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Marketers cannot fake it until they make it in the video game industry, explains Satori Kawamura, the director of brand partnerships at Mana Partners. If they do, she says, sophisticated players will see straight through any attempts to exploit them, and communities will respond accordingly. 

In our increasingly digital world, video games are generating more revenue than movies and music combined. As the gaming industry grows up, the cost to acquire players is dramatically increasing. But unlocking true engagement requires much more than marketing dollars. The quest to build stronger and more creative branded gaming collaborations involves daring to step outside of our comfort zone and look beyond traditional agency thinking.

It‘s a notoriously tricky balance and set of skills to master. But when done correctly, the highest levels of brand collaborations coincide precisely with the best gaming experiences. At Mana Partners, we quickly learned that bringing people from gaming, marketing and consulting together played a critical role in a business‘s success. We were able to solve problems much faster with cognitively diverse teams than if we remained in our comfort zones and echo chambers.

We are all gamers

There are many myths and misconceptions around who plays video games. The reality is that over 3 billion people in the world have a smartphone in their pocket, and over 2 billion of them play games on these devices. People from every demographic are playing an eclectic mix of games such as Candy Crush, Fortnite, Pokémon Go, Among Us and Clash of Clans.

Mobile gaming has brought the industry into the mainstream and proved there is much more to gaming than consoles and expensive PCs. For marketers, gamers have become an essential part of their audience strategy and target for future campaigns. But they must embrace (eco)system thinking by looking beyond the game itself.

Marketers must possess a passion for how a game can transcend the playing experience and open opportunities to connect via followed creators, streamers, esports events, teams and merchandise. There are myriad opportunities to explore involving player participation that stokes their passions and enable marketers to connect with them authentically.

Regardless of our age, we‘re all players now. Every family member will have played an online game. But each will also exist on a spectrum of genre preference and depth of engagement and the community surrounding it. Brand collaborations need to be highly authentic to the community and consider the reward mechanic for participation in that activity.

With every in-game achievement or trophy comes an item drop, a level up or something to celebrate with your friends. Marketers must adopt this same way of thinking and apply it to brand activation when engaging with players.

Diversity of thought is the engine of innovation

Marketers cannot fake it until they make it in the video game industry. If they do, sophisticated players will see straight through any transparent attempts to exploit them, and communities will respond accordingly. There are no shortcuts and marketers must accept that it‘s almost impossible to understand the drivers of engagement and what fosters community unless they are immersed in the world of gaming themselves.

Diverse teams will excel at bringing innovative ideas to life. The sharing of different viewpoints and perspectives in meetings will help you find inspiration in a way that you‘d never think of in your own bubble or comfort zone. According to Harvard Business Review, diverse teams can solve problems quicker than teams of cognitively similar backgrounds. This is something we have had first-hand experience of at Mana.

Mana is staffed by talent who are formerly from the gaming world, resulting in a greater understanding of communities and the unlocking of IP. This diversity in backgrounds helped us develop new standards of success and KPIs for gaming to qualify and quantify value. By unlearning and relearning what you know, the diversity of perspective is a gift that drives innovation.

The convergence of the physical and virtual world

The lines between online and offline are already disappearing. Emerging technologies are paving the way for new augmented and mixed reality experiences. Nvidia, Roblox and Epic Games have revealed plans to build the metaverse, co-experience platforms and even a digital twin of our planet. Although the speed of technology and innovation is moving rapidly, the reality is it will never move this slow again.

The uniqueness and innovation within the gaming space are unlike any other industry. At the heart of this success is not technology, but passionate and engaged communities that are building extreme fandom. The role of technology is bringing people together to collectively push the boundaries of what is capable in both the physical and virtual world. Bringing this vision to life will take non-linear diversified thinking and understanding across different industries and expertise.

The future is now

If we look to the future, there are already clear indications of where we are heading. 5G is here bringing faster speeds at a lower latency at scale. In addition, augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) are two areas expected to thrive with the possibilities of 5G mixed reality headsets capable of blending the capabilities of virtual and augmented realities. Although it will take a few years to come to fruition, marketers need to plan for tomorrow‘s innovations now.

When the pandemic is relegated to the history books, we know that consumers will still be gaming on multiple devices. Marketing channels and brand collaborations will continue to evolve, engagement tactics will change and acquisition costs will fluctuate. But richness in thinking and an appetite for innovation will always thrive. It‘s time to replace legacy mindsets with cognitively diverse thinking and a culture of innovation.

Satori Kawamura is the director of brand partnerships at Mana Partners