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Top 4 gaming trends marketers need to know about, according to Reddit

What are real gamers really talking about?

The metaverse, nostalgia games, the ascension of esports and VR are all trending in the gaming space, according to the latest Reddit data. As part of our deep dive into all things gaming, here is what you need to know about the emerging opportunities for marketers to reach gamers in innovative new ways – as well as in the spaces they know and love.

Reddit, the internet’s sacred space for nerding out, gossiping, finding answers to virtually any question ever and getting into niche interests and hobbies, is home to a thriving gaming community. And with people stuck at home – and online – for the past year-plus, the congregation has only grown. At the start of 2021, the social site recorded a 34% year-over-year growth in engagement across its gaming communities, per recent data from Reddit.

In fact, gaming is now the largest category on Reddit, with some 172 million monthly visitors and over three billion monthly views. And these gamers are not just visiting Reddit, but are engaging in in-depth conversations concerning everything from technical hacks on their games of choice to the future of the gaming space at large.

Here are four of the top gaming trends right now which reveal what real gamers are really talking about at ground zero:

The metaverse is here to stay

As a concept, the ‘metaverse’ first came into cultural consciousness with Neal Stephenson’s 1992 sci-fi novel Snow Crash. Broadly, the term refers to a fully-formed virtual world in which people can interact in real time. Today, it is often used to represent the centralization of gaming and gaming culture into a single synchronous, ongoing space in which gamers can interact in real time.

The concept of the metaverse is not only a popular topic of conversation among Redditors, but in some ways is manifesting on Reddit itself. The subreddit r/outside is a community where hundreds of thousands of users imagine a reality as “a free-to-play massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) with 7 billion+ active players”.

“The metaverse [is] this place where all of these gaming universes come together into one shared space. And ... that’s been Reddit for over a decade,” says Will Cady, global director of Karmalab, Reddit’s creative strategy agency. “On Reddit, you have the homes [for different gaming communities]. Gamers can be many different things – you’re a different person, you’re a different avatar, as you step into these game worlds. It’s a very rich identity conversation to have in terms of what it is to be a gamer in a place like Reddit, or in a place like the metaverse where you are a different person in different contexts.”

With the rise of the metaverse, brands have valuable opportunities to engage users in new immersive ways.

What’s old is new again

Nostalgia media is having a big moment. From record players to collectable comic books and vintage magazines, it seems that today’s consumers are fascinated by old-school formats. The same trend can be seen in gaming today.

The r/gaming community on Reddit has seen a spike in mentions of old-school games as of late. A recent post spotlighting one user’s Nintendo 64-inspired glass artwork received over 33,000 upvotes. A meme celebrating a vintage Nintendo Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game saw more than 29,000 upvotes. These are just a few signs of the rise of nostalgia game culture.

“One of the things that we’ve been seeing recently is the spike in r/2007scape, which is basically a community for old-school Runescape players,” says Dan Gould, head of partner insights and research at Reddit. “There is a legacy version that’s running; it’s one of the largest free-play role-playing games. It’s not just the ‘hot’ game of ‘now’ – there are communities talking about this style [of gaming and] actively participating in it, or younger generations finding these games ... and they’re just blown away by the technology.”

Gould notes that alongside the nostalgia-fueled gaming trend has been a growth in games with simple gaming structures (in contrast to the complex world-building style seen in games like Fortnite). These types of games have seen an increase in popularity during the pandemic, which Gould suspects may be due to the fact that their structures make it possible for users of all ages and experience levels to partake – which can facilitate a sense of connection between players. “You can think of things like Among Us and Fall Guys. They are not as complex as some of the first-person battle royale games. Because they are accessible, you can cooperate with people and kind of share these funny moments,” he says.

May 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the debut of Nintendo’s Gamecube, as well as Super Smash Bros Melee, both of which were unveiled at E3 – the video game industry’s largest trade event – in 2001. Now, gamers are eagerly awaiting E3 2021, where many hope new Smash Bros characters and Nintendo launches will be announced.

Esports are booming

The popularity of esports keeps rising and rising. On Reddit, the esports interest group rose 12% within the past week alone, propelled primarily by growing interest in the World of Warcraft and Dota2 communities. The r/esports subreddit saw a 182% spike in unique views on May 14, following a post stating that American gamer and YouTuber Ninja was making $5m a month through Fortnite’s creator code at the peak of his fame.

Reddit’s Cady and Gould say that, despite some skepticism over the category’s growth potential, esports is not going anywhere. “Esports has been growing ... like crazy over the last five years if not longer,” says Gould. “The rise of esports has made gaming aspirational in a way that never was before. It was a basement hobby, and now it’s a career – a lucrative one.”

While some gamers play esports casually, the rise of professional-level esports has created a new fandom and propelled the category at large. “They are playing at such a high level – they’re doing tournaments in stadiums,” says Gould. “This is an additional layer of interest: there are the teams and there are the individual players. When you bring those two points together, you have all these like other factors –you have drama, you have people beating a previous record, you have sponsorship deals like you have with [traditional] sports. You might not even play these games, but you might appreciate the level of skill, or you might follow these people on different platforms. And Reddit is where you go to talk about this.”

For marketers, esports offers major opportunities for sponsorships and brand placements, as is often seen in traditional sports like soccer and racing. It may also open up doors for more immersive branded playing experiences.

VR finally finds its groove

While virtual reality (VR) has not had nearly as large an impact on the gaming sector as was predicted early on, Reddit data suggests the technology simply may not have reached its potential yet.

In fact, when Oculus Quest 2 – the updated VR headset created by Facebook’s Oculus – was released in October 2020, gaming communities on Reddit went berserk. The r/oculusquest subreddit witnessed a 951% jump in screen views from the daily average the day after the announcement. Quest 2 memes and reviews abounded, and users touted the benefits of the new headset for game developers. Average daily screen views doubled and have remained relatively constant since the launch.

Gould says that VR is finding expanded applications across gaming, especially due to the physical restrictions of pandemic lockdowns. “There are these big stories [on Reddit] of people who haven’t been able to travel the world using VR to do so.”

From more on what the gaming sector’s pandemic-propelled popularity means for marketers, head to The Drum’s gaming hub. And don’t forget to sign up for The Drum’s daily US email here.