For many Australians under lockdown again, the Tokyo Olympic Games has been a well-timed and a much welcome distraction from COVID, offering an alternative and more uplifting topic of conversation to engage in. But a recent Facetime chat with my mum led me to ruminate on how the Olympics aren’t the only games that lockdowns have driven an increased interest in.
To my surprise, it was my mum who informed me that Google had developed a special Olympics themed mini-game playable on the Google homepage – the ‘Doodle Champion Island Games’ is a retro-themed 8-bit RPG and Google’s most sophisticated ‘Google Doodle’ yet - which has been keeping her entertained via her mobile during TV ad breaks.
Hearing about it from Mum really served as a reminder as to just how accessible and widespread gaming has become. In fact, 72% of Australians play video games and 58% of them do so on their mobile. COVID has fuelled even greater interest with 1 in 4 playing games for the first time last year during lockdown. I myself feature in those statistics, having jumped on the bandwagon in buying a Nintendo Switch during the pandemic. I don’t identify as a ‘gamer’, given my very basic skills in Mario Kart and Tetris, but upon reflection I probably do regularly spend a few hours a week playing.
Whilst not all people who play games identify as being ‘gamers’ (60% don’t), there’s no doubt that gaming is now mainstream, and increasingly competing with other forms of entertainment and media consumption.
Netflix recently announced that they too will be expanding into video gaming and offering mobile games for its subscribers at no additional charge, with the company previously stating that they see video game Fortnite as a bigger competitor than HBO. With other big tech companies like Apple, Amazon and Microsoft all investing in the gaming space, choice and accessibility for games will only continue to grow.
Gaming could very well be the new content battleground in media and entertainment. There’s never been a better time for advertisers to tap into gaming.
So how can brands get in on the action?
Firstly, an understanding of your audience is essential. Recognize that games don’t just reach your stereotypical ‘gamer’, but likely have the potential to reach a significant portion of your target audience when you consider that most Australians are playing games. But of course, the gaming landscape is broad, encompassing PC, mobile and console gameplay, e-sports and streaming. There are a variety of games out there from Call of Duty to Candy Crush. An understanding of where your audience is gaming is key to identifying how to best connect with them in the most relevant environments.
Players of games are actively engaged and attentive, offering great opportunity for advertisers. But it’s important to also consider how your brand will enhance the gaming experience as opposed to distract from it. Players of free to download mobile games are more open to watching in-game video ads, with 57% favorably viewing ads that offer rewards such as extra lives or levels. However for paid-for and highly immersive games, a native and integrated approach will deliver greater success. An example of a brand that has done this well is Singapore’s Sentosa Island who tapped into the popularity of Nintendo’s Animal Crossing at the start of the pandemic and built a digital replica of the island for players to virtually explore within the game.
Brands can also consider producing their own branded games to use as owned content, essentially acting as virtual brand activations. When consumers participate in brand experiences, they dedicate considerably more time and attention to branded messages. This can range from simple gamified rich media like Uniqlo’s Hot or Cold online game, where players move their cursor around in search of Uniqlo shirts to win, or more sophisticated builds like the zany KFC ‘I Love You, Colonel Sanders’ dating sim which offers multiple hours of game play.
With gaming consumption undoubtedly on the rise, brands should seriously consider gaming as part of the media mix and think about getting in on the gaming action.
 Gaming and Esports: The Next Generation, YouGov 2020  Everyone’s Gaming Among Us, InMobi, 2021  Gamers are not who you think they are, WARC, November 2020  Netflix’s gaming expansion starts with mobile, The Verge, July 2021  Netflix Reveals That Its Biggest Threat Is... 'Fortnite', Forbes, January 2019  Mobile gamers would rather watch ads than pay for in-game currency, Mumbrella, January 2021