A year of stay-at-home mandates, quarantines and new routines forced the many sectors relying on in-person, social activities to firmly switch off. But for the gaming industry and its ecosystem it’s been well and truly game on. Amounting to over 2.7 billion players globally, the gaming market, now worth over $300 billion and bigger than both movies and music combined, is a true force to be reckoned with.

But even as lockdowns start to lift, there’s by no means a pause on our need to play. Far from in fact, as there are clear indicators that the industry is about to level up as new technologies, business models and consumer expectations continue to evolve. Gaming has come to dominate and even re-imagine how we ‘play’, with bigger implications for the wider ecosystem. With more than half of Generation Z, millennials and Generation X admitting that video games have taken away from other entertainment time, the gaming industry is asking serious questions of sports and entertainment brands in this must-win battle for consumer time and attention.

Relationships are changing, between consumers and brands, between the physical and the virtual, between the tangible and intangible. Brands battling it out in the entertainment space are no longer challenged just by the convergence of industries, but now increasingly realities too as crypto and blockchain, alongside many other innovations and emerging technologies are beginning to push the boundaries of this virtual playground.

Competition for our attention is fiercer than ever, but so too is the opportunity for new forms of connection, collaboration and co-creation set to inform the future of consumer experience. Over the next few weeks, TVE will be taking a look at these emerging trends through the lens of gaming to understand where the future lies for this industry.

 

Connection

I’m sure we all remember the days of ‘Can I play?’ in the school playground. But now the purpose of ‘play’ to build bonds, foster belonginess and strengthen social interaction has re-emerged and taken on a whole new level of significance. Over the pandemic, the ability to stay connected through the medium of ‘play’ in a virtual space has amplified the social aspects of gaming, and not just for younger generations - in the UK, over 62% of adults played video games during the pandemic. Gaming has played a central role in helping us stay in touch with friends, family and wider society alike, in turn driving the industry’s colossal growth.

As we’ve been increasingly forced to live online, gaming is at the heart of community. To keep gamers connected, engaged and immersed, brands best able to curate social, collective and cross-platform experiences will be the ones best poised to win.

From Travis Scott’s Fortnite performance, watched by over 27 million, from Lil Nas X’s two-day concert on Roblox, which saw an audience of over 33 million, it’s clear that there are new relationships, expectations and environments being forged for and between gaming, content and entertainment brands. The appeal and even purpose of gaming is shifting from what you’re watching to who you’re watching it with, from an escape for solo ventures to providing spaces for shared communities.

Even once niche gaming-related platforms are evolving into full-blown, mainstream social media services. Discord is a prime example. First gaining popularity among the gaming community, the group-chatting platform has seen astronomic growth over the past year, doubling its user base to over 140 million. Why? Unlike other media platforms, Discord isn’t in the business of content, but community. And this past year, that’s meant more than ever. Broadening its base beyond gaming, it now provides new ways and means to engage with one another. Creating customisable spaces for conversations around beauty, TV shows, music and beyond, Discord has cemented itself as a go-to tool for connection and togetherness at a time when we’ve all been forced apart.

Another form of next-gen social platform, the surge in livestreaming services also points to the demand for sharing and engaging in communal experiences and finding new forms of interpersonal interaction. With a focus on video games and eSports, Twitch is arguably the brand successfully spearheading this social side of gaming, enabling users themselves to be part of the live entertainment. Over the past year, the platform’s viewership has more than doubled, reaching 30 million users daily and streaming over 2 billion hours of content in March.

Gaming is taking on a newfound cultural significance, ushering in a new paradigm for human interaction, extending beyond just the pandemic. Even as we begin to live our lives again, we expect to see this momentum continue with the social side of gaming taking on a life of its own.

 

Competition

The way we interact with each other and with brands is evolving. But even with the numerous possibilities beginning to unfold in this space, consumer screen time, attention and money remain as key constraints. The contest for connection is on.

As audiences are searching for new forms of digital engagement, gaming, entertainment and content brands are engaging in a multi-player contest all of their own. At the moment, it seems gaming, now the biggest category of consumer entertainment, is coming out on top and other platforms – and industries – want in on the action. We all supposed lockdowns would provide the optimum conditions for the likes of Netflix, but failing to meet its Q1 targets this year, the content mega-brand now supposedly has its sights set on the world of gaming. HBO’s recently announced TV adaptation of renowned video game, The Last of Us, also points to a similar trend.

