The manufactured gamer
The nature of video games is change – the objective of every game is to get bigger and better and that’s exactly what’s happened with the video game industry over the years.
We’re at the stage where AAA games are going for R800 – R1200 per copy, e-sports events are so popular they’re being hosted on live TV, and the industry has become a massive multi-billion dollar cash cow in which the most surprising companies are successfully investing their marketing budget.
But why has marketing to gamers become so popular recently? And why does so much of it look so similar?
In Western society, capitalism is the engine currently hurtling us along the tracks of progression, and marketing plays a massively important role in fueling it. Marketing and advertising is everything to a company, and everywhere to a consumer, and these days even bad press is good press depending on how a company handles a fallout. It’s such an important tool that it has, on multiple occasions in modern times, shaped society and the way people view themselves and the world around them. In an industry with a revenue of more than $500 billion in 2019, we can see why.
Ads are everywhere today and are increasing in obtrusiveness to the point of fatigue. Because of this, marketing has needed to evolve to become more clever and relatable to the consumer who, on average, including watching TV, sees about 5000 ads per day. This has led to a major shift in technique – advertisers can no longer sell a product alone (everyone and their dog grooming boutique is already doing this). They need to sell a lifestyle to assure the consumer that their life will be better overall because of this product.
I thought this topic was interesting because there’s been a lot of controversy around the idea of a ‘gamer’ in the past few years, and I think the idea of the gamer we know today, along with the attitude/lifestyle involved, was manufactured by marketing from companies trying to sell to an audience that didn’t have the best reputation, and needed a bit of a rebrand in order to garner some confidence.
Advertising, as with any industry, has had to evolve over the ages, and has been shaped by the technological advancements of the time. In the midst of the industrial revolution this meant the printing press – newspapers and magazines were able to travel far further than an appealing signboard outside of a shop, and therefore were a great way to bring in customers from a much wider pool of consumers. Ads were simple in their composition, relying mostly on flowery copy and the impression of trustworthiness.
There are many ads that have shaped the way we think: Sunkist created orange juice to sell an excess of oranges, Coke hired an illustrator to create the image of Santa Claus now imprinted in the collective consciousness, DeBeers manufactured the idea of an engagement ring with their “Diamonds are Forever” campaign. But a great example of a company rebranding their audience is Marlboro with the Marlboro Man.
Marlboros were originally known as a woman’s cigarette, and the Marlboro Man campaign aimed to sell their new filtered cigarettes to their male audience – and it worked amazingly well. Even today we think of smoking as a gruff, masculine act, like the Marlboro Man with his weathered features.
But where does gaming come into this?
The gaming industry has evolved rapidly in time with the technology around it – the shift from analogue to digital has opened up a wealth of opportunities to advertise to a growing audience in a growing number of ways, and the most surprising companies are jumping onto the bandwagon to get a piece of the profits. But this wasn’t always so, and up until a few years ago there was one rather large roadblock in getting to this point: the average perception of a “gamer” and what they looked like.
I believe marketing surrounding gaming has been creating a slow and deliberate rebrand of the idea of the “gamer”, much like the Marlboro Man, in order to make their products seem more appealing to the audiences themselves, and, in turn, making the industry seem like a lucrative space to invest in. By building the audience up to be cool, efficient, and almost a part of the machines they’re playing on, they’ve created a more relatable space for people to buy into, be part of, and invest their hard earned money into. They’ve created an appealing lifestyle to convince consumers to buy into.
It doesn’t just start here though – gaming started becoming more mainstream (and therefore advertiser friendly) from a couple of different directions:
The rise of mobile games, their popularity and the many opportunities there are to advertise on different platforms in many different locations and devices.
Online gaming and the increasing interest in esports, the teams and their sponsors.
So why does so much of the advertising for gaming-related paraphernalia look so similar?
With the landscape today being very competitive, along with consumers being over stimulated by ads at every turn, and the market being heavily saturated with many variations of similar products, companies have had to improvise by selling a lifestyle. In the gaming industry advertisers can see that their target audience is predominantly male and relatively passionate about their hobby. Tapping into that masculinity, I believe the industry took its visual clues from the likes of the bodybuilding/fitness consumables industry.
They have similar audiences, and bodybuilding has also managed a relatively similar rebrand – moving the perception of their audience from hyper specialised, competitive bodybuilders, to appealing to the everyday gym goer looking to supplement their workout. While the aesthetic itself definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (such is how target markets work) the idea and the intent behind it makes up for the visuals themselves.
Harsh angles, dark, moody lighting with hints of neon colour, carbon fibre textured, mysterious and strong, it’s reminiscent of the futuristic Eurasian skyline of the likes of Blade Runner and The Matrix. Thanks to its history in movies it’s cool, gritty, masculine, and ultimately, profitable.While both of these shifts in perception aren’t complete, I do believe that they’re deliberate and manufactured to follow a formula that’s been proven to work. By pushing their audience to feel more mainstream, while also keeping the idea of individuality and the ‘cool’ factor, we can see this is hugely successful just by looking at the companies who are dropping huge budget into the industry. MasterCard sponsors League of Legends Worlds, StateFarm sponsors the Overwatch League. Gaming ‘culture’ and the idea of ‘the Gamer’ are being rebranded, and it’s definitely working.