Marketers’ Step Up The Game

With the rapid growth of the gaming and esports industry, endemic and non-endemic brands are launching creative new marketing programs not only to create brand affinity but also to create alternate revenue streams in collaboration with game developers

By all appearances, social media platforms are becoming crowded, breeding incessant challenges for marketers to build equity. So, what is the future focus of forward-thinking marketers? Well, most of them are looking outward to an emerging brand opportunity- Gaming!  

While the global economy has been under strain for the past year, the gaming industry emerged as an unlikely beneficiary of the pandemic. Two lockdowns in one year have worked well for the online gaming industry at large, expecting it to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 40 percent to $2.8 billion by 2022, according to Deloitte India report. India has come out as one of the top five mobile gaming markets in the world and the rapid growth is expected to strengthen the sector’s share of the total media and entertainment industry by 4−5 percent.  

Largely driven by smartphones, affordable data and increasing disposable income, there is a goldmine of creative and marketing opportunities in gaming, where most marketers are confidently diving in now.   


Embracing The New Engagement Channel  

For the longest time, gaming has only been looked upon as a niche hobby. It is only in recent years that it is beaming under the mainstream spotlight.   

Gamers who were once seen as school outcasts and daydreamers have broken away from old shackling stereotypes. The current realm of gamers includes everyone from grandmothers to athletes, school-going kids to investment bankers, our world has rapidly evolved into a gamers paradise. Estimates by a report published by the dentsu Marketing Cloud Insights have also shown a rise in average game time across Millennials and Gen Z audiences to be nearly 2 hours a day.   

“Gamers have high expectations for how brands engage them online. Based on YouTube studies, 83% of gamers want content from brands that entertains them.  

 Because of a heavy focus on competitive tournaments and streaming events, esports brand engagement often involve sponsorship or advertising deals,” says Nishant Malsisaria, VP – Product Strategy, dentsu Data Sciences.   

Vinit Karnik, Head – Sports, Esports and Entertainment, GroupM South Asia informs that 326 million mobile gamers in India are spending 22 hours per week on an average viewing gaming content on YouTube garnering 40 billion, the cumulative views on gaming-related content between Apr’20 and Mar’21. “These are massive numbers – for both playing and watching - and indicators of a highly engaged audience which any marketer should not ignore,” he adds.  


Gaining Through Gaming’s Potential  

Reaching gamers, in reality, is a tough row to hoe. They possess incredible buying power, are light TV watchers and stream content heavily. Traditional digital advertising doesn’t entice them well as they prefer bite-sized and flashy content that must seamlessly embed into the hobbies and passions of their audiences.   

To make way, brands are taking an interesting route into embedding themselves into the lives of audiences by partnering with top game titles for sponsored in-game events, sponsoring e-sport events etc. The world of gaming is giving brands authentic and organic avenues of advertising and engaging with their audiences. Moreover, it is allowing brands to establish two-way communication with consumers.   

Louis Vuitton’s partnership with Riot’s League of Legends to offer branded in-game clothing and product placement or Gucci’s association with Tennis Clash (mobile game) to complement its tennis clothing line with in-game merchandising are some classic examples. Closer home, we are seeing challenger brands coming to the esports/gaming party, trying out various ways to be part of the rising gaming culture- Artic Fox launched a gamer bag with CarryMinati, Infinix Mobile signed up as title sponsor to ESPL – India’s first franchised esports league. This is over and above the traditional investors in esports like Red Bull, HyperX, Mountain Dew, Airtel etc.   

It is easier than ever to advertise in and around games these days and its impact is being felt across the marketing mix. “A popular form of advertiser participation in gaming – especially mobile games – is via rewarded in-game ads. Research shows that 74% of average Indian gamers prefer to watch an ad to progress in the game. Now, that is a rare opt-in from a potential consumer to see an ad,” suggests Karnik. 

