The profile of the modern ‘gamer’ is remarkably diverse these days: It’s a mother on her way to work playing Candy Crush on her mobile. It’s a middle-aged man playing Wordle. And of course, it’s a teenage boy, hooked up with bluetooth-connected gadgetry, running around virtual reality worlds. It’s because of this that Brand involvement in games is becoming increasingly common.
But, let’s be honest, most activations to date have been gimmicky one-offs - expensive - boring. It’s mostly been the preoccupation of big brands who have the time, resources and budgets to make a splash in virtual realms. 2021-23 has seen the “Metaverse” expand from elusive public relations buzzword, to the beginnings of a limitless tech reality: whole new virtual worlds where we can escape, make new friends, live new lives. But let’s not get too excited. It’s less Ready Player One, and more The Sims, with Nintendo 64 graphics, and already unsafe for children. Is this a space where brands want to play? Other more corporate, blue-chip firms have entered Esports by way of sponsorship, but this is a rather basic alignment, which is also still the preserve of big brands.
Is this the limit of brands in gaming? What’s the way forward for brands that don’t have the time to spend months developing in-game experiences, or sponsor blue-ribbon Esports events? Experiential offers a new way for brands to connect with gamers that’s affordable, exciting and brand-safe.
The Gateway To Games Is Physical
Metaverse aside, we are brought into playing games via real-world needs and experiences. Whether that’s at home on a Wii playing as a family, or on the commute passing the time. This creates opportunities for Experiential activations. We watch adverts for games, are persuaded by our friends “IRL” to play new games, and play on physical devices and platforms. All of these points of contact involve brands. The real world connection to games is clearly not just the preserve of Esports or techy East London bars, but is a part of everyday life.
The multitude of touch points provides more opportunities for brands to reach gamers. When considering what “Experiential in Gaming” actually is, don’t just think Stadium - think Tube Station, think Supermarket, think Home. With the Drama Kitchen, KGA sent the “world’s most expensive takeaway” to Deliveroo customers, celebrating new dramas on Sky Atlantic. It’s not unimaginable to reframe this kind of activation to reach gamers at home. A KGA production as bold as Huawei’s Dive Thru, also highlights how brands can create interactive, outlandish, and gamified entertaining experiences. Once we open our minds to the real world environments games are played in and centred around, more opportunities present themselves for brands to get involved Experientially.
Take A Leaf Out Of The Sports Sponsorship Book
Esports is an obvious example of where brands have tentatively dabbled in sponsorship. But this hasn’t really moved beyond the basic sponsorship package. By looking at how Experiential plays out in regular sports, we can discover more opportunities. KGA recently wrote an article on how English Football needs to be more Experiential, which highlighted clear opportunities where brands in the US are already capitalising in the NFL. At Esports events, what’s stopping more brands that align with the games in competition, from hosting their own fan events in and around those games? This month, the legendary racing game series Gran Turismo releases its latest instalment. It’s not hard to imagine a Gran Turismo Esports event, where the multitude of car brands that feature, run real-world experiences for fans alongside. It’s simply taking the NFL experiential model and transposing it onto Esports.
Cool By Association
Sipsmith and Ralph Lauren are not “sporty” brands. However, both are Wimbledon sponsors. Exploring the reasons why would be to digress too much, but there is a viable brand value link between Wimbledon and those brands. The same thinking can be applied to video games. What’s stopping either of these brands taking it a step further into the video game equivalent, and executing their own Experiential events around the game? Brands can sometimes appear to be odd bedfellows with games, and the connection may not be instantly obvious. However, applying the same “cool by association” approach that brands use for regular sponsorship, will enable brands to play in this space. If Sipsmith and Ralph Lauren have an Experiential presence for ‘real-life tennis’, they could have an Experiential presence for virtual tennis too.
We’ve all read the headlines about how huge gaming is, how Esports will eclipse regular sports and the rest. But so far, the impact brands have made in this space has been ad-hoc and novelty-focussed. Thinking Experientially changes this. It lowers the barriers to entry that come from big-ticket sponsorship and software activations, and is brand-safe. Before we dive into the Metaverse forever, we might want to look at the real world around us. The best experiences with brands and games are to be found in the spaces where the real and virtual worlds meet. See you IRL.