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Marek Wrobel vigilantly tracks emerging media tech for Havas Media Group. And once a month for The Drum, in the Media Innovation Round-Up, he explores ‘new and shiny’ tech and its role in the ever-evolving marketing mix. This month, it’s gaming that’s getting him excited.

Game over for gaming stereotypes

Female gamers are more likely to be found playing puzzle-based games on mobile. They represent around half of gamers in the ten largest gaming markets. 

But sadly, many marketers still believe in a very outdated stereotype of a typical gamer. However, after a quick look at data from Ofcom, we can see that UK gamers are a diverse bunch, no matter how you look at this audience. Furthermore, there is no one type of gamer. Using a magical rule of three, we have power gamers, mainstream games and casual gamers.

Not only do they play differently – whether it comes to time spent playing, platforms or type of games – but, more importantly, gaming plays a different role in their lives. For power gamers, gaming is part of their identity, something that many areas of their lives revolve around. For mainstream gamers, gaming is an escape, a thing they do to relax, but also to connect. And then we have casual gamers who, interestingly, are the biggest cohort but at the same time least likely to view themselves as gamers. 

But what about female gamers? Based on Ofcom data, 48% of 5- to 15-year-old girls played games online in 2019, increasing from 39% in 2018. Furthermore, when we look at gaming revenues, while it’s still men generating the majority of them, growth is coming from female gamers. And lastly (thankfully) we are seeing more female games developers – last year the figure stood at 28% compared to just 11.5% in 2009. Good news, but of course there’s still a lot more to do.

And looking at female players’ preferences, Warc research shows a slight bias towards smart device gaming and single player experiences. But sadly this stems in part from a certain level of toxicity in the gaming world, which will hopefully soon be a thing of the past. But while research shows certain preferences, I beg you not to end up believing another stereotype (that female gamers only play puzzle games on their phones).

Female players can be found across the whole gaming ecosystem, and thankfully some brands have not only noticed this, but also acted on it. I hope there will only be more of this, as it looks like the future of gaming is in fact female.

Roblox is in fashion

Roblox
 
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Gucci has partnered with Roblox to offer its users digital items from the fashion house alongside a new limited-run digital experience. With Gucci being yet another brand partnering with the platform, and a successful IPO earlier this year, should brands care about Roblox?

If you haven’t heard about it, then do ask your kids (or your friends’ kids) about it. There’s a high chance they know about it, as 67% of Roblox’s users are under the age of 16. Recent research looking at kids’ spending habits revealed that in 2020, for the first time ever, digital games claimed the top spots and Roblox was #1, leaving old favorites such as sweets, books and magazines dropping down the pocket money spending charts.

But what is it? Roblox is often called ‘the YouTube of gaming’ as it hosts over 19 million multiplayer games and experiences, and anybody can build them. Of course, there are studios and developers specializing in creating these experiences, but it’s not just limited to professionals. Professor Scott Galloway wrote a great piece on Roblox strategy titled Roblox and the Dispersal of Creativity. Galloway argues that “by dispersing tools [to create games] to millions, Roblox has made money for independent developers and created a flywheel for its own future growth”. And this approach seems to be working. Roblox has grown constantly, with the pandemic – unsurprisingly – being a massive catalyst. And among kids and younger teenagers there is no other platform that even comes close to its levels of engagement.

And brands are starting to take notice. Lil Nas X had a record-breaking concert held in Roblox, Netflix created virtual items for the launch of the new season of Stranger Things, Ready Player Two was promoted by a bespoke event including a Q&A with the author, and Liverpool launched free in-game items and outfits. With an audience that’s so hard to reach anywhere else and older audiences also embracing the platform, along with the level of creativity that brands can tap into, I think Gucci’s activation is a great example. Other marketers should pay close attention to Roblox and the opportunities it offers.

The beautiful game with an AR twist

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EE recently hosted a celebrity AR foosball tournament at Wembley Stadium during which the pitch turned into a real-time AR foosball table with players able to slide, power kick and bounce to navigate the ball and achieve goals. Will this be one of those elusive 5G use cases?

Each generation of mobile communications had a killer application or use case – whether it was phone calls on the go for 1G, text messages for 2G, internet connection for 3G or video on the go for 4G. The jury is still out on what it will be for 5G. My bet? Rather predictably, augmented reality. And I believe live sports coverage will play an important role in making it happen.

