With 40% of the planet gaming, can your brands afford not to play?
A view from Anna Vogt

What’s your game plan?

With 40% of the planet gaming, can your brands afford not to play?

Gaming has shot to the top of everyone’s to-do list for 2021.

Our IPA president, Julian Douglas, pledged more training for and collaboration with the industry. Hellmann’s is tackling food waste in Animal Crossing and Pizza Hut is turning its boxes into Pac-Man AR games. Even the Oscars has woken up to the power of gaming by awarding its first ever statue to in-game documentary Colette.

It feels like gaming is the new data.

This year, a global study by Limelight Networks revealed that, each week, more time is being spent on gaming platforms than on social media. So it’s high time we started thinking about gaming not only as an opportunity to create better and more immersive content, but as a social platform in its own right. With greater potential to be creative and effective at the same time.

Here’s a wake-up call for anyone who’s written off games as a niche pursuit, teenage phase or passing fad.

Gaming is now a $180bn (£128bn) business.

That’s worth more than the sports and movies categories combined.

Just over three billion people on the planet are now gaming.

That’s 40% of the human race.

In comparison there are 4.6 billion people using social media platforms, with Facebook and Instagram clocking an annual growth of 11.3% and 11.4% respectively from 2019-21. Fortnite is amassing a whopping 40% growth over the same period.

It raises the question, what’s attracting billions of people onto these platforms? And could gaming complement, or even rival, social media as a more effective environment to build brand value in?

The first, and perhaps most obvious answer is that games offer an incredibly immersive environment for consumers to spend time in. Social platforms are designed for shorter bursts of "snacking sessions". Games are rich spaces. They are structurally designed to reward time and exploration, with reward systems that keep you coming back and an ecosystem with platforms like Reddit and Twitch to further immerse yourself in.

This in turn creates more meaningful communities connected through shared passions for play. From flight sims and strategy games to Animal Crossing, 70% of gamers play with other people online or in person. Social media often achieves the opposite effect with more of a competitive and comparative effect on its users. Many games such as Minecraft and Roblox have co-operation as a behavioural driver. Working together to build and complete a mission.

But gaming can also prove useful in honing individual skills. In the field of surgery, a study of laparoscopic (small incision) specialists found that those who played for more than three hours per week made 32% fewer errors during practice procedures compared with their non-gaming counterparts.

Another study has shown dyslexics improved their reading comprehension following sessions of games heavy on action. The reason, researchers believe, is that the games have constantly changing environments that require intense focus.

This application becomes particularly interesting when you consider a brand’s wider social and societal missions. What impact do you want to have on your consumers? What is the legacy you want to create?

Reporters Without Borders used Minecraft to create an in-game library in which it uploaded banned books from around the world. Making knowledge accessible to all is a fundamental pillar of RWB's organisation. Gaming helped make that a reality and reach an audience that might otherwise have been excluded.

We’ve only just spotted the tip of the gaming iceberg. But there’s no denying it can both complement and, in some instances, replace our current tactics of making brands more meaningful in our day-to-day life.

Gaming is a unifying force for nearly half of this planet. Sometimes in the foreground, sometimes in the background. But it will only become more pervasive as a more sustainable way to push our creative skills and growth agenda for the brands we work with.

Anna Vogt is chief strategy officer at TBWA\London