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Future of Gaming: the roundtable debate

Future of Gaming: the roundtable debate

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Gaming sales are booming, and the time people spend gaming in the UK and US is on the rise, according to new research.

In terms of time spent gaming, the Game Audience survey by Future surveyed more than 2,000 respondents in both countries who all had a gaming device and expressed an active interest in gaming during the previous six months. It saw 64% of those in the UK saying they had increased the gaming time; this rose to 68% in the US.

The survey found the average time spent playing games across devices per week is 21 hours and seven minutes.

Not only that, but 2021 was a record-breaking year for US gaming sales, consumer spend hit $60.4bn, according to NPD Group US retail tracking, an 8% increase compared to the previous year.

In the UK, customers purchased nearly 36 million digital and physical games, 3.36 million consoles and 10.6 million accessories in the same period.

Analysts GlobalData have predicted that the mobile gaming market alone will be worth $272bn by 2030.

Ahead of Mediatel’s Future of Gaming event on 13 October, The Media Leader and Future brought together seven experts to discuss what’s next in gaming advertising and how advertisers can get involved.

Attendees: Matt Fuller, managing director at Once Upon A Time; Luke Aldridge, commercial director EMEA at Livewire; Reece Brown, global creator and content partnerships at Twitter; Lucy Rissik, CEO and founder of Brotherhood of Brand; Vicky Crouch-Marlow, client planning lead at the7stars; Rhys Hancock, co-founder and managing director of Metavision Studio; and Tom Parkinson, head of commercial, games, at Future Publishing.

How have you seen new tech change the gaming? Will this trend change at all in future years, or do you see more shifts on the horizon?

Fuller: The developments in technology have enabled us to understand audiences better and subsequently talk to them in a more meaningful way. If we use the insight that we get around who is playing any given game then we can dramatically improve targeting, messaging and creative.

I think we will see more shifts, huge shifts at that! That’s what makes games such an incredible industry, it’s always itching to get into something new. The ability to deliver cross-platform experiences is super exciting and could open up even more players to games that haven’t yet been discovered.

Aldridge: Our view is that gaming was already reaching new audiences beyond younger males a long time ago, and the narrative that female gamers are only playing casual smart phone games simply isn’t true. This is backed up by recent data from Newzoo: 66% of female gamers play on console, and 68% play on PC vs 77% and 78% respectively for males.

Emerging technologies have certainly been changing the gaming experience in recent years. Cross-device/cloud-based gaming platforms are blurring the lines between mobile, console and PC gaming. Unreal Engine 5 is producing astonishing demos of its capabilities. VR headsets had a record year in terms of sales last year and started 2022 very strong as well. When I first put on a Quest 2, I was blown away. AR gaming is one to keep an eye on – it looked poised to explode after Pokémon Go but there haven’t been mainstream successes that have cut-through in the years since.

Over past two years there has been a lot of buzz around blockchain-based gaming as well, with open economy models that allow players to trade in-game assets and currency using crypto rails, Axie Infinity being the most notable. The reaction to these games has been mixed; some view these projects as Ponzi schemes, others see them as a window into the future of game infrastructure.

Without question, there will be more shifts coming. The next wave of VR tech has the potential to push it to a new level in terms of player experience and immersion. There is the inevitable march towards photorealism but with a much broader field of view than 2D displays, imperceptibly low latency, varifocal eye-tracking to reduce optical distortion, haptic gloves replacing hand-held controllers, and a variety of potential solutions to make headsets smaller and lighter.

Rissik: One that I think is interesting is AI – I recently met Tara Louise Reddy who is one of the founders of Loveshark. They are actually creating camera games using Ai (and Snapchat) which are specifically aimed at girls. I think we will see more of these and continue to have the games industry grow in different ways.

Brown: Brands should be more alert to the opportunity to reach wider communities through video games than perhaps historically perceived. This is both a result of the growth of gaming and traditional glass ceilings being broken.

For the future, I’m excited to see the evolution of the gaming industry itself be more representative of its richly diverse consumer base and the creativity this will unleash!

