What Have Creatives Discovered About The Gaming Experience?
Video gaming culture is a big and growing influence on commercial creativity. Gamer creatives discuss why
The scale and breadth of the electronic games industry is breathtaking. Stuck at home during lockdown, almost two-thirds (62 percent) of UK adults played a video game during 2020, according to Ofcom. Globally, revenue from the gaming industry increased 20 percent to reach $180 billion last year, more than the sport and movie businesses combined.
Mobile gaming is soaring at a rapid rate, with console and PC activity booming too. Recently we’ve seen big console launches (PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X) and significant numbers flocking to streaming platforms including YouTube and Twitch to watch their favourite gamers do their stuff.
Gaming now features as a reference point for many creative people, with a rising number of campaigns being influenced by, and paying homage to, their favourite games. In practical terms, we’ve also seen the likes of Publicis (with Publicis Play) and Gravity Road launch specialist gaming divisions. Gravity Road had already showed some impressive UK form in the field with its retro Gram Invaders game on Instagram Stories for the mobile brand Three.
An indication of advertising's growing awareness of the potential of gaming to reach audiences, especially with socially important messages, was shown recently when Engine Creative worked with EA Sports and The Kiyan Prince Foundation, to create an avatar in the FIFA 2021 game of murdered Queens Park Rangers football prodigy Kiyan Prince, who was a victim of knife crime.
But what about the people behind the campaigns? What’s influencing them, and how does gaming get their creative juices flowing?
Adam Sears, creative at VCCP, has been an avid gamer since playing Sonic the Hedgehog on a Sega Mega Drive, and then progressing to the early PlayStation consoles and Nintendo 64. In addition to the impressive feat of actually managing to buy a PlayStation 5 (they’re currently harder to find than Boris Johnson’s wallet) he’s also part of the VCCP team behind the ‘Cadbury Heroes League’ campaign, which broke in autumn 2020 and set up a contest to bring children and their parents more closely together through gaming.
Sears says: “Rather than other brands saying ‘we need to find ways to get kids off games’, we were like, why not get parents into it? Like board games of old bringing families together, why can’t video games do it now?”
That sense of community is something that inspired Arti Braude, senior designer at Gravity Road, to get into gaming as a young child growing up in Hong Kong. Influenced by the Japanese-led technology that was all around her, she clutched the handheld Tamagotchi and Nintendo Mini Classic games as a way to bond with friends: “That was important social stuff at school, it was a way of connecting people so I actually gamed as part of my friendship groups.”
Braude remains inspired by video games. She’s created poster work for Netflix influenced by games with a strong visual sense including Ori and the Blind Forest and Child of Light. And gaming fuels her creative process too: “Gaming’s taught people like me that it’s about appreciating the details and your approach to creative problem solving is probably a marriage between pragmatism and intuition. A lot of people don’t realise it’s quite an intellectual process, and gaming makes you really evaluate what your next moves are going to be.”
Richard Morgan, creative director at Wunderman Thompson, has early memories of being hooked on arcade games during childhood holidays in the UK (“I vividly remember spending all my pocket money on Rampage”) before progressing to an Atari and finding Ghostbusters “one of the hardest games to this day.” Later, he was inspired by the impressive art direction and storytelling in games such as Ico and Portal. He adds: “The illustrator Richard Hogg’s I Am Dead was the last game that stuck with me. You play as a ghost passing through objects. It’s beautifully crafted, achingly British in tone, and shows how the medium has matured like a good stilton.”
Morgan’s fascination with gaming paid off last year with Wunderman Thompson’s ‘Digital Dash’ campaign for BT, which centred on the creation of an educational game that taught digital skills to youngsters with the backing of Dame Kelly Holmes and Reggie Yates.
For EE he has helped to create its ‘5G Stories’ activity: “We’ve teamed with gamer and vlogger Stephanie Ijoma to credibly to talk to that audience. The world of gaming is so rich and nuanced now, there’s no point in faking interest, it’s better to talk to people involved in it.
Alasdair Gray, strategy director at BBH Singapore, grew up in the south of England playing on the Sega Mega Drive, and then actually landed a job at Sega testing games before moving to work in advertising on the Activision account on games including Call of Duty and Guitar Hero. At BBH, he’s close to the Riot Games business – the owner of League of Legends, the world’s most popular PC game and massive eSports phenomenon. He says: “At the core of everything, Riot’s mission is to make it better to be a gamer. Our role is to genuinely add value to players –from communications that they can relate to, through to experiences they can enjoy outside of the game.”
He’s taken practical inspiration from the gaming community too. Gray says the “academic” side of gaming has taught him new ways to look at things through concepts such as the Bartle Test – a taxonomy of player types designed by writer and academic Richard Bartle that categorises gamers as “Socialiser”, “Explorer”, “Achiever” or “Killer”, defined by the gaming elements which they find most enjoyable. He adds: “It’s a way of looking at any kind of interactive experience and applying the same lens. So, say, looking at the Starbucks user journey. What would achievement look like in Starbucks? What would competition look like? It can start to unlock some interesting ways of looking at an environment and the user journey that’s very broad in its application.”
Gray’s location in South East Asia, where gaming is implacably part of culture, means that he’s perfectly placed to talk about the evolution a whole generation of people aspiring to emulate their eSports heroes. And he cites examples such as US-based 100 Thieves, which has evolved as a lifestyle gaming brand influenced by the likes of Nike and adidas, and IKEA launching a range of furniture that “puts gamers first”, as evidence that gaming is moving into the mainstream.
Others see broader applications for gaming principles that involve taking on a more socially beneficial role. Arti Braude at Gravity Road says: “Google is working already with other companies such as the big animation studios to put together games that are social learning devices for kids, helping them learn how to read. That will become really important and advertising should start thinking about it too.”
In a similar vein, we’re seeing the emergence of “techceuticals”, medical professionals combining video games and virtual reality technology to help treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
This trend provides a long-term opportunity for advertising to embrace gaming constructs for social good. But, more immediately, agencies will ignore video game culture at their peril. Wunderman’s Richard Morgan concludes: “Entering the world of gaming as a subject is a no brainer. It’s there and everybody does it, much like onanism, which is probably more widely spoken about. It’s not going away, so we all better embrace it fast, regardless of whether you’re a level 99 operator in Call of Duty: Warzone or an account executive in Zone 1.”