming holds significance for all brands, particularly those aligned with gaming as a category usage occasion. Recognising this, the question becomes not whether to get involved, but rather, where to start.

More to come on that in Part 2…

Zac Kelly is the strategy director at PHD.

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