Parkinson: The technology behind both Mobile app-based gaming, and on the move gaming (e.g. Switch) has improved significantly in the last few years, and this has brought interest in gaming from new audiences.

We are seeing more interest from older age ranges, who are often time poor, and so use commuting time to satisfy their entertainment needs through gaming on these devices.

Hancock: The rise of user generated content engines within platforms such as Roblox, Minecraft and Fortnite Creative has democratised the creation of gaming and interactive experiences for all.

High fidelity gaming content is no longer restricted to traditional game development teams, but opened up to brands, entertainment companies and more importantly independent content creators who can build amazing experiences and then deploy them on high reach platforms to generate powerful, highly engaged new audiences.

This trend will only expand as the engines within UGC gaming or ‘Metaverse-like’ platforms become more powerful and allow for a broader range of entertainment experiences across sports, music and more.

What are the best ways in 2022 for brands to get more involved in gaming, whether its sponsorship or advertising or something else?

Aldridge: Test and learn. Treat gaming like any other marketing channel — share your brand challenges, opportunities, objectives and target audience with gaming strategists and they will help navigate the ecosystem to connect the brand with the relevant gaming audiences in the right way. In many instances, this will lead to cut-through with new audiences and deliver incremental reach.

Rissik: So, personally, I think partnerships or collabs are a really viable way to be involved. There is a way to create greater authenticity and relevance than just sponsoring something. I think brands need to look at their rounded games strategy.

It should never be a one hit thing, but something that has multiple touchpoints. The games audience are a dedicated one and also one that is highly engaged. They can spot a disingenuous way that a brand may look to be involved.

Brown: What’s so fascinating about the world of video games is that there are so many consumer touchpoints for brands to be a part of and add value to. These touch points can be as endemic as an integrated sponsorship within a game – Think Roblox and Gucci!) or collaborating with streamers hosting content connected to a title.

At Twitter one of the ways we’re seeing brands have the most success is connecting with the conversation around gaming. In the first half of 2022 we saw conversations about gaming on Twitter up 36% year on year! Surprise, surprise: gamers love to talk about gaming.

Rhys Hancock: I wouldn’t say there is a singular best way for any brand to get involved with gaming in 2022. All brands will need to speak to gaming native audiences in time and all brands will need to find an authentic route to speak to those audiences, whether it’s in Fortnite, Roblox, Twitch, in-game banner ads, or all of the above.

Brands need to earn their stripes with gamers and respect their culture. Audiences can sniff out and reject any arrogance from brands, but conversely will welcome and celebrate brands who provide real value in the spaces where they play.

I would advise a test and learn strategy: what does an initial foray into ‘metaverse like platforms’ alongside YouTube, Twitch, esports look like and how can you normalise your brand in gaming spaces with gamers over time. Ultimately, this will become a brand requirement in the coming years and therefore brands should be less afraid to try things out.

Crouch-Marlow: Sponsorship within gaming can require lengthy conversations with a huge amount of stakeholder sign off. In recent times we’ve heard much about the metaverse, however, there are brands which have been playing in this space for many years before the term was coined.

H&M created a fashion pack inside The Sims 2 back in 2007, the idea of putting brands into games has been around for many years. However, now there are many more opportunities and games out there.

It is said that nearly 70% of the UK are gamers in some capacity, so reaching the right audience is possible in so many more ways than back in 2007. Getting under the skin of what type of games your audience play and how they like to play is critical. It’s important for a brand to add value to the gaming experience — after all, they are doing this for fun! Whether you offer ‘free lives’ in return for watching your ad or put your brand ambassador into a game through a ‘character ad’ always think what value this brings to your audiences passion point.

Fuller: It seems strange to me that gamers and games advertising for brands are put in this separate box, like it’s some sort of dark art to reach “them”. Videogames IS popular culture so let’s not polarise it and come up with specific, often patronising, campaigns and strategies.

It is a rewarding and enriching part of most people’s lives – you get a real buzz from playing, just like you do when hear a decent tune or see a great film. A good starting point is to learn about the nuances within and see games as part of culture.

