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Everyone has a favourite computer game, right? I know I do. It's The Secret of Monkey Island from 1990. A point and click adventure game classic.
But things have certainly moved on since my own halcyon days, when I was 10 years-old and games had giant pixels, limited colours and simplistic (but often distinctively beautiful) 8-bit sound.
Today we don't even know how spoiled we are; we're playing multiplayer, 3D rendered, open world games on our smart phones; we're using PC graphics cards so powerful they have to be housed in special cooling units; we're playing games so sophisticated they're narratively on par with the best TV and film.
And we're also playing Candy Crush at the bus stop. Gaming is now everywhere, is being played by many more people than most realise (including women, who account for half of all gamers); and media, have you also noticed, is becoming increasingly gamified - a trend surely set to increase as technology allows it.
The global games audience is estimated at between 2.2 and 2.6bn people and the global software market is expected to grow from $137.9bn in 2018 to $180bn by the end of 2021.
Meanwhile, competitive gaming – hey, you don't wince when it's chess! - generated over a billion dollars in global revenues with 82% of that coming from brand investments for media rights, advertising and sponsorship.
Then there's the mash-up of social video and gaming culture, which has seen platforms like Twitch pretty much explode. Last year the Amazon-owned platform streamed 10 billion hours of video… and during lockdown the audience has reportedly jumped 50%.
Comscore data also shows that lockdown has seen online gaming generally leap during the pandemic – up around 25%.
But, despite the impressive numbers, and I could spew out many more to make my point, many brands are scratching their heads wondering if or how they should get involved.
Do they advertise in-game (a sophisticated new opportunity, but deemed intrusive)? Do they gamify their own content (works wonders for Snap)? Do they sponsor a gaming event (the audiences are phenomenal)? Do they plonk banner ads on mobile games (oh, don’t be basic)? Which audiences do they target (gaming means you can do it psychographically)?
These are all questions worth asking now because gaming is becoming a distinct media channel and the opportunities are growing. It’s up to brands and agencies in which direction they take it.
And on that point, it's worth noting that if advertisers want a legitimate stake in this world, they should probably help usher in some diversity. The industry is still riddled with issues (ugh, gamergate, you still make my toes curl), and you can see it in the games. If we're making intricate fantasy realms in which we can escape reality and pretend to be someone or something we’re not, why not perform the additional and rather minor mental feat of choosing to leave all the misogyny at the dungeon gates too?
It's also at such odds with the current trends in marketing departments to embrace diversity and demonstrate values, something that will consciously or unconsciously make many brands weary of considering gaming, leaving its potential untapped.
That said, there's still so much to play for that is good and exciting and for that reason we were thrilled to host the first Future of Gaming event last week. It's a new area for us, and a new area for many of the people who tuned in - which is why we curated a host of expertise from around the industry in the op-eds below.
The event, another in our lockdown series, is now available on-demand.