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By Helmi Abdalhadi | Manager, House Of Gaming at Serviceplan Group Middle East
To say we’re past the times when gamers were either “casual” or “hardcore” would be quite an understatement. While these two umbrella terms still categorise some gamers – especially in a way that is easy to understand for those who are not native to the scene – there are many niche personas within gaming audiences. As cogs in the ever-growing gaming industry, we hear it almost daily: “So much potential in this space but how am I supposed to reach the gamers I want to reach?” It’s a common dilemma that grows in parallel with both the industry and its fragmentation.
For example, Game A’s audience is a completely different demographic than Game B’s. If you play Game A in one style, then you’re likely a different crowd than if you play it in another – and on, and on. This dissolution of the gaming sphere is one of the largest barriers to entry for brands. It’s messy, variable and most significantly, extremely foreign to non-gamers.
However, just as with any topic, there are different methods to effectively traversing the gaming maze. Some marketers find a meaningful connection between the brand and the gaming space, some identify a game whose core regional audience is very similar to the brand’s, and some – who are more committed – set an upstream strategy for a more long term vision. While attempting any or all the above, professionals should take advantage of the ways in which groups of gamers can be segmented. Brands and agencies have been creating global activations on this basis.
There are strong gamer-persona classifications. GWI’s Gaming Personas report approaches this via analysing platforms used and content consumed, reaching conclusions such as Mobile-Only players’ most distinctive use of social media is to follow celebrities, or that Casual Gamers’ most distinctive brand advocacy motivation is access to exclusive content or services. SuperJump did it through age groups, gender and gaming purchasing habits. They have molded personas such as “The Subscriber” whose average age is just under 30, whose main reason for gaming is filling time and who is also most likely to be an early adopter of cloud gaming platforms.
While all classifications provide substantial value in achieving the marketer’s vision, we are going to take a step back. Let’s look at selected personas strictly based on gamers’ interests outside of gaming, and how relevant global brands are transcending both games themselves, and the gaming industry by targeting these personas.
THE HIGHT STREET GAMER
You’ve always been able to throw Pac-Man on a T-Shirt, but as gaming organisations, teams and influencers’ roles grew, they started to take notice that for many consumers, gaming has become less of a hobby and more of a lifestyle. A lifestyle they’re willing to invest in given the correct brand advocacy motivators. These gamers are fashionable, involved in the latest trends and keep up with pop culture. They consume content like TV shows, anime, Esports and podcasts on platforms such as YouTube, Twitch, Instagram and TikTok. They play games such as competitive FPS (Valorant), competitive MOBA (League of Legends) and RPG Story games (Elden Ring). They also have high ambitions and are entrepreneurial – they enjoy being able to afford luxury brands.
The next action was to give these gamers-turned-fans something to represent their lifestyle and interests. This approach was pioneered by 100Thieves, an LA-based Esports organisation whose pillars aren’t only gaming, but also lifestyle, apparel and content. “We didn’t want to turn over creativity to some sports licensing firm who would make dozens of ugly T-shirts,” said John Robinson, president and COO of 100 Thieves. “Licensed apparel might have worked in the ’90s, but I don’t think it fits what our fans want today.” 100Thieves took inspiration from industries whose players took similar paths: Basketball (Air Jordan, Nike), HipHop (OVO, XO) and Skating (Supreme, Vans). 100Thieves recently partnered with Gucci to launch a full line of clothing targeting gamers, using 100Thieves influencers – who are gaming heroes – as models.
Gucci are not the first – nor the last – luxury brand to tap into gaming. Louis Vuitton continues to partner with Riot Games since the collaboration’s inception in 2019. LV have now created in-game cosmetics for League of Legends champions and influencers, designed tournament trophies and released a full line of League of Legends themed clothing. Berlin-based gaming organisation G2 Esports announced a global partnership with Ralph Lauren in June 2021 that will see the two collaborate “across multiple campaigns and events while also launching a series of digital-first activations.” Just recently, Balenciaga entered the gaming space through a collaboration with Fortnite that resulted in a real-life and in-game clothing capsule.
You may be thinking: alright, by now, we are definitely aware of gamers’ disproportionately high disposable income figures but does that really translate into luxury-esque amounts of spending? University College London Consumer and Business Psychologist Dimitrios Tsivrikos is cautiously optimistic. “I think your average gamer will not [buy these designs]. But then again, if this is successful, these sort of trends actually trickle down to more entry-level products. So these are the products that train young consumers to love and associate themselves with a brand, and once they have the income available to them, then they can actually purchase something that’s slightly more expensive.”
Tsivrikos is aware that it’s already happening. Outside of B2B partnerships, the same big brands that sponsor traditional athletes are now collaborating with Esports athletes and gaming influencers. Adidas have not only been creating and sponsoring tournaments in regions all over the world for years now, but they also announced Ninja as their first ever Esports athlete in 2019. Ninja has now co-designed two clothing lines and multiple sneakers with Adidas. One can’t speak about Ninja without mentioning his signature game – Fortnite. Fortnite and Epic Games are one of the biggest players in today’s market and have tapped into multiple personas including fashion through a Nike collaboration to bring the iconic Air Jordan 1s to players in game. AJ1s are known to the sneaker community as the shoes that gave birth to sneaker culture and, in typical hype-beast manner, players were able to receive the shoe as an in-game cosmetic for a limited time in May 2019.
