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Gaming is a multi-billion-dollar industry that is rapidly booming across APAC. Yet Asia’s advertisers are still behind with tapping into this immense communication channel, writes Deepika Nikhilender, the senior vice president for Asia Pacific at Xaxis.

Everyone raises a guilty hand when it comes to indulging in a cheeky marathon of Animal Crossing: New Horizons during last year’s lockdown boredom. No judgment here - like many professional adults, I was one of the millions of new gaming consumers trying to fill the long weekends locked down at home last year. And I won’t lie and say I didn’t enjoy it.

Unfortunately, for advertisers, the pervading stereotype remains that the archetypal gaming consumers are socially awkward teenage boys. On the contrary, research from GWI records that gaming consumers are older and more affluent than we realize but may not choose to identify with the ‘gamer’ label due to these perceptions.

It is perhaps for this reason that Asia’s media agencies are neglecting gaming as a serious communication channel. But whether on consoles, mobile apps, or esports, gaming is as much part of popular culture as social media and television commercials. In this light, it’s hard to see why gaming isn’t a more significant part of media budgets - and easy to see how our industry will get left behind if we’re not already including gaming in our plans.

Challenging stereotypes

While preconceived ideas are hard to dispel, the numbers are harder to ignore.

According to gaming analysis firm Newzoo, worldwide video gaming revenue jumped 20% in 2020 to a record US$174.9 billion and is likely to reach US$271 billion by 2023. In addition, Asia Pacific is the world’s fastest-growing gaming region, accounting for 49% of total global games revenue in 2020.

Most notably, Google numbers revealed that the number of female gamers had grown to encompass 38% of the estimated 1.33 billion Asian gaming population. Diving deeper into this demographic is a rather large segment of gamers that may surprise advertisers - mothers. According to GWI, Asian mothers are some of the most engaged mobile gaming fans - specifically those with children between the ages of three to five, making gaming a powerful channel to reach this influential consumer group.

Understanding the gender diversity of the gaming community is just the first step for marketers. From consoles, mobile in-app gaming to esports, video gaming is in itself a manifold of social activities, each creating individual audience segments.

You have the hyper gamers, those who live and breathe the activity, even competing professionally, such as Singapore’s Dota champion Daryl Koh ‘iceiceice’ Pei Xiang. These live streamers and hardcore gamers tend to skew towards younger crowds, who are less likely to be interested in traditional media.

Then there are the aspiring professionals, enthusiasts immersed in hours of YouTube and Twitch content. Indeed, according to YouTube, global users watched over 100 billion hours of gaming content in 2020, and 74% of them watched videos to learn how to game better. Consumers in this category tend to be younger and more likely to support content creators, either through subscriptions or donations.

Finally, you have the casual gamers, i.e., those who play lighthearted strategy games on mobile like Words with Friends or Minecraft. This group of gamers is where marketers can unlock the most potential. According to Newzoo, mobile gamers were the fastest-growing segment of all gamers in 2020, rising by a quarter to US$86.3 billion in revenue in 2020. And marketers should keep in mind that these mobile gamers may not necessarily be teenagers, it could be a middle-aged adults re-energizing themselves with an advanced round of Candy Crush or strategizing around a Viking tower in Bad North while transiting back home from work. 

An audience-first approach

Not only do marketers’ need to consider the social diversity of consumer demographics’ but also their geographical location. While global brands like to lump Southeast Asian nations into one market, there is significant fragmentation between audiences, both in content and consumption habits. While all users tend to be digitally savvy, habits vary by country. For example, mobile gaming dominates Indonesia’s gaming consumption while Singaporeans show a higher preference for consoles.

There are advertisers who still incorrectly use esports and casual gaming interchangeably, which will impair how they engage with each segment. Esports gamers refer to those who play on a professional level with an audience, while casual gaming focuses on playing as a hobby or lifestyle. For example, professional esports players with a huge following could work with brands through endorsements, while casual gamers would usually engage with a brand through in-game native ads or rewarded videos.

Once an agency has pinpointed its intended audience, the next step is choosing the campaign’s plan of action. One tactic is to leverage gaming streamers and influencers on YouTube and Twitch, as well as sponsoring esports leagues and players.

From a mobile and console perspective, marketers can now deploy in-game ads to fit seamlessly into the gameplay. These include menu display banners, ads between levels, and even playable commercials. Harnessing audiences’ high-dwell-time and deep engagement, marketers have an opportunity to provide an entertaining brand experience that takes care not to interrupt consumers’ play.

Our numbers note incredibly high viewability rates from gaming partnerships with consumer brands. Most recently, KFC mobilized 14,000 esports influencers and professional players to amplify their gaming content across various social media platforms. This partnership resulted in nearly 200 million impressions.

Our figures also note that half of esports fans say they are willing to spend more than $125 on branded merchandise. Louis Vuitton, who recently entered the arena with their partnership with League of Legends to produce in-game virtual apparel, will note great success engaging with their loyal consumers.

Despite the gaming boom, advertisers are still conservative with including gaming in their advertising initiatives. Therefore, any businesses that have a strategic in-game advertising plan undoubtedly possess the upper hand over their competitors. Marketers should start asking how they can join the in-game advertising revolution. They can do so by first defining their brand values and identifying synergistic collaboration opportunities with gaming partners that align with their values and offer a player pool that mirrors the demographics of their target audience.

With gaming advertising, advertisers have billions of untapped consumers at their fingertips. To ignore this universe of popular culture means neglecting a vast and diverse group of deeply engaged consumers, as well as the potential of a highly entertaining advertising medium. So why delay? The controller is now in your hands. 

Deepika Nikhilender is the senior vice president for Asia Pacific at Xaxis.