Gaming’s got a strange reputation. It’s not got the respect that film, literature and even television has. However, as an industry its success is staggering. In the UK the gaming market is now worth a record £5.7bn, that’s more than both film and music combined.
That’s mind-boggling when you think about it.
In fact, Netflix, a brand that sends chills down the spines of traditional TV and film execs specifically namechecks Fortnite as its main competitor. "We compete with (and lose to) Fortnite more than HBO," Netflix told its investors in January.
To me it’s amazing Netflix didn’t say ‘gaming’ as a whole and instead highlighted a single title. Granted, Fortnite is a juggernaut but it shows how seriously the company is taking the competition.
With big companies taking note and such huge sales figures, why can’t we quite get our heads around the fact gaming has grown up?
Let’s address the obvious one: the games industry heavily focuses on young men. Plus, there are some unpalatable sectors of the gaming audience, as anyone who’s played online will tell you. It's not uncommon to encounter a sense of gatekeeping and people wanting to keep outsiders away from ‘their hobby’. While more and more games are trying to tell stories from different perspectives, there’s definitely an image problem of it being the preserve of entitled young men.
In fact, a few years back we created a hugely successful campaign designed to position our client in opposition to the graphic card industry’s hyper-masculine approach. I think there’s a slow but steady move towards inclusivity in the games industry. The more we embrace wider audiences, the quicker gaming will gain respect.
I think another element is how hard gaming works at dazzling us with incredible technology. I can press a single button and have the world’s gaming library at my fingertips. Gone are the days of blowing on cartridges or praying tapes would load. I actually think that creates a problem of it being so good we take it for granted.
I’ve worked with several clients with gaming hardware ranges. Once you lift the veil you start to understand the incredible scope of the industry. We spent a lot of time distilling incredible technological feats into palatable selling points. Sure, the enthusiasts care about how the Xbox One X uses its GPU muscle to offset a relatively weak CPU, but almost everyone else just wants to know if it’ll do 4K and run smoothly.
I wonder if the industry’s desire to communicate to a wide audience ends up obfuscating the scale, talent and artistic vision involved to create games like Call of Duty, FIFA and Fortnite.
There’s also the addictive nature of gaming to consider. Many games are designed around satisfying dopamine feedback loops, and there’s a depressing trend of exploiting these loops with microtransactions. As an industry gaming is self-regulated but it feels more and more likely that government intervention is on the horizon. Belgium has already banned loot boxes while the Netherlands has heavily restricted them.
The industry needs to better police itself from practices like this. If people hear about governments stepping in to stop games pushing children to use their parents' credit cards, the impressions is of an immature medium.
Of course, age plays a part in acceptance. The first game (Computer Space, 1971) is less than 50 years old. Compared to music and cinema we’ve got some catching up to do.
Those are my suggestions for gaming gaining more respect. If it can embrace inclusivity, shine a spotlight on industry talent and better self-regulation then hopefully we can focus on talking more about the fun stuff.
Rob Pratt is creative director at brand creation and integrated marketing agency Brand & Deliver.