It is no secret that an immense overlap exists between traditional sports audiences and gamers. The melding of sports and gaming has been in the works since the inception of the gaming industry. One of the strongest associations that non-gamers make with the gaming scene is that of huge sports titles such as FIFA, NBA2K and Wii Sports. And for good reason. FIFA 20 sold over 1.2m copies in its first month of sales, FIFA21 over 1.5m. Every Wii console shipped with Wii Sports as standard and it grew to be one of the most popular Wii games of all time regardless of its vanilla nature.
It’s a natural connection. If you’re passionate about a particular sport, you’re likely interested in playing it virtually to continue exercising your competitive spirit.
Sporting audiences have long been a lucrative target group for advertisers and brands. They possess strong brand advocacy motivators due to sport, team or athlete loyalty. The same applies to Esports and its audience if not to a greater extent as they possesses significantly higher disposable income as per the Magid research group.
This audience is gym-crazed, extroverted, and competitive. They are a wide demographics in terms of gender and age. They consume Esports content on top of the broadcasted matches, consuming analytical and strategical content. They enjoy sporting titles such as FIFA, NBA2K and Madden, as well as RTS games (Starcraft 2, Civilization 6) and plug-and-play games that can be competitive as well (Call of Duty, Overwatch). They consume content such as docu-series, sporting debates, podcasts and memes on platforms such as Twitch, YouTube, Instagram and Reddit.
This connection between the traditional and virtual sporting worlds has been known for a while. Activations and projects that are designed to address it have been grabbing headlines for the better part of the last decade. Organisations and teams across different sports, leagues and continents have been creating Esports teams under the main team’s umbrella for some years. In European football, PSG, Manchester City, RB Leipzig, Schalke04 among many other top organisations field teams in FIFA as well as other Esports.
COVID-19 forced the hand of many sporting associations and teams to seek gaming and Esports as an alternative method of staying afloat. Formula 1’s 2020 season was cut in half due to cancellations and postponements and, for a while, there was no light at the end of the tunnel. To alleviate a collection of burdens including sponsor commitments, financial woes and fan demands, Formula 1’s governing body, the FIA, decided to hold several virtual Grand Prix races that included a mix of F1 drivers, athletes from other sports and F1 Esports professionals. The EVGP, as they were dubbed, were an unprecedented success. They were widely distributed across traditional and gaming platforms and achieved an audience of over 30 million viewers.
THE AUDIOPHILE GAMER
It should come as no surprise that gamers with expensive headphones and microphones are also one of music and audiophile companies’ key target groups. This audience is passionate about sound quality not only for their gaming, but also music and video consumption. They are willing to invest their high disposable income into their audio set-up, with products such as DACs, AMPs and audiophile headphones. These previously niche products have crept their way into the casual-tech ecosystem. Their users may begin with tunes, but then become interested in music production and audio engineering and editing. They may own 3-4 pairs of differently tuned earbuds for various use cases. These users are tech-savvy, collaborative in sharing productivity tips or new music, organised and ambitious of making a job out of a hobby. They also play an instrument and consume content such as tech, casual gaming, podcasts and music production on Spotify, YouTube, Twitch, TikTok and Apple Music.
However, music and gaming have had a rough few years leading up to the current wave of collaborations and integrations. In May 2020, the National Music Publishers Association struck down on the biggest gaming streaming platform, Twitch, and its creators for regularly using copyrightable music on streams. This led to many channel strikes, and necessary Twitch action in deleting a large amount of past VoDs. It also sued Roblox for $200m claiming copyright infringement.
Luckily, these IP crackdowns did not change the way the music industry itself views the gaming world. The NMPA announced agreements with both Twitch and Roblox in 2021 – and more has been happening every week on an industry-wide level.
Just in the past two years, Marshmello, Travis Scott and Ariana Grande have all appeared in the Fortnite metaverse via in-game concerts to millions of spectators and players. Popstar Lil Nas X joined the wave and made an appearance himself in Roblox. DJ Zedd is an avid gamer and himself appreciates the power of the gaming audience. Zedd has collaborated with Overwatch and Valorant in recent years through creating in-game cosmetics as well as engineering and producing the sounds these Zedd-branded cosmetics make.
Blockworks is an agency that creates experiences within Minecraft for gamers and also helps brands reach this audience through in-game activations. Melon, a company focused on the different metaverses, is focused on achieving the same but with Roblox. These companies collab with innovators such as AudioMob to ensure that audio adverts running in games are placed at suitable times for gamers in a way that adds value to the gaming experience rather than disrupting it.
How about audio companies themselves? Sennheiser, JBL, Beyerdynamic and other audiophile brands have gotten involved in gaming through different measures. Sennheiser and JBL now offer gaming-headset lines as well as specific premium headphones that are targeted at gamers. JBL sponsors gaming influencers regularly and hosts tournaments involving them.