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Trends & Insights | Blog

3 key trends for the future of brands in gaming

May 28, 2024

Data & Insights

Gaming is a growing sector attracting a diverse mix of audiences globally. What are the latest trends in the space, and how can brands tap into these opportunities?

Antonino Lupo

Senior Content Manager

The video game industry is booming. A 2022 report from PwC expects the sector to be worth $321 billion by 2026, showing that gaming has long moved from niche to mainstream. The opportunities for brands in the space have become more valuable by the year – showing a promising future for audience engagement within player experiences.

These opportunities, however, need to be approached with care and consideration. American video game publisher Electronic Arts (EA) made headlines this month after CEO, Andrew Wilson, revealed plans for “thoughtful implementations” of ads inside the company’s games. Unfortunately, most gamers are notoriously adverse to any form of marketing and advertising (especially when they risk disrupting the overall experience in a game they’ve already paid for), and EA’s announcement wasn’t received positively. Considering this mishap came from a games company, how can brands outside of the sector get it right – and what does it all mean for your social strategy?

In our latest report, ‘Connected World: Tech, Gaming, Social and Entertainment Review 2024, we explored the current gaming landscape and how social media underpins it. Read on for three key trends that show how brands outside of gaming are set to become even more intertwined with the sector in the future.

The evolution of in-game advertising

In-game advertising has come a long way since the early days of pop-up ads. Today, both mobile and console games are embracing more dynamic and personalised forms of advertising that enhance the gaming experience without disrupting it.

One example is Death Stranding, a critically acclaimed game released in 2019 for PlayStation 4. Players could regularly find cans of Monster Energy in their private room, which would provide temporary in-game benefits when consumed. While this design choice was met with mixed reviews, it’s still a notable example of how brands are experimenting to become part of gamers’ experiences in non-intrusive ways.

It’s worth noting that different types of gamers react to ads in different ways. According to a study by Amra & Elma, 74% of US mobile gamers would watch an in-game ad if they got an in-app perk in return. Mobile gamers are generally more receptive to in-game advertising, and the practice of offering a reward for ad exposure is quite common for them, but this trend underscores the potential for a broader acceptance of ads – as long as they add value to the player experience.

The (new) dawn of live-service games

Live-service games are a cornerstone of modern gaming, offering brands a valuable platform for long-term engagement. These games are also known as ‘games as a service’ (GaaS), and the term identifies those titles that provide in-game content on a continuous basis, to help build revenue over time.

Some early examples of these games have been around since as early as 2001 (like RuneScape and World of Warcraft), but this business model has seen a resurgence in recent years with the release of Rocket League (2015), Fortnite (2017), Fall Guys (2020) and other similar multiplayer experiences. These games usually release content in ‘seasons’, and often include microtransactions (ie. the practice of charging players small amounts of money for specific in-game perks), subscriptions, ‘season passes’ to unlock all the seasonal content at once, and more.

This seasonal approach to a specific type of games is already providing endless opportunities for brands seeking long-term interaction with a dedicated audience, while giving developers new revenue streams post-launch. Fortnite has been especially successful at harnessing these partnerships, having collaborated with top brands like Marvel, Balenciaga, and Star Wars. But it’s not uncommon for Fortnite to work with influencers and celebrities as well, as happened in its 2020 partnership with Travis Scott – showing the untapped potential in the realm of social as well.

The power of creators in shaping game communities

In-game ads and live-service games are only one part of the story. Incorporating social strategies is crucial for brands looking to maximise their reach and audience exposure. Using creators and influencers in games is an excellent way to tap into this potential, and one that keeps paying off.

Whether they’re micro or macro-influencers, gaming creators are skilled at crafting specific audience niches around their content. As part of our work with YouTube, the Battenhall team interacts with hundreds of creators every month across a number of sectors (gaming included), and what stands out from our observations is that each creator community is different, with its own unique features. For example, a cosy gaming creator like Eeowna might be able to attract gamers who are into lifestyle and design, as well as a predominantly female audience.

A well thought-out influencer strategy can be priceless for brands who want to reach their target audience, while making sure the partnership is still perceived as authentic, transparent and non-invasive by gamers.

So, what’s the future of brands in gaming?

The games industry will inevitably keep growing, offering increasing opportunities for brands to tap into a booming sector that continues to attract engaged audiences. Gamers, however, value immersion and experiences – and those wanting to tap into player communities will have to be mindful of this at all times.

As games grow, new and exciting opportunities are opening up in other branches of entertainment as well: after the release of the Fallout TV show, sales of Fallout 4 have shot up across Europe – about seven years after the game’s original release. The Super Mario Bros. Movie also experienced incredible global success, demonstrating how gaming and more broad entertainment audiences are already cross-pollinating. After several failed attempts, video game adaptations for the big screen appear to finally be cracking the code on what resonates, and this is sure to create new ways for brands to reach their audiences – wherever they may be.

Despite a few challenging years, games aren’t going anywhere, and the potential for brands wanting to tap into the space will keep expanding over time. As the industry continues to evolve, success will take many different forms – and only those who adapt to these trends will be best positioned to reap the in-game rewards.

Curious to learn more about the current state of gaming, tech and entertainment in social? Download our latest report here.