The team at in-game advertising platform Bidstack spent last week in Cologne for Europe’s biggest gaming event - Gamescom. Here, its CMO, Simon Gosling, offers a comprehensive look at some of the key things they took away from this year’s show.
1. Brands are buying into gaming
In recent years, CES, the gigantic annual event showcasing the latest innovations in consumer electronics, has seen a massive swell in the number of C-suite marketers from world-leading brands and media agencies attending the event. So why are the industry’s key decision makers flocking to Vegas, to see what’s new in ovens, TVs, washing machines, mobile phones and other household tech?
Because, with the advent of the internet of things and the connected home, WiFi connected fridges, coffee machines and tumble dryers generate huge amounts of data about our behaviour. And increased data enables brands to hyper-personalise their marketing, making it more tailored, targeted, contextual and, hopefully, effective.
So where were all the agencies at Gamescom? Europe’s largest Gaming event, held in Cologne, is where games publishers gather to showcase their latest games and platforms, and where the public - many in full cosplay - descend in their droves for a chance to get a selfie with their favourite esports heroes, play pre-release titles and purchase game-related merchandise.
Almost 500,000 visitors, (up from last years 370,000) pass through the halls of the Koelnmesse across the five-day event. Many of the public arrive with pop-up stools, prepared to wait in line for a few hours, just to get a five-minute play of the latest pre-release titles!
Considering revenues from gaming are now larger than video and music combined, its surprising how little attendance there appears to be from media and advertising agencies. Gamescom’s ‘Gutter Bar’ is the Marriot Hotel bar, which is where you’d find the Bidstack team till the wee small hours each night, after a long day of meetings at the conference hall, catching up with old friends and making new ones.
We enjoyed conversations with senior figures from many of the world’s largest games developers, but no one from media agencies. However, I predict this will be all-change this time next year, as brands warm to the massive opportunities presented by in-game advertising, (if Wendy’s Cannes Lion Grand Prix winning Fortnite campaign hadn’t already turned a few heads Kölnwards).
That said, Ford took up a huge area in one of the main halls, pitching up beside Xbox and engaged with the gaming community in a big way. It announced prior to the show that it would be making a move into gaming and its involvement didn’t disappoint! Ford has launched its own esports teams which will be known as ‘Fordzilla’ and began its recruitment drive with timed laps live at the event. Brands getting involved at this deeper level is a really positive step and one that a lot of gamers will welcome.
Red Bull was also heavily involved as a drinks partner and trumpeted its partnership with gaming royalty Ninja which recently made the bold move from Amazon’s streaming service Twitch over to Microsoft’s Mixer. And McDonald’s activated at the event with a Big Bang Theory partnership in the same hall as Netflix. Getting involved in gaming can be difficult for brands who aren’t familiar with the landscape but when done right it can deliver highly impressive and lucrative results.
2. Netflix has joined the party
Bidstack CMO, Simon Gosling, does his best to summon a rum ‘n’ raisin from Scoops Ahoy.
Last June, at E3, Netflix announced plans to create gaming experiences to accompany their original content. It was great to see them deliver that promise with their incredible stand at Gamescom.
By creating games around Netflix Original series it has been able to extend the shelf life of its shows and interact with its audience in an entirely new way. It brilliantly paid tribute to hit series Stranger Things at Gamescom, by incorporating a 'Scoops Ahoy' ice cream parlour within its stand and handed out cans of Coke and 80s retro 'raider' bars to legions of excited fans.
Sticking with the 80s theme, almost 40 years since Jim Henson’s magical adventure, The Dark Crystal hit cinema screens, those evil Skeksis and elvish Gelflings are back, in a new Netflix Original series, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance.
The beloved fantasy epic is also getting a brand new tactical strategy game, The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics, on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC and Mac OS and like Stranger Things, was included in the Netflix stand, which was one of the most spectacular at the event.
It’s worth noting the influence Netflix’s streaming model has had on the gaming industry. Many well-known developers now offer their games not only for purchase, but also as part of a subscription. From September, Ubisoft will offer more than 100 games from its comprehensive catalogue such as Assassins Creed, Farcry or Watchdogs for a monthly fee. Electronic Arts will also offer a selection of its games, including the popular FIFA football series, on a monthly subscription service called Project Atlas.
3. Google has landed and looks set to stay
Google’s cloud gaming solution, Stadia - which promises to deliver high fidelity gaming without the need for a powerful PC or games console - revealed the first glimpse of its user interface at Gamescom. Something that seemed to please many gamers, and what jumps out at you first thing is the wise choice to go with a dark theme, rather than Google’s tendency towards the colour white.
Google will offer two types of Stadia accounts: the paid Stadia Pro and free Stadia Base. The Stadia Pro service offers up to 4K resolution, 60 frames per second, and HDR streaming. It will be priced at $9.99 when it launches this November in 14 countries. The free Stadia Base accounts (slated to become available in 2020) will be capped at 1080p resolution, with no access to free games or discounts.
Many welcome the growth and innovation Google’s entry into gaming offers but others remain sceptical, with details remaining relatively thin on the ground so far. At Gamescom, Stadia had a very big presence and announced a raft of new titles for the platform including big hitters such as CyberPunk 2077, Doom Eternal, Mortal Kombat 11, Darksiders Genesis and GRID.
Last May, Google’s move into gaming, alongside similar moves by tech giants Amazon and Tencent, prompted the announcement of a highly unlikely alliance between former gaming rivals Sony Playstation and Microsoft XBox, who joined forces to enhance their cloud gaming and AI initiatives. Cloud gaming, especially with the arrival of 5G, is a hugely developing platform and a space worth keeping an eye on for the rest of 2019 and early 2020.
