Game on

With Netflix and Peloton getting into the fray, gaming is no longer niche.

Imagine this: you turn on your TV set to browse Netflix, but instead of tuning into a new season of Stranger Things or Money Heist, you’re pulled into the show as an avatar fighting monsters or pulling off a high stakes bank heist.

Not a TV person? Imagine your next Peloton workout, then, as a gamified experience, where you’re changing your speed and cadence to win points and hit goals along a Mario Kart-like track on the screen. Or perhaps you’d like to play a quick game in your next Zoom meeting to virtual teambuild.

These are just a couple of examples of how gaming isn’t just overtaking our leisure time, but also colliding with it.

The fact that gaming is a huge and growing part of the American entertainment diet is no secret. The gaming industry is projected to surpass $200 billion by 2023, according to Newzoo. Marketers know that “gaming” doesn’t just refer to consoles, but also mobile games as well, a segment of the market set to generate $90 billion in 2021.

As we learn more about this mysterious gamer cohort, we’re understanding it’s not limited to teenage boys streaming Call of Duty on Twitch. More than half of mobile gamers in the U.S. are female, and 54% of all mobile gamers are over 35 years old, according to eMarketer.

Netflix’s bold move into the space will democratize gaming even further. Last week, the streaming juggernaut hired former EA and Facebook exec Mike Verdu to lead its expansion into the space. Netflix plans to offer games for free to its more than 200 million global subscribers alongside its TV and movie content, and will introduce the new “genre” in a similar way to how it brought on documentaries and stand-up specials, according to Bloomberg.

As Citi analyst Jason Bazinet put it in a note to investors on Thursday: “This feels like a significant event with broad ramifications across the video-games landscape.”

For marketers, opportunities on Netflix itself may be limited. But now the floodgates are open, gaming will likely start to creep its way into all corners of the media landscape. I can only imagine NBCUniversal, WarnerMedia and Disney are eyeing Netflix’s move and strategizing how to leverage their own IP for gaming.

But competition is fierce. Even Google shut down the internal game development unit at Stadia on the grounds that “creating best-in-class games from the ground up takes many years and significant investment, and the cost is going up exponentially,” Stadia’s VP and GM Phil Harrison wrote in a blog post at the time.

As the space heads up, brands are testing the waters, from collaborations in popular games such as Fortnite and Animal Crossing, to sponsoring gaming tournaments on Twitch. This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what's possible within gaming as the technology gets better and use of new tools including VR and AR become more mainstream. In a decade, we’ll look back on today’s gaming campaigns the same way we look at early clumsy exploits on Facebook and Twitter today.

Agencies are staffing up for the rise of gaming, launching formal offerings for their clients, which span entertainment marketing for growing game creators, to helping brands market themselves within popular games. Advertising opportunities are only growing with new ad tech that can more seamlessly integrate brands within gaming environments.

As gaming goes mainstream, marketers should be vigilant not to fall into the trap of thinking about gaming in a silo. Like anything else, it’s an extension of your overall brand identity and experience, and will become more so as it integrates fully into our daily entertainment diet.

For creatives, gaming is rich territory. It might require letting go of the splashy brand film canvas, but offers opportunities to play with new technologies and innovative creative expressions, while opening up avenues for interactive marketing.

Ready or not, its game on.

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