Gaming: The New Frontier for Brand Marketing

A gamer plays games with a headset on.

According to Statistica, gaming sales in the US in 2020 increased year-over-year by almost 25% to $66.8 billion. There are plenty of signs the pandemic did jump-start growth to new heights. For instance, the massive surge in mobile game app game downloads in China at the start of the pandemic (peaking at 284.3 million in February 2020), followed by a surge across western countries in April 2020 as the pandemic spread, with mobile gaming app downloads growing by 35% year-over-year in 2020.

However, this isn’t a temporary trend – the surge is here to stay. The pandemic is far from over globally, and current sales trends point to games continuing to soar in popularity once quarantines end and travel restrictions loosen. At the current pace, experts predict the mobile gaming industry will reach $98 billion in revenues by 2024.

In June of 2021, we teamed up with Vox Media and surveyed more than 500 gamers (a seemingly pervasive screening incidence of 42% of US adults 16+) to gain insights into current gaming trends and attitudes. As a result, several key insights were gleaned regarding how gaming has evolved and can be used as a marketing platform for brands.

The gaming space has transformed – both in size and in substance – and there’s never been a better time for brands to take advantage of the emergent opportunities being born of this new paradigm.

Three significant shifts have opened the door for brands to reach audiences in this new frontier:

  1. Gaming has moved beyond an escape and has become social.
  2. Gaming has taken immersive marketing to whole new heights.
  3. Gaming is for everyone.

Gaming is quickly becoming a social network in its own right. And with 80% of marketing campaigns in the US featuring at least some social media component, gaming now offers a viable social network for brands to consider.

Just as America has gossiped more in group chats, FaceTimed more with family, joined Reddit in droves, and hosted Zoom happy hours, people have also bonded over video gaming. Gaming has been used to build and maintain friendships during months of isolation. It’s become a legitimate way for people to interact with their friends and to socialize. New friendships have even been born. When asked for their top three gaming interests, 32% of gamers chose “playing with friends on a traditional platform” (PC, console, etc.), 26% “watching someone else play on Twitch or YouTube,” 24% “watching a game tutorial on YouTube/Twitch,” 19% “watching gaming related content, such as Fortnite shorts or movie adaptations like Doom or Resident Evil,” “listening to gaming podcasts” 14%, and “discussing strategy with friends and family” 16%. In all, more than half of gamers (55%) watch gaming-related content, and 21% watch virtual events like concerts and sport via consoles.

With gamers spending hours per day immersed in the gaming world, there is a tremendous opportunity for brands to engage with players in these digital spaces. A chance for brands to sit at the center of a virtual world where friends and family play video games, text, chat, discuss and share tutorials, share inside jokes, vent, and laugh. These crews may or may not span time zones and friend groups. But they are all united in their community. Brands can permeate that community.

For example, DJs have been quick to partner with games to promote their brand, with 58% of gamers saying they have attended a virtual concert hosted by their favorite game. Marvel has taken over Fortnite with various character skins showcasing your favorite Marvel superheroes while also successfully changing consumer behaviors. 67% say they have tried something new (like learning the guitar) because of a video game, and a whopping 69% claim to have bought a product or service they saw featured in a video game. And it’s not just gaming related accessories (71%) being promoted and bought from video games; gamers also claim to have directly purchased clothing (54%), music (49%), drinks (41%), food (37%), and even furniture (26%).

In the past, gaming companies targeted only a narrowly defined audience. This was also already changing pre-pandemic. The digitalization of games and the popularization of the smartphone resulted in a much broader and more diverse audience being interested in interactive entertainment experiences. For the past decade, gamers have been skewing older, and the pandemic has brought parents and their kids together over gaming. A recent AARP survey found that the number of adults over 50 who play video games grew to 50.6 million in 2019 from 40.2 million in 2016 — and more women over 50 play than men.

According to new stats from the YouTube analytics company, 15% of all the video on Google’s online video site is related to video games. That’s a massive 364 billion views on YouTube. Furthermore, most of those views didn’t even come from videos made by developers or publishers. In fact, ReelSEO found over 90% of gaming video views come from user-generated content. That’s massive news for sites like Polygon, YouTube, gaming content makers, and for media buying and targeting.

Video games haven’t just become a necessary tether for people to connect with friends they aren’t able to see as much during a pandemic. Instead, they have become a part of our social fabric and our common dialogue. Video gaming companies have been quick to capitalize on this (preparing for a post-pandemic world) with massive enhancements of phone, texts, and chat tools to give people a way to share fun, escapist experiences with each other when their shared reality is darker. They also act as a conduit for discussing the more challenging topics, like depression. Whether it’s shooting aliens together in near silence or opening up about feelings of loss, playing games serves a valuable purpose.

These trends likely can be sustained as consumers leave their homes more often and life slowly returns to some semblance of prior normalcy. In fact, 38% felt their gaming would increase post-pandemic (with in-person gaming hangs returning in force), 20% stay the same, and 42% less – so a virtual wash. Indeed, if gaming does fall back, it may only fall back to a much higher baseline, as the pandemic permanently changes our entertainment habits, further steeping the world in gaming culture.

For brands, reaching a broad audience and finding the most immersed and influential gamers is relatively straightforward. Following the explosion in social gaming, sites that cover the gaming community more expansively than just game tips and reviews attract a strong influencer audience. Through identifying these key markets and fully immersing themselves in newly available digital spaces, savvy brands will be able to make the most of this enormous opportunity. Gaming is soaring into the stratosphere, and marketing strategies should adapt if brands want to catch a ride.

For more information visit Vox Media.