Once pioneers of their fields, now ‘traditional’ social media and streaming platforms are falling behind, unable to replicate or re-define the intimate experiences gaming can promise consumers. You might think tech giants might have an upper hand, but the struggles of Google Stadia and Facebook Gaming struggles would suggest that diversification doesn’t guarantee success.

Looking beyond the digital media landscape, the growth of gaming has broader ramifications for other areas of culture. As we gear up to a season of sports like never before, how will viewing figures match up? eSports now commands an audience of 495 million globally, so how will the Olympics, Euros and Wimbledon fair?

eSports marks a new frontier for competition and sports culture worldwide as the once niche subset of video gaming has since bourgeoned into an ecosystem in its own right, set to reach $1.8 billion by 2022. And the world’s biggest brands are paying attention. Coca-Cola, Mastercard and Intel have each thrown their hat into the ring, sponsoring major eSports tournaments and signalling the lucrative marketing and advertising potential on these platforms, now epicentres for fan engagement and overall awareness.

With the popularity of live-streaming, eSports is outpacing traditional sporting events as they struggle to compete with the extensive line-up of entertainment brands. Data from ESPN revealed the number of ‘avid sports fans’ has dropped from 42% to 34% over the last decade. eSports is only set to extend its lead, as the proliferation of mobile gaming will democratise and re-energise the category further. Although some questions loom over the current profitability of the industry, endlessly embracing new technologies and innovations, eSports is showing no signs of slowing yet.

 

Co-Creation

Gone are the days when gaming simply provided an escape from reality. It still does, of course. But increasingly the boundaries are starting to blur. Where consumers have demanded more intense, immersive and realistic experiences, technology has delivered. But more recently, we’ve witnessed a revolution. As we’ve spent more and more time in our digital spheres, the virtual has become valuable and it has, quite literally, helped open up a new world of opportunity. Enter, The Metaverse.

It may feel like something out of a sci-fi plot, but it’s now becoming more possible to exist in this interconnected, alternate and hybrid reality that bridges the gap between physical and virtual realms. And more than just exist, this has become a place for people to live, work, shop, socialise and play – even thrive. Helped by the rise of non-fungible tokens (NFTs), the Metaverse seeks to have its own economy, where consumers turned content creators can actually cash in. As seen in Roblox and Minecraft, much of the metaverse could be user generated – players can co-create their own experiences and define their digital existence. The possibilities really could be endless.

Of course, the idea of the Metaverse extends well beyond gaming platforms, but they’re certainly laying down the tracks. Big players here, including Roblox and Epic Games, owner of Fortnite, aren’t just early adopters; this is their ultimate ambition. Each with over 350 million and 40 million users respectively, they’re set on making it happen.

Together these trailblazers are helping to redefine the role gaming plays in the world and the role the world plays in gaming. It doesn’t just take one company to build the Metaverse, but its existence relies on a collaborative and concerted global effort spanning individuals, industries and infrastructures. That may still be quite a way away but it’s certainly gaining momentum. For now, at least, the ‘almost-Metaverse’ is the next frontier for brands. High fashion brands, from Gucci to Louis Vuitton, have each been teaming up with gaming platforms to curate personalised, digitally-driven experiences. A radical new means to meet and engage with the next generation of consumers, it will be exciting to see how these collaborations keep pushing the boundaries of creativity and connectivity, and the role they’re set to play in wider culture, economy and society.

So, as we begin to live a life without restrictions, where does this leave the future of gaming? As a global population, we haven’t just acclimatised to digital life, but we’ve fully embraced it. This could signal the beginning of a new epoch and brands will be forced to innovate if they’re to be a part of it. Already we’re seeing entertainment heavyweights having to adapt to more complex and competitive playing field. Yes, there will be some battles to be won, but perhaps the Metaverse hints that this doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. There is more opportunity for value creation than ever before. With a whole other universe to explore and future systems and technologies on the horizon, it’s an extraordinary time to be in the world(s) of gaming and entertainment and certainly well worth a play.

Categories: Tech & Content

BY ENGINEER Lucia Corry

lucia.corry@thevalueengineers.com