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Games might evolve, but the basics of talking to gaming communities remain the same

The Drum Social is a weekly column from The Drum’s social media executive Amy Houston covering the latest social media trends, strategies and insights. Follow Amy @AmyCLHouston and join in the conversation #TheDrumSocial

The Drum’s social media executive Amy Houston assesses the opportunities within gaming communities and, as part of our gaming deep dive, looks at how brands can prepare for what’s next.

If the future of entertainment lies in gaming and the future of gaming lies in online communities, what will brand activations look like in coming years?

The popularity of gaming has reached new levels during the pandemic, with communities becoming a source of entertainment and support for many players. It’s a medium that is constantly evolving, with disruptive tech, cultural moments and brand campaigns – and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.

There is so much that brands can learn from these communities, as I explored in last week’s column, but what’s in store for the future of gaming community management, and what does it mean for marketers?

Streaming has been a huge aspect of gaming for a while now. And when combined with the popularity of video-based platforms such as TikTok, it’s obvious that social media is becoming more personal and more fast paced than ever, and that brands looking to get a piece of the gaming pie need to understand this. In coming years, streaming will ”continue to grow as a very effective way to reach certain audiences – whether that’s through having streamers play your games or advertising on their streams,” says James Gallagher, senior social media manager at Keywords Studios.

The relationship between developers and gamers has got closer over the last few years, partly because of the rise of social channels, but predominantly because of the dedication of community managers. In the coming years, I believe this partnership will continue to flourish and be a blueprint for brand communication. As Oliver Hindle, the community director for Fall Guys at Mediatonic, puts it: ”A key learning from the last few years has been the sheer importance of authentic communication”.

Entertainment and innovation within gaming communities will continue to present huge opportunities. Animal Crossing’s partnerships with the likes of Lazy Oaf is a prime example of an exciting experience within a game resulting in two separate communities merging, generating a buzz on social channels for both the products and the game itself. Looking forward, we need to keep evolving and being creative in our approach to reaching new audiences, because as Roberto Kusabi, the director of community and social marketing at King, says: ”They aren’t easily boxed into one channel or medium, they can flow across and dip in and out of different avenues.

”We have to be thinking about where the audiences we want to talk to are spending time online, and then building communities around these areas, bringing new experiences to them, entertaining them and innovating.”

Continuing to break down barriers such as gender in the gaming community will see these online spaces thrive as cultural centers, undefined by anything except shared interests. Brand promotion within the gaming sector relies on various tactics and themes, but ultimately, says Sticky Click head of performance Jonny Hale, you want to make sure ”your campaign can truly pull people in and – most importantly – relate”.

The potential for brands within gaming is massive, and as digital communities continue to grow, so is the reach. There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about ‘digital cities’ and I wondered what that might look like for brand marketing in the future when contemplating investments. About the metaverse, Hindle tells me: ”Players rarely socialize in just one digital space, but it really depends on the demographic and genre-audience of a particular gaming community.”

With any social media channel or community, the technology evolves, so I ask Hindle the best way for brands to keep up with these developments and immerse themselves into their communities. ”There are always innovative ways to track and learn from these audiences, and brands can take cues from game studios on social media, but there’s no substitute to actually swimming in those waters yourself,” he tells me.

Keeping up with technological developments is crucial, but the most important job, according to Hale, is ”understanding the game’s audience and where they are... digitally”.

Games are forever getting more sophisticated, yet the fundamental ways that players engage with them stay mostly the same. As Gallagher puts it: ”If a player contacts you because of a problem with their NFT, do you treat them differently than if they’re having an issue with a CD-Rom?” New online communications channels emerge, but the basics of how to communicate with your customers don’t change.

Gaming and social media are more integrated than ever and community managers will continue to nourish this level of interaction. It’s my view that new tech, channels, and opportunities will come, but the future of brand marketing lies in placing community at the heart of it all.

From more on what the gaming sector’s pandemic-propelled popularity means for marketers, head to The Drum’s gaming hub.