Casual gamers are learning to thrive in lockdown: Brands, ignore them at your peril

PC gaming / Caspar Rubin

Thousands of gaming fans sit in hushed anticipation - filling the Birmingham Arena in a time before lockdown. They are waiting for the next round of the 2019 Dota 2 ESL tournament to begin. Suddenly, a huge cheer ripples through the crowd. No one has walked on stage, nobody is on the mic, or even online - instead the sponsor logo on the big screen has changed to DHL and the stadium erupts with chants of “DHL, DHL, DHL”.

How did a non-endemic brand like DHL achieve cult-like status among a notoriously ruthless audience? It listened to them and then, quite literally, delivered on the experience gaming fans were looking for – a genuine value exchange.

The growth of gaming is not new news. In 2019, the global market was estimated at $152bn and over 5 billion hours of viewing time were clocked up on Twitch.

Self-isolation is acting as an accelerant.

And as we self-isolate, we are seeing an increase in both participation and viewing in gaming. Reports from Verizon show gaming usage went up 75% in the week after quarantine went into effect (Verizon Usage Report, March 2020), and on the 15th March, the gaming platform Steam hit an all-time high - with 20 million online concurrent users and 6.2 million in game (Steam Stats Figure, March 2020). Twitch have also reported a 10% increase in viewership week on week and YouTube Gaming is up 15% (StreamElements and Arsenal.gg Report, March 2020).

This rapid expansion of an already growing audience stems largely from a single group - the casual gamers. These are the people turning their console on to kill a few hours here and there, but who wouldn’t label themselves as ‘gamers’.

The truth is, gaming is no longer the preserve of the anti-social, geeky stereotype. It’s a mainstream cultural passion point, overtaking sport in the hearts of 18-34 year-olds (Cake, Cultural Barometer, 2019). It provides a way of connecting with old friends, making new ones and bonding over a shared passion. It also provides a consistent social infrastructure, better equipping gamers to handle lockdown life.

With more time inside and a lack of physical, social connection, it is no surprise that ‘casual gamers’ are looking for their connections elsewhere, increasing their time online. Rather than turning on their console every few weeks, they are finding themselves playing or viewing every day. They are connecting with friends and building new relationships through games and challenges - immersing themselves in a community that is there all the time and easy to access.

This will change the size and nature of the gaming community for good. It has expanded an already growing audience, normalised gaming as a mainstream cultural passion point and helped to dispel myths about what it means to be a gamer.

According to a recent GWI study, 77% of millennials and 57% of Gen Zers who are gaming more as a result of Covid-19, say they will continue to do so after the outbreak (GWI Coronavirus Research, April 2020). This will soften the hardcore gamers as they grow more accustomed to accepting casual gamers into their community, as well as playing a role in educating outsiders on the profile and diversity of the gaming audience.

All this change presents a real opportunity for brands, enabling access to a bigger, better, connected and more diverse audience in gaming. But be warned; to realise this opportunity, the key lies in understanding that the audience itself is evolving, and so too its needs and wants. Shouting at them won’t deliver the promised land. Enhancing and enriching their online lives just might.

Charlie Wright is a strategist at Cake

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