Games are transcending their own medium, becoming meaningful 'venues' that brands can occupy, writes AudioMob CEO and Co-Founder, Christian Facey
Over in the video games industry - a sector now serving a global audience of almost 3 billion - the issue of ‘discoverability’ has presented a perennial challenge for creators and publishers alike.
Beginning around the same time as the arrival of the iPhone’s App Store in 2008, mobile gaming has grown exponentially as a larger, more demographically diverse audience embraces the form. By the end of this year, there may well be 2.8 billion mobile gamers globally. In tandem with that trend, the sheer number of mobile games released has exploded, in an effort to meet the needs and potential of that audience.
Hundreds - or even thousands - of mobile games can be released in a single day at a global scale. That makes it very hard for game makers to get their latest creation noticed by the public. The alchemy of maximising mobile game discoverability remains a complicated art - but one the game industry is collectively besting.
Somewhat ironically, meanwhile, games can be seen as a new discoverability platform for brands - with musicians, labels and others from the music industry currently offering the most powerful example of the potential here. For some time now it has been social media that has presented the typical music discoverability platform, but there is a remarkable shift underway.
Ads and products placed in games offer a fairly straightforward example of how a user might discover a brand in that medium. As the contextual renaissance and reinvigoration continues following Apple’s privacy-focused IDFA changes earlier this year, in-game ads offer a more appropriately targeted connection between brand and user when contrasted to social media. Highly engaged players are served highly suitable content - and that works very well indeed.
But the idea of games being a discoverability platform of their own goes beyond traditional ad formats - and the opportunity for brands of every kind stems from the idea that games can be ‘places’. Consider that an online, connected game essentially exists as a destination where people can gather, interact and share experiences. Just like an event venue. Games, then, can be a ‘social form of media’ that builds on the social capacity of conventional ‘social media’.
Which brings us back to the example of the music industry increasingly using games as a discoverability platform.
Famously, 12 million players visited 'Minecraft' together to take in an in-game concert by rapper Travis Scott. Much more recently Ariana Grande also played a gig in 'Fortnite', taking Scott’s groundwork and building on it by integrating her performance into many other current events and themes within the game. Back in 2020, celebrated grime artist Stormzy starred as a fictional version of himself in the dystopian adventure game 'Watch Dogs: Legion'. Diplo has stood as a playable character in the FIFA football video games. K-pop sensations BTS chose to premier a new music video in 'Fortnite'. The Block by Blockwest festival showed that 'Minecraft' could play a capable destination for a large-scale music festival. Streaming giant Spotify recently even went as far as making a basketball video game to promote the output of UK artist AJ Tracey.
All of those count as big plays by big players looking to grow their audiences, reconnect with existing fans and monetise via involvement with games. They can even be understood to be early individual steps in humanity’s potential journey into metaverse living. And they all, to different degrees, let artists share their personality and connect with the gaming audience - sometimes in ways that foster the feeling of a distinct personal connection. But the opportunity isn’t limited to major artists. Aside from small and up-and-coming bands being part of in-game music festivals, we’ve increasingly seen the likes of underground labels and promoters with very little budget hosting events in game streaming platforms like Twitch - a trend accelerated by the COVID pandemic that shuttered the doors of so many physical venues globally.
All of this is possible because of technological advances in what games can be - elegantly social, accessible, popular high-capacity venues where bands can have presence with deeply engaged players. Or simply a place where new forms of privacy-centric, non-interruptive ads can reach exactly the right users. And it is the music industry that appears to be blazing a trail in embracing games in this way. This is perhaps in part because games and music already share a core DNA - they are creative forms that use audio to different degrees to tell stories and share experiences.
At AudioMob, we’ve seen increasing interest from the music industry ourselves. Major labels, music acts of every size and those representing multiple genres have picked our in-game audio ad format. Mainstream pop stars and classical labels alike have approached us. Their campaigns have performed particularly well when artists directly address the consumer as they play, engendering a sense of one-to-one interactions. This leans into a key strength of games; their interactive nature makes them highly engaging and deeply personal, which emphasises the interplay players have with brands and individuals.
The music industry is moving on games because the latter offers a platform to reach the right audiences in the right ways - whether by using in-game ads or hosting in-game events; or a hybrid of both. Music biz professionals are succeeding by partnering with the right game, doing their research, taking on board games industry insight, and being highly creative - while remembering that sometimes keeping it simple is all you need. They are also among the first brands already gaining an understanding of how they might exist in the metaverse.
So, whether you work with musicians or an entirely unrelated brands, start to think about games not as just a vehicle for a message, but as a discoverability platform and destination. Imagine what you might do if you could bring your entire audience to a single venue with infinite capacity and with no pressure for them to leave their homes. Connect with the games industry - but equally find the gamers in your own team and harness their knowledge and enthusiasm to guide you at an early stage.
Remember authenticity matters to almost all gaming audiences. If you swoop in with no understanding of the context of the gaming world around you, things can get tricky. Partner, research and collaborate - and be sure to know that the games industry welcomes such external interest and the inherent opportunities. Look to the music industry example to start thinking about games as a platform where you can form deep connections with potential customers - and don’t forget the power of personality and voice. Scott and all that have followed put themselves in games first and foremost.
What games offer has changed. They have perhaps transcended the confines of their own medium. Games, simply put, offer a stage. That’s an obvious draw for musicians - but all brand holders can do something with that space.
As video games increasingly exist as social 'places', they offer brands a new stage from which they can engage a breadth of new audiences.
Posted on: Friday 3 September 2021