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Perception paralysis: how the face of gaming is changing

by Antonia Mc Taggart

29 October 2020 19:13pm

The face of gaming is changing and marketers need to catch up

A recent Sunday Times article asked “Are video games the defining art form of 2020?”. And based on what we’ve seen over the last number of months, they may be on to something. While 2020 has been a difficult year for many, the video game industry has flourished with an impressive jump in both revenue and downloads. From major IPs to indie games, across all types of gaming COVID-19 has kept millions of people at home and searching for new forms of entertainment.

2020 always promised to be a standout year for the games industry. In April, Microsoft disclosed that its Game Pass subscribers (think Netflix for gaming) passed 10 million. Among them, Microsoft also reported a 130% increase in multiplayer engagement across March and April. Nintendo announced sales of its Switch console were up 24% year-over-year, while its new game, “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” had sold 13.5 million copies since its release in late March. And there’s still more to come, with the launch of 2 new consoles with potential for cloud gaming. This could take PC and console gaming to entirely new audiences who have been primed playing games on mobile.

Despite its expanding reach and diverse audiences, there are still countless clichés about the video games industry. One of the most prevalent is that there’s such a thing as a ‘typical gamer’. If you ask someone to describe that person they picture, they’ll most likely paint a picture of the stereotypical young, male gamer, with a controller in his hands. However, gaming has become democratised with figures released in August showing that 46% of players are women and more than 50% of gamers are over 30. We are at an inflection point where it’s more important than ever to represent these audiences, both in how games are made and in how they’re advertised.

The true picture of a gamer is infinitely more diverse and while there is opportunity, we must challenge this lack of diversity, in the way games are made and marketed. Campaigns aimed at younger audiences are being placed on channels that are predominantly being used by older generations. As well as potentially ignoring large parts of the customer base, media planning based on outdated assumptions could mean that games companies don’t even put their message in front of their intended targets. This is even more of a risk in 2020, as the launch of next generation consoles should give manufacturers, developers, and publishers alike the chance to bring an entire new generation of people into the gaming world.

A recent IPA Touchpoints study in the UK found that media consumption habits have changed massively in the last 4 years. In 2014 the highest reaching commercial media channel for nearly all ages and demographics was TV, by 2018 the landscape had changed. This change is particularly apparent with the 16–34 demographic – the target of many major game campaigns.

So as the industry gains new converts – what comes next? It’s time to rethink how we talk to our audiences, use data to understand who is playing and use the right creative to better engage the player with a story they can relate to. Take this change mentality right through to your advertising message, look at how you build specific gender neutral creative that you can test and see what resonates better. The takeaway is about asking the questions: are we responding quickly enough to our current world, if not, why not? How can we do better? And how can we challenge the way we are thinking to respond to these? Then answering these questions with a meaningful and diverse message.

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