What are the most important ways in which behaviours among gamers are changing?

Rissik: One of the main behaviours that is actually being recognised is realising not all games are played by teen boys in dark bedrooms. Brands are now recognising that there is a varied audience and also not everyone does one thing. The first-person shooter player also plays multiple other games which can range across a number of platforms.

People are realising that video games are actually a luxury product. The cost of entry is high and also when people buy a game, they generally play for about two years. This is a product that is treasured, people like feeling part of a community – a tribe and this will only continue.

Crouch-Marlow: It’s becoming more a community of people, socialising, sharing and playing together. The proliferation of online play mechanisms is now connecting more people than ever before.

Nearly all games publishers develop games with this social play in mind and gamers now expect this. Part of the gaming experience is how you share this with others; social media, streaming, in-game communities, or even real-world gaming events are all designed to harness the power of the group.

Hancock: The key shift in behaviour is the types of experiences that gamers are demanding. Gamers are now wanting social experiences as a way to connect with friends. This helps us reframe platforms as Roblox and Fortnite Creative as the next iteration of social platforms as much as they are games.

This change in behaviour, moving from playing to win to playing to socialise, is underpinned by a change in demographics also. We see the emergence of a future mainstream audience in platforms such as Roblox with a more even gender split.

The ubiquity of these platforms means that brands should alter their view of who a gamer is in the long run: it will no longer be just Call of Duty fans in their bedrooms, but everyone from every background under a certain age. As that audience gets older, the platforms they use may change, but they will be used to socialising in immersive, interactive environments and brands must be prepared to meet them where they are hanging out.

Parkinson: I would say from our research we have seen that gamers are investing more time in their hobby, and our sites now see users dedicate an average of 20+ hours gaming per week, where it was previously 14+ hours.

We also see huge crossover of multiple devices, where gamers no longer categorise themselves as just a PC, PS, Xbox or Nintendo gamer, but often dip into 2-3 different ecosystems on a weekly basis.

Fuller: Also, the subscription-based models on PlayStation and Xbox are changing behaviours around purchasing and play and this feels really significant.

I don’t think they have cracked it yet, but it won’t be long before Google, Meta or Apple go out and create something we haven’t seen before and shift behaviours once again. The constant chatter around alternate universes doesn’t seem to be going away but I am not convinced it will change the way games are enjoyed and played anytime soon.

How significant do you think watching gaming/esports will continue to be?

Brown: The content consumption around gaming continues to grow and become a key touchpoint for gaming fans. The growth of video consumption across platforms like Twitter, Youtube and Twitch directly to this, whether it’s professional content creators or UGC the appetite for gaming content is vast.

The world of esports is a great example: arguably some of the most popular teams in the world feel more like media entities than competitive teams. Content consumption is an integral way they build fandom and connection with their communities, and I don’t see that slowing down any time soon.

Aldridge: Streaming is already enormous and will continue to grow. You have the action, the competition, but also the entertainment value from the talent. The best content creators have it all.

Viewers also get better at the games they love to play by watching streamers, so you’re learning while enjoying the show. The value proposition delivered to consumers is powerful and it’s no surprise that the top streamers are reaching levels of fame and success previously associated with pro athletes in traditional sports.

Esports is a little harder to predict. Partly owing to the pandemic where live events couldn’t take place, it doesn’t seem as though esports is evolving at the same pace as other areas of the gaming ecosystem.

The fan experience must continue to improve, and on the organisational side, the business model is hard to crack. Recruiting casual/light gamers and indeed non-gamers remains a challenge. But to be clear, the popularity of the mainstays — League of Legends, CS:GO, Dota — is huge, particularly across Asia.

Rissik: To grow the watching audience will need a change in games that are used in that space and potentially a change in the industry.

There are dedicated viewers and dedicated fans, but what we have is a group of elites at the top and then a big gap. What I would like to see is a further growth at community level — make the entry easier and less intimidating. The esports/gaming industry is still young and has many changes ahead — it might not be the size of the audience watching the big tournaments, but we may see growth at a more micro level.

