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Open Mic Advertising

Four insights into the gaming audience advertisers should pay attention to in 2021

By Hendrik Menz, Brand & Agency Sales Director



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January 27, 2021 | 9 min read

At this point, we all comprehend the impact of 2020 on individuals and businesses across the world. Perhaps the most neutral word is “tectonic” — the fallout from the global pandemic has fundamentally shifted and reshaped life as we know it.

Graphic depicting a games controller on a colourful background

Gaming was among the lucky industries that actually saw growth during this challenging period. What the industry learned about its audience is important for advertisers who are now looking at in-game advertising as an important media channel to include in robust strategic planning. Understanding who is gaming and why, what they are playing, and how to engage them is key to tapping into this audience of over 3.1 billion. Advertisers — pay attention!

Gaming is entertainment...and so much more

This was the year that gaming joined the big leagues of entertainment options, moving from a niche experience to a universal one. While the film and music industries essentially tanked — global cinema dropped by 71.5% in box office revenue in 2020 and the global music industry declined up to 34% — the video gaming industry grew nearly 20% year-over-year. As movie theaters were shuttered and live concerts postponed indefinitely, gaming gave people something fun to do during the endless weeks of Covid lockdowns — it provided entertainment, stress relief, and distraction.

More than that, gaming allowed people to interact in a safe, socially-distant manner. A June 2020 global survey found that 60% of people were playing more multiplayer games than they had before Covid hit. Playing video and esports games allowed players of all ages to virtually join together in activities, when they couldn’t do so in person.

The result: The gaming industry is at least 4x as large as the film industry and almost 3x larger than the music industry. It’s even larger than the film and North American sports industries combined!

Why is this important for advertisers? Gaming proved to be a stable medium during unstable times and is an environment where a huge number of people are spending time — and will continue to do so as the pandemic continues. It’s a media channel not to be ignored.

Everybody games, sometimes

Long gone are the days when the typical gamer was a geeky teenage boy — or, worse for the industry’s image, a socially inept young adult — playing in his parents’ basement rather than engaging with typical age-appropriate behaviors. These days, almost everyone games to some extent. With roughly 3.1 billion people of all ages playing video games, that means 40% of the world’s population is gaming!


Given these numbers, it’s clear that the demographics of players have changed dramatically over recent years. Globally, the male/female gamer ratio is almost equal — if we look at mobile gaming, 63% are women — and players range from young children to those age 65+. In fact, the average gamer is 34 years old, owns a house, and has children. And according to one report, there are as many players over age 45 as there are below age 45.

Among these, almost 50% of players are in the Asia Pacific region, which has nearly double the number of players as Europe, the next-largest region, and over seven times more than North America, the smallest region. The buying power of all these gamers is nearly $175 billion, propelled further than expected this year by COVID-19.

During 2020, those who consider themselves gamers played over seven hours per week. But there’s a whole category of people who consider themselves “casual gamers” or don’t consider themselves “gamers” at all -- and even those people played more during Covid.

In fact, 17% of non-gamers or casual gamers played longer and the percent of gamers who spent more than five hours a week playing jumped from 63% to 82% in 2020.

That’s a whole lot of gaming going on, by a whole lot of different types of people all over the world — opening up endless possibilities for advertisers to find their target audiences.

Mobile is driving the industry

Mobile gaming accounts for almost half of total industry revenues, with an estimated $85 billion generated in 2020. According to App Annie, “By the end of 2020, mobile game spending is set to lead over desktop and home console gaming to more than 2.8x and 3.1x, respectively — solidifying that mobile gaming is in a league of its own.”


Driving this tremendous growth in mobile is the casual gaming genre, which racked up a 45% year-over-year increase in the first half of 2020. And, within that category, hyper casual games are having a huge impact, bringing in 100 million new mobile players this year and over $2 billion. According to the Hyper Casual Gaming in 2020 report jointly released by Adjust and Unity, not only did players download more hyper casual games this year, they played those games longer — sessions grew by a ‘whopping’ 72% in March, which coincided with the first Covid lockdowns across the world.

The good news for advertisers is that, although much of 2020’s gaming increase is attributed to people staying at home, the ascendancy of mobile means gamers still will be playing on their mobile devices after Covid is over and they are out and about again.

Thinking out-of-the-box pays off

Across the business world, agility and flexibility — hallmarks of the ubiquitous 2020 term “pivot” — were needed in order to quickly adapt to the challenges this year brought. Brands and businesses that were creative saw success, especially if they partnered across ecosystems to give customers what they were missing during this diminished time.

The gaming industry saw some extremely successful out-of-the-box partnerships that showcased the potential of gaming as a media channel. One of the most spectacular examples is, of course, Travis Scott’s concert within Fortnite, which reached an audience of over 12 million people in-game during the event and its YouTube video has over 140 million views so far. With live concerts impossible during Covid, the partnership between Scott and Fortnite gave music lovers the opportunity to participate in an exciting live music event where they were — under lockdown, at home. Much smaller, but similarly successful, Minecraft hosted the ‘Block by Blockwest’ virtual music festival, where over 30 bands performed across three servers and 5000 players “stage-div[ed] and jump[ed] around in mosh pits from the comfort of their bedrooms.”


In another creative example, other devastated industries took to Animal Crossing, the instantly-popular game released mid-April, to connect with their audiences in engaging and out-of-the-box virtual ways. For example: California’s Monterey Bay Aquarium created a fully functional aquarium, with feedings and guest lectures; Designers Marc Jacobs and Valentino brought canceled Fashion Week 2020 into the game, debuting collections and even allowing players to ‘wear’ some of the new clothes; Sentosa Island in Singapore created a replica of its resort, where virtual travelers were able to “take part in an oceanfront yoga session, hike the luscious rainforest, visit a beautiful aquarium, and party at a beach club.”

These and other brands across the world have found ways to stay relevant and top-of-mind with their otherwise-inaccessible markets during Covid by utilizing opportunities provided by sponsorships, partnerships, and advertising with and in games.

Final thoughts

On the heels of a banner year for gaming, 2021 provides brands with a valuable opportunity to invest their advertising budgets in-game, reaching a huge market with tremendous buying power. Success in-game will take creativity and a deep understanding of global and local gamer audiences.

With an entire Metaverse of possibilities at their doorstep, gaming populations will certainly continue exploring these virtual landscapes and shifting a significant portion of their time and engagement there. Brands who miss out on the opportunity to position themselves here early might end up as “Blockbuster Video” 2.0.

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