Why gaming is the next frontier for innovative marketing

Brands need to explore virtual worlds, according to Globe Content Studio trend research

florian-olivo-Mf23RF8xArY-unsplashBy Sean Stanleigh, Head of Globe Content Studio and Katherine Scarrow, General Manager of Globe Content Studio

In the early 1970s a computer system named PLATO, built by the University of Illinois, was the platform for a strategy game called Empire.

It was one of the first examples of multi-player gaming, as the program had the ability to host up to eight players remotely. The rub? You had to be part of a large organization that could afford the computing power and connections required to participate.

Flash forward to the end of 2020, when Marvel wrapped a season of collaborations with multiplayer game Fortnite by featuring a ‘live’ online event in which players took on the supervillain Galactus. There were up to 15.3 million people participating simultaneously.

You read that right: 15.3 million. At the same time. There was an extended viewership of a few million more on YouTube and Twitch.

The previous Fortnite records were 12.3 million for a Travis Scott concert hosted inside the game, and a Marshmello show that peaked at 10.7 million. It’s taken nearly 50 years but gaming has achieved massive scale. Anyone can engage, actively or passively, from anywhere.

It’s not the future, it’s the here and now, for players and observers. Marketers and advertisers need to find their places in these worlds, a necessity accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, when people across the globe are spending more time at home, looking for new forms of engagement.

They may not be able to gather physically, but they can get together virtually.

A recent survey by Deloitte on digital media trends found that during the pandemic a third of consumers, for the first time, subscribed to a video gaming service, used a cloud gaming service, watched e-sports, or tuned into a virtual sporting event. mika-baumeister-sWVAxoLmIzY-unsplashOut-of-home executions are not particularly strategic when people spend the bulk of their time in their houses. In the same way podcasts are a more intimate forum for advertising than typical digital media, gaming is more intensive and more focused than roaming the outside world, providing uniquely engaging opportunities for messaging.

U.S. president Joe Biden’s pre-election team created virtual yard signs for supporters to use in the hit Nintendo game Animal Crossings. Baskin Robbins and Starbucks were among the brands to use the augmented reality game Pokemon GO to advertise physical storefronts within a digital realm.

While Fortnite has continuing characters and storyline, the Marvel integration was one big marketing ploy. It’s worth noting that Fortnite is free to play and available on all platforms, including smartphones, and that users spend, on average, about 10 minutes per visit. (One small wrinkle: The maker of Fortnite, Epic Games, has filed a U.S. lawsuit alleging Apple violated antitrust laws when it removed the game from the iOS app store after Epic instituted a new payment system).

During the Travis Scott performance, his supersized avatar wore a selection of Nike Air Jordans. Marshmello’s event was not sponsored but during the 10-minute spectacle $30-million (U.S.) worth of virtual goods were sold, putting an exclamation mark on the potential for future wide-scale collaboration between gaming and marketing.

U.S.-based game payments firm Xsolla is convinced the future of conferences and corporate events also lies in gaming. In October, 2020, the company launched Unconventional, a platform for holding virtual events with 3D avatars inside virtual worlds.

With in-person trade shows and job fairs at a standstill, 6Connex offers a cloud-based experience that aims to expand your audience, extend the reach of your event, enhance the experience, and ensure maximum success. And avatar-based virtual event platform Teooh, based in Britain, has exploded in popularity since launching in April, 2020.

Does your brand need to rush into the gaming space tomorrow? No. But it needs a path. Do you need to work with forward-thinking creatives? Yes. Do you need to experiment on new digital platforms? Yes.

Do you need to consider how to gamify your approaches? Yes.

The point is that people are hungrier than ever for innovative content and new interactions, and brands that break free from outdated norms and restrictive design templates will be the ones that achieve differentiation.

It’s been nearly a year since the first COVID-related lockdowns were initiated, and we’re not out of the woods yet. Enough time has passed that it would be foolish to think the world will revert to the way things were pre-pandemic. Users have formed new habits, and many of them will be entrenched.

Change is hard, but it’s more essential than ever to keep up with trends and consider how to react to them. It’s time to get in the game.

This is one of the topics explored by Globe Content Studio’s annual State of Creativity presentation, which highlights global trends in content marketing. Email GCS@globeandmail.com for more information.