Crouch-Marlow: Whilst it is reported that esports has seen a 12% growth from 2020 to 2021 (Newzoo), we need to be mindful that the last report from Ukie in 2020 claimed esports accounted for 8% of the total gaming market.

Therefore, it’s important for brands to consider all the gaming opportunities outside of esports. Naturally any of these gaming experiences are incredibly visual, games publishers rely heavily on visual advertising to convey this (rarely do we hear gaming brands using radio to advertise the in-game experience). This naturally results in a huge amount of video content created by games companies, news publishers and gamers themselves to really immerse viewers in the experience.

Fuller: Watching play and listening to commentary is massively important and has always been a huge part of the videogames community. We get dazzled with a new viewing stat every month and it keeps rising! So, yes, its massively significant!

We’ve got the esports commonwealth games this summer in Birmingham so am looking forward to that. I think esports will continue to be the part of the games industry that continues to have a series of watershed moments.

How important are publishers in game discovery nowadays versus platforms and user-generated content on YouTube/social media?

Aldridge: Very important. Publishers still play a huge role in game discovery. I use platforms and social media to find new games, but I enjoy the content curation that publishers are so good at.

Editorial coverage is broad, and much more structured than, say, social media. For someone with limited time, efficiency is important. Not everyone has time to scroll through the noise of a social media feed or watch hours-long livestreams.

The drawback of relying on platforms to get recommendations of what to play is that they, understandably, want to keep you on that platform. That can be limiting. Publishers don’t have this constraint.

Fuller: We are seeing massive consolidation amongst the bigger publishers and at the same time the indie scene is thriving. The publishers can play a really important role here in both education and discoverability.

I have always wondered why publishers never jumped on the influencer juggernaut, journalists are the original influencers and have huge amounts of authenticity and relevance.

We could see a return to these trusted sources as more and more user generated placements and mentions can be bought. The vast majority of cool projects don’t have millions to spend on paid placements so any way of being discovered and breaking out through publisher involvement is really important.

Parkinson: Publishers like PCGamer, IGN and Eurogamer will always have a role to play in the game discovery space, and a lot of that is due to trust. These brands have existed for 25+ years for a reason, and that is because their audiences trust their opinions, and they keep coming back.

The other main reason for me is the variety of coverage, where you can be in the same place and find out about games across all platforms, all genres, and all publishers. Content creators often focus on one specific game, genre or platform, and so can ostracise a high volume of their potential audience.

These individual quirks and approaches to gaming are only going to make it more accessible for brands to get involved.

And what about the influence of publishers of video games themselves?

Rissik: I think there is still importance. Reputation about creating games to a certain standard is still very much looked at by fans.

What is also interesting is how publishers are potentially looking at how they can create crossovers. I would love to see more of this – pop ups of footballers in the Sims, or maybe a COD character dropping into Overwatch.

Advertisers should think about working with a blend of people and publishers who have a shared vision and brand synergy.

Crouch-Marlow: You only have to look at the growth in traffic for publisher games content to understand it’s a valued channel. There’s a plethora of content created, adapted for the experienced gamer to the absolute newbie.

Gaming content can be found in the most unusual spaces, for example Nintendo worked with a range of Future’s lifestyle brands to create an online destination for the casual gamer by talking about in game fashion and home design.

Whilst we see a huge number of gaming sites and publisher content grow in traffic, we also see an increased numbers of influencers developing their own ’take’ on the gaming world.


Gaming Now + Next

Future’s latest whitepaper not only provides expert views and commentary from its leading games editors, but also reveals the results of one of the most in-depth gaming audience surveys ever to be conducted.

The survey of over 2,000 respondents covers topics from console and device ownership, preferred gaming genres, to playtime duration, and changing gaming behaviours.

You can discover:

  • How play time duration has changed
  • How women are drivers of changing gaming habits
  • Preferred devices and games of both UK and US gamers
  • The role the metaverse plays in the future of gaming
  • How supply chain issues continue to gaming purchases
  • Audiences most-desired gaming purchase.

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