4. Gaming just keeps on innovating
We enjoyed playing several pre-release titles at the event. As a huge fan of 2012’s FIFA Street, I was personally delighted to see the inclusion of VOLTA FOOTBALL, which allows you to show off your skills and experience a new, more street side of The World’s Game in 17 football playgrounds from across the globe.
Need for Speed Heat – the upcoming title in the long-running racing series by EA, also had some new tricks up its sleeve in the form of an app, which became free to download on iOS and Android on August 19. Once Need for Speed Heat drops in November, you can also download the app using the QR code found in-game.
The NFS Studio app is an exciting leap forward in helping players customise their console experience using their phone. This means they can ‘pimp their ride’ pre-release of the game making it ready to race on launch, as well as modify it throughout the life of the game.
Two games that grabbed my attention for their sheer innovation on the Sony Playstation stand were Dreams and Concrete Genie. Dreams is a multi game video game and game creation system developed by the British studio Media Molecule. It enables players to develop their own beautiful games without the need to know how to code.
Sony says: “Dreams is an extraordinary open-ended experience where you can make anything, from interactive adventures and platformers, to shoot ‘em ups, puzzlers and more. The possibilities are endless.”
“Whatever you create you can then share with a massive online community, where you can also browse other players' creations, remix them, or use their items, environments and characters in your own games.”
Concrete Genie from studio Pixelopus is a unique exploration of bullying's impact, which PS4 hopes will give “younger people a chance to share their experiences and talk about them more easily". You play as Ash, a young artist exploring the now dangerous area he once grew up in, lighting it up with his art while avoiding the bullies that lurk around the corner.
The game has an absolutely beautiful street art style and sensitivity. In this era of increased cyber and offline bullying and frequent news reports on its tragic, sometimes fatal consequences, it’s reassuring and all too rare to see a game tackle such a difficult subject in an understanding and creative way.
5. Cloud gaming will open up esports to a whole new audience
Esports is a hot topic at the moment and it was no different at Gamescom this year. The news of 16-year-old Kyle Geirsdor taking home $3m dollars in the Fortnite World Cup recently (more than Novak Djokavic’s $2.9m Wimbledon-winning prize money) certainly captured the public’s imagination but it came as less of a shock to the gaming industry.
Esports has been a major part of gaming for years and ESL ran events for Asphalt, CS GO and League of Legends at this years show alongside new entries into the space from the likes of Ford as covered above.
Brands unsure about the impact of advertising to the esports audience should firstly consider the reach that is possible. The global esports audience comes in at more than one billion people - which is twice the global audience for F1, eight times the size of the TV audience for the World Series and 10 times the number of viewers for the Super Bowl. It’s a growing area that should be on the radar of advertisers and one that isn’t limited to just PCs and consoles, there is a growing market for mobile esports which is expected to continue to rapidly grow.
Sam Matthews who founded Fnatic - one of the world’s leading esports teams - echoed this sentiment recently, stating that he thinks “mobile esports are the future, people used to be like 'ohhh I'm only going to play on my console or my PC' but in reality, mobile is what everybody has and it's becoming more powerful”.
With cloud gaming services such as Google’s Stadia and Microsoft’s X Cloud on the horizon and the anticipated rollout of 5G coming later this year, it is reasonable to expect the size of the gaming audience to grow even larger particularly when coupled with the growth in mobile esports. It remains to be seen which brands will be quickest off the mark to interact with this growing, engaged and diverse audience.
At Gamescom, we met several people and companies whose business revolve around esports. NitroLukeDX and Sam Harry are both ‘gaming partners'/influencers with Facebook; the former being the most followed in the UK with 315K followers on Facebook, while Sam is a social media influencer with more than a million followers across YouTube and Facebook.
While YouTube (Google) and Twitch (Amazon) are certainly the best known game streaming platforms and Mixer (Microsoft) recently hit the headlines signing exclusive rights with Ninja, Facebook is lesser known in the space. Nevertheless, Sam informed me that Facebook is investing heavily to turn this around and said that part of the appeal to him to move across to the platform was his feeling that it’s a friendlier environment than its competitors because any comments made on the channel link directly to someone’s Facebook profile.
L-R: Facebook partners NitroLukeDX & Sam Harry with Bidstack CMO, Simon Gosling.
Finally, we also met with Nikita Buffee, esports business development and partnerships director at Allied Esports International. Named on Fast Company’s World’s Most Innovative Companies list for 2019, Allied is a premier esports entertainment company with a global network of dedicated esports properties and content production facilities. Its mission is to connect players, streamers and fans via integrated arenas and mobile esports trucks around the world that serve as both gaming battlegrounds and every day content generation hubs.
eL-R: Rob Dagwell, head of esports; Vanessa Yu, marketing director; Nikita Buffee, Allied esports international business development & partnerships director, and CMO at Bidstack, Simon Gosling, beside the Allied Esport International truck at Gamescom 2019.
Rob loves a truck
Gamers playing on board the trailer stage.
Nikita kindly showed us around their enormous epsorts truck, with built in performance stage and OB facilities. He told us Gamescom was the biggest event that they had taken the truck to. We feel that any brand looking to sponsor an esports event would be well advised to check these guys out as they can bring their truck to you, stage, and produce the event and attract some of the biggest games tiltles and players in the world of esports.
Simon Gosling is CMO at in-game advertising platform Bidstack.