When CMOs and other tenured marketing executives think of gaming, their minds might jump to any number of living room classics like “Pong,” “Super Mario Bros.,” or “Street Fighter,” or even modern classics like “Call of Duty.” But while living room games are still alive and well, gaming today extends to something more.
In 2013, the World Championships for League of Legends – a five vs. five online game that is the most played game in the world with over 100 million monthly players – sold out the Staples Center in under an hour. In 2016, mobile games earned $40.6 billion, the equivalent of global box office sales for the year. While stadium sellouts and blockbuster sales are a great indicator that something big is happening, they represent just two of the many entry points into today’s fastest-growing pastime: gaming.
Console gaming alone takes up a part of the average consumer’s day comparable to social media – 51 minutes compared to 50 minutes for Facebook. But while this growing interest extends to people of nearly all ages, the real opportunity in gaming lies with Millennials and Gen Z.
In fact, 58 percent of Millennials have played video games in the past 30 days, and one-fifth of those players spent more than 20 hours gaming during that time (roughly five hours a week). They are 25 percent more likely than Gen X to play regularly. For the younger generation, this habit is even stronger.
It is tempting to lump Millennials and Gen Z into a single group of young people, especially when their habits coincide like they do with gaming. However, each of these two generations has distinct values, which brands should consider when trying to connect to either generation through gaming. These values give us a useful lens through which we can understand the many spaces in gaming where brands can play.
While there are many other behaviors that contribute to gaming, the act of playing games – whether alone or with friends – remains the central piece. Simply put, greater numbers of people in both generations are spending more time playing games than ever before. However, Millennials and Gen Z have unique values that apply to different aspects of daily gaming.
Businesses have been told for years now that Millennials care about experiences, and it is true. Seventy-eight percent of Millennials say they would choose to spend money on an experience rather than buying something desirable. In contrast, Gen Z values stuff, with 60 percent saying they would prefer a cool product over a cool experience.
For Millennials, who prioritize experiences, it is important to consider the aspects of daily gaming that they can share (both with friends directly and socially). For example, a brand might try to tap into the ways friends communicate online while playing together through Discord, a voice chat app geared toward gamers. Again, the daily opportunity is apparent: Discord has over 9 million daily active users.
With Gen Z, brands should note that gamers care about value exchange. However, rather than the real-world incentives that marketers are used to, gamers are often satisfied with intangible loot, such as in-game unlockables like maps, items, and skins for characters. In June of this year, Amazon began partnering with Blizzard Entertainment (one of the world’s largest game publishers) to offer free in-game loot as a perk for its Amazon Prime subscribers. This value exchange gives gamers yet another reason to stay subscribed to the online retailer’s premium service.
Amazon partners with Blizzard to offer free in-game loot to its Amazon Prime subscribers.
Amazon’s partnership is also integrated with Twitch, a live social video platform dedicated to gaming. With over 15 million daily active viewers and an average of 106 minutes watched per user each day, Twitch represents a unique opportunity for brands to engage with gamers at scale. At the heart of the platform is a key component of gaming culture: live streaming and the influential gamers who do it.
To understand why streaming is so important to Gen Z in particular, it is important to understand how being mobile natives changes Gen Z’s perception. The iPhone was released when the oldest Gen Z members were 9 years old, meaning they have never known a world where nearly unlimited information was more than a tap and a swipe away. And with the rise of social media, thousands of friends are also within mental reach, ready to react to and comment on every part of life. A study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin suggests that having a smartphone around constantly occupies and exercises a part of your brain, consciously or not.
This lingering presence has taught Gen Z to constantly think in terms of influence, particularly the kind that manifests itself in news feeds. It is no coincidence that Gen Z invented “finstagrams,” more personal, secondary Instagram accounts that allow them an escape from the curated self-branding they undertake in their main, public profile. Seven in ten teens say they relate to influencers more than traditional celebrities. Many members of Gen Z could be described as influencers themselves. To learn more about the changing nature of influence, read our trend, Goodbye Insta-Fakers.
So it makes sense that they are drawn to gaming’s stars: vloggers, streamers, and professional players. Brands like Snickers, Old Spice, and Totino’s are already tapping into this opportunity, contracting influential streamers to host special segments on behalf of the brand.
Only recently has eSports shown itself as a force to be reckoned with, both globally and in the U.S. To understand the way gaming can mirror and supplement traditional marketing plans, many marketers look at eSports alongside traditional sports. The name “eSports” itself prompts a comparison to traditional sports. The similarities are apparent. In both, the most skilled players in the world are paid to face each other in a regulated arena. Franchises assemble in both realms, with some teams maintaining dynasties over multiple years and championships (be it Team SoloMid or the Chicago Bulls). Victory leads to popularity, and often endorsement deals.
However, the eSports audience is not the same set of tailgaters, bar-goers, and living-room-watch-partiers that marketers may be used to. It is important to note that nearly every TV sports audience has aged up since 2000.
Clearly, this shows that marketers and sports leagues should be trying to reach Gen Z and Millennial fans in channels beyond TV. More importantly, it illustrates the importance and rarity of events, like eSports matches, that have streaming in their DNA. And it speaks to an important truth: eSports viewers represent a young, digitally savvy audience, one that advertising media plans often struggle to successfully reach. It should come as no surprise that eSports viewers are 46 percent more likely than the average adult to cancel their traditional cable package.
The opportunities for marketers in eSports are many. Brands can tap into events like the League of Legends World Championships that provide tentpole moments of attention, allowing them to reach fans both online and offline. Brands also can sponsor teams, players, or leagues – and because eSports is still relatively new, there is a chance to creatively reinvent the way these sponsorships work. In 2017, there were over 600 brands who had eSports sponsorships. Brands considering such a sponsorship should find it encouraging that 58 percent of U.S. eSports fans reported having a positive attitude toward brand involvement.
In 2018, even more opportunities will open up as eSports continues to transform in important ways:
With so many new developments, it may seem like gaming and eSports are still in their early days. Gaming is a growing subculture with a young audience, its own etiquette, and slang like “BM” and “kappa” that can seem inscrutable to the uninformed. It follows that brands wishing to play in this space should first build credibility with these passionate gaming audiences, offering value before blindly promoting. Conversely, brands should not assume that they have no place in eSports simply because they are not directly related to tech or gaming. A wide array of brands, including Gillette, GEICO, Arby’s, and Bud Light, have found ways to relate to gaming audiences.
In 2018, the daily opportunity to reach Millennials and Gen Z in gaming and eSports will continue to grow. Streamers, professionals, and franchises will gain even more influence. Publishers new and old will develop new media properties and advertising opportunities. As all of these changes occur, one thing is certain: Good things will come to those brands who find ways to play alongside gamers.