As a brand, Mountain Dew realized the potential of gaming as early as 2016 when it introduced Dew Arena, as a way to celebrate the emerging trend of esports amongst Indian youth. “Dew Arena is a reiteration of the brand’s commitment to gaming in India and provides the youth with a platform where they can showcase their potential and make a name for themselves. In fact, the championship has grown 10x since inception and with participation from over 1.5 million gaming enthusiasts in the last edition in 2019, it has strengthened its position as India’s largest gaming championship,” tells Vineet Sharma, Category Director- Mountain Dew & Sting, PepsiCo India.

Moksh Chopra, Chief Marketing Officer, KFC India also agrees that this segment has been a lucrative space for leading brands to interact with their consumers and provides brands an opportunity to engage with their TG in distinctive ways, leveraging various aspects of gaming to create unique experiences for them. “To tap into the high-affinity gaming segment, we run in-App contextual ads on gaming apps and interest-based Apps on Google, Facebook, etc. We have also engaged with Google on gamified campaigns like Gpay Tez shots during the cricketing season, tapping into high intent, online ordering users; reaching out to our optimal TG and driving acquisitions,” he expresses.  

At OnePlus, their belief has been in crafting fast and smooth devices that aim at delivering a truly immersive experience to their users. “Recently, we organized the second edition of our mobile gaming tournament - Dominate 2.0. This unique tournament gave our community the opportunity to virtually interact and actively engage with pro-gamers and popular Indian cricketers. The experience was centered on OnePlus coming together with the youth and community of passionate gamers to celebrate the common love for gaming,” informs OnePlus’ spokesperson.  

In creating performance-driven devices, OnePlus has introduced features such as Gaming Mode, for uninterrupted and fully optimized gameplay and partnered with the likes of Fortnite and PubG to bring industry-first features and authentic experiences to the community.   

The above pointers are a clear indicator that the indulgence of marketers towards the burgeoning gaming industry is gaining momentum. Besides, the need to constantly adapt to the ever-changing gaming audience has fueled the need for martech to engage with gamers by reaching the right audience at the right time with the right message and then keeping them engaged. Driving user engagement and building retention is where martech has been deployed in gaming strategies for brands. All this is reshaping the way brands interact with consumers, making e-sports and online gaming a very lucrative space for brands to venture in.  


Eyeing The Future Trends  

Gaming always seems to be in a constant state of transition and marketers need to be prepared to move swiftly to cater to the dynamic changes. Some of the top trends anticipated by experts in the near future are:  

- Increased use of ‘deep tech’: To better the gaming experience for brands and gamers, technologies like machine learning are going to be increasingly used by brands to gather insights on gamer interaction & participation whereas technologies like AR & VR are going to be sued more extensively to make gaming more realistic  

- An organized outlook on e-sports: Globally, there has been a trend of inter-college or inter-university e-sports championships. With gaming gaining steady popularity in India, this trend is expected to pick up here as well  

- Rise in popularity of streaming platforms: Streaming presents a way for gamers to get their fans in action and at the same time, make some extra money through sponsorships or in-stream collaborations.   

- Threshold investment to do in-game integrations to get rationalised & palatable: Currently, the expected investments for international publishers is astronomically high. Further, the growth of investments in buying ads programmatically in mobile games will become mainstream rapidly and brands would introspect for a diversified approach  

Malsisaria & Chopra are of a unanimous opinion that the future for the industry is glittering. They believe gaming will only get bigger and better from here on and must be watched closely by brands and marketers. Malsisaria expects a lot of in-game personalization and partnerships by brands that shall drive the future of this sector.  

While this is a community that is still in its nascent stage, there remains a huge potential for new audiences to be introduced to a brand via gaming. Most gamers are gamers for life and also follow other gamers, which can help brands in terms of growth. The benefit that brands get when it comes to the ‘lifetime value’ of an esports customer is huge. Lastly, the huge audience base also means that it is a more efficient and cost-effective medium.  

All eyes on the marketer’s future game plan!