Gaming in Asia Pacific is estimated to bring in a whopping US$71.4 billion in 2018. This past August, Singapore hosted the inaugural ASEAN eSports tournament, and in four years’ time, at the 2022 Asian Games, competitive gaming will be a medal event for the first time.
With all the hype around esports, one would think this emerging trend would have been seized upon by consumer brands, pumping in dollars to tap into the global phenomenon. Yet, this undeniable cultural cornerstone is still seen as a niche hobby, and it’s clear commercial potential remains largely overlooked.
Between gamers and non-gamers, there seems to be an invisible wall hindering relatability and perception.
While people are aware of the growing presence of esports in the region, that lack of relatability to gaming is one of the reasons that brands, especially non-endemic ones, have yet to take a closer look. We might have peripheral awareness of a friend who plays football every Sunday, but how often do we know of the same friend’s gaming habits?
In terms of perception, gamers describe themselves as fun, competitive and sociable, as well as team players and strategic thinkers. On the contrary, non-gamers perceive them as lazy and unsociable, and gaming is seen as a waste of time.
Even in Korea, where gaming culture originated in the hearts of “PC bangs” (gaming cafes), a survey by Carat's Korea insights team shows a distinction between the perception of gamers by gamers themselves. 41% of light-gamers in Korea stated that gamers “need to balance playing time”, while only 2% of heavy gamers stated that “gamers are skilled role models”.
Interestingly, the percentage of those who claim to be hardcore gamers is higher in emerging markets such as Thailand, China and Indonesia.
With multiple differences at play, what do brands need to know about Asian gamers in order to capitalize on this fast-growing industry?
Gamers are highly sociable. According to Foresight Factory, only one-third of gamers value gaming more than socializing face-to-face. The only difference is that they simply hang out with friends through their headsets. These hangouts happen routinely, multiple times a week, over a game that they enjoy. Their interaction is focused and engaged, and their friendships have been through the depths many of us have yet to experience with our closest friends. There’s nothing like competitive camaraderie on digital adventures that can bring your friendship to the next level (pun intended).
In this digital era can we genuinely say that digital interaction is less meaningful than a physical meet-up?
Brands such as McDonald’s Malaysia are already tapping into late-night gaming behaviours, lingo and social dynamics to cater to a targeted audience segment that would be more likely to experience late-night hunger.
Strategic and skilled
Nevertheless, the dreaded 'Asian F’ (known as a 'B' grade elsewhere) and consequently a bleak future as a result of gaming are a common concern of Asian parents, often due to the misconception of equating gaming to laziness.
According to Foresight Factory, more than two-thirds of gamers value learning a new skill over gaming. Skills picked up through gaming can then even be applied to work. These skills include assessing a situation from different angles, analysing people’s reactions and out-of-the-box thinking.
In China, Snickers partnered with a popular local band to launch a stress-relieving online video game during the stressful Gaokao (college entrance exam) season to encourage teenagers to turn to Snickers to satisfy their hunger during the exam period. Viewers were challenged to capture 'hunger monsters' which could then be used to redeem limited-edition Snickers merchandise. As a result, Snickers saw an uplift in brand awareness, likeability and recommendations amongst students.
Epitome of experience
Gaming is a strong example of the experience economy in action. Gamers require a higher-level of stimulation and want to be actively involved in creating something. Passive consumption is just not engaging enough. They want to create value and be part of the narrative. They crave new challenges, and get a strong sense of achievement when they conquer them.
Many lessons can be drawn from the gaming industry on the kind of value consumers seek. Gamers are leading the way in terms of needing heightened immersive experience and high value returns from entertainment—a trend that the rest of the world will soon catch up to.
Unlike in the West, where virtual reality remains a niche market, in Asia immersive, virtual reality experiences in the form of cafes, arcades and cinemas are quickly gaining popularity in places such as China, Japan and South Korea. Dedicated VR theme parks already exist in Malaysia, and the South Korean government has recently opened one in the heart of Hongdae, Seoul.
Indeed, gamers are a unique audience segment to target, and esports is a unique platform to explore. But don’t be kept in the dark; there is more at stake here (52% of total global gaming revenues to be exact) than just young anti-social millennials. Gaming is serious business in Asia, and brands that pay attention will find themselves ahead of the curve.
Diyana Syafiqah is regional strategist with the Global Content Studio of Carat Asia Pacific.