What brands can learn from gaming

What comes to mind when you think of gamers? Perhaps a negligible group that relieves stress by playing ego-shooters or dresses up for a cosplay event. Frightfully irrelevant for established brands and their marketing activities – or so you might think…

The industry that doesn’t need to hide anymore

You may be surprised; 2.5 Billion gamers worldwide would instantly disagree with this prejudice. In recent decades, the industry has been largely under the radar of the general public and has developed from a subculture to a large growth market. By 2018, sales had already exceeded 138€ billion. The largest share of this (55%) was held by the PC and gaming-console sector.

Long awaited iconic game titles, powerful next generation consoles, cloud gaming and disruptive new players (e.g. Google and Nvidia) are forecasting a strong tailwind with double-digit growth rates.

In the meantime, developers and publishers applied their strategy. They noticed the increasing gameplay expectations and the cannibalizing amount of game releases within a genre. They started to convert their most valued games into independent brands. Game series such as Mario, Grand Theft Auto, FIFA and Final Fantasy have developed into international brands and unite franchises and communities.

As Brand Strategist, I believe there are many things we can learn about branding from this underestimated industry. Especially when we think about flexible ways to adapt to our customers. Let’s take a look at three valuable lessons that brands can learn from gaming:

1. Adding value is the icing on the cake

Without any doubt a well-developed storyline is the nucleus of most games and brands. Publishers nowadays provide their customers with extended content, such as downloadable content and updates, to intensify the experience and to make it as long lasting as possible.

Let’s take a look at a best case: Assassins Creed Origin, Ubisoft. The developers worked together with well-known historians for the two latest releases. This was done to ensure that the visualized game world would be as authentic and realistic as possible. To honour this meticulous work and to delight the players, Ubisoft created the “Discovery Tour Mode", which enables you to explore and learn about Egypt, like in a textbook. This is even used for history lessons in American high schools.
What can we learn from this case when developing a brand? Think about educational content, so-called Easter eggs (hidden messages, images or features), smart ideas or entertaining clips to highlight your brand’s personality and trigger various emotions.

2. Don’t be afraid to start the co-op mode

Due to ever-increasing expectations, you won't be able to thrill gamers with any old plot or marketing initiative. But instead of worrying about that, you can take initiative and change the game in accordance to your players' wishes. What’s better than a game that suits your exact taste? Nowadays, bidirectional communication enables the company to continuously monitor their communities and answer with patches (fixes and improvements) or minor adjustments. Research (e.g. for Harley Davidson, LEGO and P&G) shows that communities have the potential to increase brand awareness, encourage conversions and enhance customer experience. However, we have reached the point where brands have to be courageous and integrate customer opinions into an ongoing development process. This is a crucial element for enabling the full customer centricity that everybody is speaking of.

Best Case: Star Wars Battlefront II, Electronic Arts In 2017, gamers were waiting impatiently for the release of the 2nd edition of the Star Wars game. But instead of creating a buzz about the game, the press and community worldwide was preoccupied with talking about the dangerous side effects of loot box systems. A loot box is a virtual item which costs real money and which therefore clashes with the overall gaming pleasure because of content restrictions. While the EU started a debate on game monetization models, 680,000 disappointed gamers unleashed their anger on the social network “reddit” and even set a new Guinness world record for the most downvotes. Electronic Arts then dropped their initial concept and ambitiously started involving players in the process of content development. No wonder Battlefront II became a huge success after all, and EA changed its content strategy for their subsequent games.

3. Offer a stage instead of writing a fixed screenplay

Within the last decades, gaming plots have shifted from a rigid script to flexible, open-ended storylines. The now outdated experience idea of an “open world” has changed to an “open decision-making” philosophy, aiming to capture feelings for your character’s actions. Players now have the ability to profoundly express their individuality. The younger generation in particular is seeking free decision making as well as content that can instantly be adapted to their emotional state of mind. You should definitely consider creating an open stage, giving people the opportunity to release their individual potential instead of dictating the course of events.

Best Case: Red Dead Redemption II; Rockstar Games Between a ruthless outlaw or a gentle farmer in the Wild Wild West – the actions you take for your characters within these games will affect their further development. And it even holds more unprecedented possibilities in interacting incidentally with the environment and people. Every decision you make will influence your virtual “karma score”. At the end, this will decide the fate of your character – whether it’s happy, morbid or randomly hilarious. This way, each player has his/her very own and unique story to share and to recommend on social media and to talk about with friends. The truly golden nugget for any brand.

As you see, gaming is no longer a subculture celebrated by geeks – it has become a creative field of self-exploration and self-expression. We should really keep an eye on the gaming industry in order to adapt ways to attract and retain customers in other competitive markets, to be one step ahead and to rethink our actions. Dare to take a glimpse over the edge into the “nerdy-verse” – from time to time, you are sure to find inspiration for you and your brand.

_Philipp Prömel is Brand Strategist at MetaDesign Düsseldorf