It won’t be a surprise to hear that a lot of us care A LOT about sports – the best example being the glorious mess that was the launch of the European Super League. Based on research from 2019, 76% of European network operators are planning to offer augmented reality services over 5G in support of sporting events. There have been some interesting examples of AR use in stadiums – potentially the best publicized was the SK Telecom activation involving a dragon flying over a baseball stadium.

As cool as this is, I know many cynics still consider it gimmicky. However, 5G will make it possible to create AR experiences that add value and transform sporting events. One of the best examples of what will soon be possible is Verizon’s activity during Super Bowl LIV. Spectators were invited to a purpose-built mini-cinema, which was equipped with 5G phones offering multiple 5G-powered experiences and AR stadium navigation, as well as AR overlays with players’ stats, different angles to view the content and even volumetric replays. I don’t know about you, but I think this looks like a game-changer – pun intended.

Shifting to a higher (5G)ear

O2 and Vodafone have agreed a deal to trade bands to create more efficient blocks of 5G spectrum. With exactly two years to go until the 5G launch in the UK, what’s the latest on the 5G roll-out?

It’s easy to think that launching a new generation of mobile communications is as easy as flicking a switch. Actually, it’s a rather difficult balancing act between network, phones, users and use cases. 

Launching 5G requires updating the existing network, as 5G operates using millimetre waves which, while offering better data capacity, struggle with penetrating objects, so need a network of small cells. All of this is expensive and time-consuming. However, UK mobile networks have made good strides with 320 towns and cities having 5G coverage. But the 5G network can’t be accessed without 5G-enabled phones.

In 2019, Asian manufacturers led the charge, provoking interesting discussions about Apple and the lack of a 5G-enabled iPhone. Some went as far as saying that Apple was losing the 5G race. In my opinion, Apple was simply waiting for 5G to mature, and launched a 5G-enabled iPhone last year. This was a development for the 5G roll-out in general, as based on YouGov data it’s Apple users who are most likely to plan an upgrade.

It takes time for a new generation of mobile communications to build penetration. Based on historic data, it takes on average around four years for a new one to cross the 50% mark. However, recently published global data shows that 5G is outperforming these forecasts. According to industry trade organization 5G Americas, as of December 2020 there were a total of 229 million 5G subscriptions. That means 5G adoption is proceeding at a pace four times faster than 4G.

When we look at UK data provided by YouGov, 5G adoption is maybe not as impressive, but grows at a similar pace to 4G. However, here I’d like to mention that the UK joined the 5G race much earlier than it joined 4G. UK was one of the first countries in the world to launch 5G, while the first 4G network in the UK emerged a few years after the 4G roll-out started globally, thus offering learnings, better hardware and use cases.

And last but not least, the use cases. I really like this quote from the World Economic Forum admitting that “many of the benefits probably aren’t yet apparent to us. At the dawn of 3G and 4G’s adoption no one could have predicted the new business models that grew on the back of mobile broadband”.

Gaming’s one of the spaces pushing the boundaries of the tech. And if you think about it, there’s more. 3G launched the app store revolution and changed, well, everything. Similarly, 4G changed how we consume content and started the golden era of video everywhere. But again – and sorry to sound like a broken record – it didn’t happen overnight.

So, what about the use cases for 5G? The best way to think about them – one that I learned about while I was virtually attending CES earlier this year – is ‘better on 5G’ and ‘only on 5G’. To be completely honest, right now we are looking mostly at ‘better on 5G’ use cases, which are very often doable on 4G, but 5G will offer a much better experience. As for ‘only on 5G’ – well, there are some test-and-learn projects, but we need to be patient.

To summarize, I feel positive about the state of the 5G roll-out, but only because I simply did not buy into the hype created around it and have accepted the fact it takes time. Having said that, I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about 5G – quite the opposite. It is coming and it will bring many exciting opportunities we can’t even imagine right now. Brands should use this time right now, when 5G is maturing, to test and learn, explore and get ready.

Read my last round-up here. If you’d rather get my weekly video briefings (they’re short and sweet, I promise) get on my mailing list here. And remember to sign up for The Drum’s weekly Future of Media briefing here – you’ll see me in there from time to time.