What marketers need to know about the big business of gaming

Worldwide, the big business of gaming rakes in more than US$90 billion globally each year (and counting) and is considered a major growth industry in Australia and Asia. This big industry however, tends to remain elusive and somewhat mysterious to both marketers who struggle to engage with create meaningful connections with the large gaming community.

The hottest trends revealed at gaming mecca E3 this year are anticipated to impact the marketing agenda for the next 12 months and beyond, setting the tone for future technology and entertainment engagement and interactions.

This year, it’s all about new hardware, Virtual Reality (VR) and blockbuster games – and the services that hold it all together.

At the event, Sony unveiled the release date and price for their new virtual reality headset, as well as a slew of blockbuster games. Xbox has shared their vision for the future with a new family of Xbox One Devices. Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Bethesda have all premiered their new games to an ecstatic audience. Plus, there have been a few mainstream brands in tow, including Doritos who offered punters an “experience zone” in downtown LA.

Here’s a quick rundown of the big takeaways from this year’s E3 and those that will affect and impact the global marketing community and engagement methods:

Collaboration and co-creation

It’s taking market research to an entirely new level and giving fans unprecedented buy-in to a game. The idea of co-creation is now being built into the creative process of many big gaming franchises, and using beta programs (in which new games are first tested out on a sample of fans before being fully released) as a vital step in their development process.

What does this tell us? Taking the time to really listen to fans can be the key to a successful product.

The benefits of co-creation with fans to marketers and creatives are huge: first, their fan feedback and rich data can amplify a product and make it better, and second, offering early (and free) access to the product builds a connection with fans well ahead of the release of the final finished product.

Video is vital when it comes to gaming

The value of video should not be underestimated when it comes to the gaming world. It’s a vital and crucial part of the system. Top notch production standards for each element of video content are an absolute must, with many people using Hollywood cinematography and production methods with state-of-the-art CGI and game play throughout.

Why plunge so many resources into video? Because video is the heart of the gaming community, from the highly polished trailers to the scrappy user-generated offerings peppered across social platforms – and the savvy gaming and entertainment companies are feeding this in a big way.

Through fans, creators, celebs, influencers or brands, hundreds of millions of hours of video is being shared and viewed and will set the tone for the next year in entertainment.

Forget sales, it’s about engagement

We aren’t used to hearing about ‘users’ in the gaming world; the focus has always been on sales and games sold. The interesting thing is that every video gamer has downloaded games for free at some point. They have their fun with it, then maybe pay for a few add-ons to improve the experience. Or alternatively, they buy a full game from the outset and enjoy everything it has to offer.

These are the models that have sustained the industry thus far – but this is all about to change.

The future of gaming will be as a subscription service. This will see game creators continuously offering updates by releasing expansions and patches, with the goal of driving retention and engagement.

Forget about game sales, marketers need to change their model and move to active users and subscribers. Campaigns won’t be limited to launch activity either – more time and resourcing will be devoted to ‘always on’ activity and activations to retain subscribers and engage loyal users.

The eSports hype is real and here to stay

Video gaming is no longer a solo pursuit with a couple of kids in a dark room staring at a screen. What’s crystal clear is that eSports is here and growth is evident from the outset with plenty of chatter and industry news about eSports (with talk of it joining the Olympics and of $20 million in prize money).

To prove this, EA hosted an eSports contest at E3 and invited some splashy names to join in. Jamie Foxx, Zac Efron, Snoop Dogg, plus NFL, NBA and music stars all joined forces with pro-gamers and Youtubers for a 64-person multiplayer match of the soon-to-be-released World War 1 video game Battlefield 1.

And, while this was as much a press stunt as it was a contest, there are plenty of other leagues and tournaments being set up every week.

Twitch is the official broadcaster of many of these tournaments, and attracts huge audiences, as well as bigger prize money and fresh new personalities, which all add up to prime opportunities for commercialisation.

These commercial opportunities and engagements have been pounced on by tech brands in the past, but there is undoubtedly a movement in the works with non-tech brands looking to integrate through on-site branding and streaming sponsorships.

eSports have the potential to offer a level of engagement so high that it would make any marketer weak at the knees. But authentic integration will be the key to success in this new interactive arena.

VR comes in all sizes – but it’s not for everyone

Virtual Reality has long since been the holy grail for gamers searching for more immersive content beyond their consoles, PCs and phones and the gaming industry has been a huge driver of this technology and bringing it into the mainstream world.

Sony showed off their new VR headset with blockbuster IPs like Batman and Star Wars and the next 24 months will see this space explode with more top end experiences. Brands really need to consider scalability as consumers are exposed to more options and, as adoption grows of VR and experiences get richer, they need to understand the space they’re playing in.

Is this entry level with 360 videos (which is scalable, thanks to Facebook and YouTube) or the top end with immersive high fidelity VR, which is still limited to early adopters?

Strategically, while brands and marketers tend to want to gravitate to things that are shiny, new and deemed cool, the recommendation is to only invest in a rich VR experience if you are in a well-established industry like automotive or holidays – or you might not get bang for your buck.

Overall, the future of the gaming industry is bright. For the future of the gaming industry, consumer engagement is king and technology will continue to build and drive community, conversation and innovations for marketers in the next 12 months.

The writer is Kumar Manix is the founder and creative behind The Spaceship.

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