The secret behind the gaming boom? Less VR and more Flappy Bird

Words by Ben Thrasher
Date 2024-02-19

The gaming industry has been the secret boss of the entertainment sector for some time. Its value in the UK is almost double the film and music industries combined. And with a diverse and dedicated audience, brands of all shapes and sizes are vying to level up their game time.

From Meta’s long-term investment in the metaverse to Disney’s groundbreaking $1.5bn investment into Fortnite developer Epic Games, mainstream entertainment and tech brands have twigged that this isn’t a temporary glitch in the matrix. Rather, it’s an environment which offers one of the world’s most meaningfully open and inclusive forms of entertainment.

But the rhetoric is still dominated by flashy Roblox branded experiences and Apple Vision Pro headsets. Whilst these are exciting developments for immersive entertainment, there is still a largely untapped opportunity for brands within the gaming space today.

High-engagement gamers, on which these types of immersive and high-tech experiences rely, only represent a tiny minority of today’s actual gaming population.

It is not shiny new toys like the Vision Pro that have driven the rise of gaming, but the proliferation of the humble smartphone. Without even realising it, most of us have used this device to participate in some form of gaming. Most reading this, and even most of the parents of those reading this, have played at least one game on their smartphone, from Wordle to Subway Surfers.

By itself, the global mobile gaming industry is set to reach $339.45bn by 2030, up from $108.15bn in 2022. The industry’s growth is particularly stark in nations where mobile adoption is still on a rapid incline. Case in point, increased smartphone penetration in Latin America has led to forecasters predicting the gaming sector’s value to hit $4.74bn by 2029 — compared to forecasts of just $2.94bn in 2024.

Brands that evolve their consideration of the gaming landscape and widen the scope so that it encompasses all interactive entertainment will gain a much more accurate image of the industry and the low barrier to entry opportunities that exist to reach huge audiences on a daily basis.

We’re already seeing some businesses take action. Netflix’s move into mobile gaming has seen the streaming giant develop over 70 games, with 2.2m users playing daily. For many gamers, their mobile is the key to unlocking any kind of gaming experience. And through this journey they are exposed to Netflix’s existing IP, creating an ecosystem of touchpoints that builds affinity.

Gaming should now be treated as a major, if not the most important, marketing channel for brands. As smartphones continue to take over the world, introducing an ever-increasing amount of consumers in key growth markets to the gaming space, there is enormous potential for brands to unlock unprecedented levels of brand exposure and engagement.

Like any other channel success should be measured in terms of concrete return on investment — growth in brand awareness, salience, sales and the like. Thinking strategically about how to enter the mobile gaming space in a way that is authentic to the brand, relevant to the target audience and creatively ties in the brand strategy is the golden ticket to achieving this.

So for now, keep one eye on the headset and one hand on your phone. You’re going to need them as this world of opportunity only grows bigger.

First published in City A.M.