If – when thinking of gaming – you envision a kid alone in his room, you might want to update your image. Today one in three humans plays something: a new global culture we can’t ignore anymore.
Culture changes constantly, and so do people’s references and their way to decode messages and symbols. Exactly because this change is constant, we sometimes fail to see some macro-level transformations.
It’s the case with the entertainment world, ruled for decades by cinema and television, that for many generations represented the primary form of entertainment. Still today, the animated GIFs and memes that millennials insist on sharing largely draw from that world, just like famous quotes, clichés and many expressive choices (directorial, aesthetical) that we find in communication.
Today, though, the picture is changing. In 2019 the global gaming market recorded a revenue of 145 billion dollars, more than 3 times that of movies and 7 times that of music. It is estimated that gamers in the world amount to 2.81 billion. It is no coincidence that today Netflix is entering the world of gaming.
We can doubt it all we want, but it’s quite obvious how gaming is becoming the dominant form of entertainment and this will make it – or made it already – a dominant cultural form.
What does this mean for brands? There are languages and expectations out there that are very different from those we knew and used until now. Here’s what we can – and should – learn from gaming.
Stories don’t end, they evolve
One of the most important impacts of gaming on culture has to do with the way we tell stories. If cinema got us used to linear, self-contained stories, gaming has – by its very nature – a more “open” style of storytelling. Both because the user can interact with the story and modify it, and because the story extends over time and easily turns into a franchise, if just not to throw away all that development work (think of any heritage game, such as Assassin’s Creed or Halo).
The world of “classic” entertainment is already trying to embed these elements. Franchises have now become the norm (think about the Avengers) and in some cases there have been attempts at including elements of interactivity (Bandersnatch on Netflix).
What does this mean for brands? Audiences have new expectations of the stories we tell. Linear storytelling is not dead, but it smells stale. When a brand tells a story we expect to be able to intervene and mostly we expect it to be alive, not to have an end but rather endless chapters.
Community is the star
The image of the lonely gamer is outdated, to say the least. We often play alone, that is true, but the community dimension of games has become increasingly important thanks to multiplayer gaming, made possible by advancements in technology and connection speed.
If early gaming was based entirely on the concepts of “victory” and “record”, today socializing and sharing have become more relevant. The community that forms around a game becomes a key element.
Software houses know that, which is why the community is not simply an audience anymore, but a co-creator.
What does this mean for brands? “Listening to the customer” as an individual, as if we were in a lab, doesn’t cut it anymore: all brands who want to stay relevant need to listen to the community, to the conversations that take place within it and most of all to let the community itself help define the meaning of the brand.
No more boring personas
Gaming has offered us the chance to impersonate someone else ever since, but never before has “avatar culture” established itself as a standard. Think of games as Fortnite, where choosing your “skin” is an essential part of the gaming experience.
Freedom of presenting yourself any way you want is part of a larger cultural trend where people get rid of prejudices and traditional social constraints. A push towards self-expression that finds its ideal dimension in gaming.
What does this mean for brands? Portraying your audience with stereotypes was never a good idea, but it’s almost taboo today. And yet, you can still see some “lazy” communication around that thinks in clichés. It makes the mistake to simply portray their target for what it is. Gaming has shown us that people want to imagine themselves differently, to dream, to escape. Some might want to feel like rock stars. A brand shouldn’t necessarily be a mirror of my reality, but it can be the portal to an alternative one.
Gaming gets tough, for brands too
Gaming is a varied world, to say the least. It encompasses everything, from mobile games to huge PC and console franchises. Gamers are all of us, from the kid playing Roblox to the Candy Crush-loving grandma, from the girl who is a Fortnite champion to the dad playing Call of Duty with his colleagues. A unified theory of gaming is too ambitious.
For sure, by playing mankind tells us what it really wishes for: being together, sharing experiences, expressing itself. Brands that will help us do it will come out as winners.
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