By Matt Tubbs
A recent Guardian article from SXSW raised some interesting questions about how computer game developers are looking to blur the boundaries between online and real life (or from OL to IRL, in technical parlance). The article got me thinking about the gaming industry generally, and how companies are looking to use games as a means of getting their message across.
Statistics show that gaming is becoming a bigger and bigger industry. Black Ops, the latest title in the Call of Duty franchise, netted £233 million in its first 24 hours on sale and broached the £1 billion mark six weeks later. These figures put the game on a par with Michael Jackson’s Thriller album, and other massive entertainment releases. It is obvious that there is an enormous market for computer games that developers are looking to make their own. But do games really translate to life in the real world?
One would hope that in the case of Grand Theft Auto they do not, but other titles that replicate day-to-day life in a virtual environment seem to resonate particularly strongly with some. Who can forget the tragic case of the Korean couple who let their child starve while responding to the demands of their virtual baby? Or the deaths of two gamers who forgot to eat?
These are extreme examples, and the majority of those who buy into this multi-billion pound industry see gaming as a leisure activity. Due to the large audience potential, gaming also has a marketing application that companies are looking to exploit. Successful campaigns have hinged on encouraging people to “play” a game and receive rewards. An innovative recent campaign in Japan saw people competing to collect virtual butterflies scattered around the streets and trade them for vouchers.
Gaming as part of the entertainment industry has grown spectacularly in recent years. Sales continue to increase, and titles become more ambitious in their scope and audience. But will social gaming take off as a marketing tool? There is certainly a great deal of buzz around the topic, and it will appeal to creative brands looking to corner the market.
Those who begin to exploit social gaming’s marketing potential will, I believe, have an audience readily available – a smartphone equipped generation who are used to gaming for pleasure. This is almost certainly the audience that marketeers and PR firms will be looking to target with social games, and it is these people that will provide the impetus for growth in this sector.