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Gaming’s new social playground

As the gaming space grows at rapid pace, Giles Fitzgerald says now is the time for brands to get involved

Giles Fitzgerald, FRUKT

Trends & Insights Editor

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With gaming the new hangout of choice for a generation, we explore why brands should be leaning into a social opportunity the music industry is already actively embracing.

Gaming, despite being an almost $200 Billion market (dwarfing music and movies combined) and playing an ever more central role in youth culture, still has a legacy of stigma attached to the genre. The stereotype of the sloth-like, socially inept, young adult waging war as an Orc avatar in their parent’s basement is one that has persisted for decades.

Around 70% of Gen Z say in the future they intend to hang out in games without playing the main game. So be brave. This is a space to pioneer, not play safe

Giles Fitzgerald, Trends & Insights Editor, FRUKT

This unflattering convention has largely been driven by a convenient oversimplification in media, and a vilified attempt to discredit the medium as part of a 20th century moral panic over the perceived effects of video games. Idle and anti-social gaming was seen as the antithesis to active and social sport. A questionable, insular, lonely world that was best avoided. A stereotype that still carries weight for the medium today.  

Dismantling the antisocial stereotype

Various studies have quickly debunked this ideological myth. One recent 2021 German study into “Cyberpsychology, Behaviour, and Social Networking,” which sampled both gamers and non-gamers, found that gamers had “equivalent levels of quality friendships and sociability as compared to the other groups” and were no more lazy, overweight, or unathletic than offline, nonplaying participants. But the study did find that gamers have “a greater social motivation to play” than their real-world dwelling counterparts.

And it’s this social notion of “play” that is particularly relevant for brands looking for a connection to the gaming community. Why? Because gaming isn’t just about the game anymore. Flying in the face of the historic stereotype, games are now social centers, with the actual process of button mashing increasingly playing second fiddle to a plethora of other activities.

There are two factors at play here that have moved the marketing needle for brands exploring gaming partnerships. The first is “convergence.” Gaming, much like other entertainment verticals, including music, fashion, and film, no longer live in a silo. Unlike prior generations, who tended to align with one dominant entertainment passion, today’s youth tend to overlap their passions with numerous entertainment verticals simultaneously. The boundaries of which are becoming less defined.

Secondly, this is a generation that increasingly views gaming as the new “third space” (a setting that is neither work/school or home). These spaces used to include skate parks and other outdoor areas where youth would congregate. Now, with declining opportunities and meet-up spaces and increased parental paranoia, video game lobbies have become the new casual hangout of choice. What’s more is that gaming isn’t the only reason for being there, with many teens simply looking to socialize.

Around 70% of Gen Z say in the future they intend to hang out in games without playing the main game. So be brave. This is a space to pioneer, not play safe.

The most notable sector to take early adopter advantage of these new socially-driven third spaces is the music industry. With ever diminishing opportunities to showcase music talent on television, gaming’s new social mandate offers a bright new playground for artists to explore.

The widely publicised in-game concert experiences from the likes of Marshmello and Travis Scott during the pandemic’s early days paved the way for the ongoing MILE (Massive Live Interactive Event) trend. These events harboured some old school, ad-break thinking (all in game action was stopped, forcing everyone to participate), but they also set the tone for more choice-based music activities, such as Fortnite’s Soundwave Series, recently featuring Egyptian superstar Mohamed Hamaki, Australian singer-songwriter Tones and I, and more. Not to mention a selection of opt-in events from the likes of global superstar Ariana Grande.

Fortnite is certainly not alone here, with the likes of Royal Blood, Lil Nas X, and Poppy all making live guest appearances in the ever-popular Roblox game creation system as well. PinkPantheress also performed a virtual BRIT Awards VIP party in the game and Spotify even created its own island, complete with a Kpop-themed K-Park, taking full advantage of the platform’s scalable creativity. 

Brands are actively taking note, as evidenced by recent Roblox activities, including the Samsung Superstar Galaxy experience, which saw Hyperpop pioneer Charli XCX appear as an avatar, and the Logitech Song Breaker Awards, which saw Lizzo perform.

Moving beyond the stage & audience dynamic

All these activities highlight the desire of additional content beyond the boundaries of gameplay, but the music industry in many ways is still playing in the safe zone of “performance.” A fair exchange with the real-world version of a gig, as the opportunity lies in moving beyond mere replication of staged events.

The real value here is better integrating talent into these avid communities and driving additional value to these new, social-centric hangouts. This is where brands have a crucial role to play, bringing the creativity of experiential activations – which work so well in person at music festivals - to the virtual hangouts and spaces where young people gather in and around gaming.

This is an active, socially-engaged audience, and brands who can capture and enhance the inherent feeling of “belonging” beyond the core gameplay experience, have much to gain in a world that increasingly subverts the anti-social gamer stereotype. 

If gaming is the new social media, brands need to be part of the conversation.

Guest Author

Giles Fitzgerald, FRUKT

Trends & Insights Editor

About

Giles is the Trends & Insights Editor at FRUKT, a creative agency that helps brands Press Play in entertainment. Giles has spent the last decade writing extensively about the evolving role of brands in entertainment culture, delivering strategic insight and trends analysis for some of the world’s most successful companies (including Coca-Cola, MasterCard & Nike). Some of the reports he’s developed include the 'Brands & Music Manifesto', 'Field Work: The Definitive Guide to Brand Activations at Music Festivals', 'Brands & Bands: The Value Exchange' and Ticketmaster’s 'State of Play: Dance Music' A regular contributor to marketing and entertainment publications: Contagious, Canvas8, Cool Brands, YCN, Music Week, Campaign, Admap, Marketing Week, Audience, Platform, Media & Marketing, Business Life, Brand Republic and The Observer.

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