Gaming: a new ball game altogether – by Digitalis

Gaming: a new ball game altogether

At EGX 2016, the UK’s largest video games event to date, a record-breaking 75k people walked through the hangar-sized doors of the expo, eager to play over 200 of the latest blockbuster and indie games, watch an eSports tournament or dress up like Pikachu. And we walked away with 5 main pointers:

  • Retailers are still thinking inside the box

Digital sales continue to dominate the UK games market, rising 17% between 2014-15 to reach £1.9bn, over double the £927m of boxed formats sales. Yet, despite the ongoing ascension of digital, physical distribution was a major aspect of the EGX’s sponsorship this year. Amazon became the expo’s latest retail partner, and rolled out an event-first Prime Now delivery service, which enabled gamers to use the Amazon app to ‘Scan and Buy’ games direct from the show floor, picking them up within 2-hours from lockers nearby.

Amazon clearly continues to make a big play for the substantial physical games market. The e-Commerce giant is particularly receptive to the demands of these gamers, offering options such as exclusive merchandise and content bundles, as well as release day price guarantees and delivery (even overnight). In a world of near-instant digital downloads, where boxed formats might seem irrelevant, these savvy sales strategies continue to engage physical consumers.

  • Video gaming is a fulltime job

New research released this week from economists from Princeton, the University of Rochester and the University of Chicago identified that, in the US, unemployed men without college degrees have been increasingly rejecting jobs for a lighter alternative: living at home and playing video games.

Putting aside the troubling economic implications of these findings, EGX did its best to showcase instances where gaming can, in fact, put food on the table.

Firstly, eSports were unmissable at the expo, with one of the largest stands taken by professional eSports organization Gfinity. The UK-based company, which runs several gaming leagues and tournaments, gave away a cool $100k to teams battling against each other in the first-person shooter Counter Strike. As prizes grow bigger each year ($10m?!), professional gamers are signed by sports clubs, and multiple broadcasters invest in competitive games content, eSports may finally be coming of age.

Secondly, the show was populated by a bedroom full of YouTube stars and other influencers, keen to chat to fans, share advice to would-be games vloggers and flog their latest merchandise. Online platform Twitch, the ESPN of video games, used the opportunity to showcase some of its top streaming personalities and engage new partners. Twitch’s parent company Amazon is increasingly harnessing the platform’s highly-engaged audience (now at 10 million users per day) for advertisers, but also to gauge interest in original content for the wider Prime video service. Twitch’s users watched a reported 459k years’ worth of video in 2015, so I’m sure they didn’t mind watching a pilot episode or two.

  • We’re not board yet

A surprising addition to the expo was an area dedicated entirely to board games. It seems table top gaming is experiencing a grand resurgence, with estimated sales growing a staggering 20% over the past year. The format enjoys an extremely varied user base, ranging from children and families, to digital detox hipsters and fanboy enthusiasts: to be found in any number of the dedicated board game cafes popping up across the country. There is evidently a large global audience willing to invest time and money into board games; crowdfunding platform Kickstarter recently revealed that over $500m had been pledged to games since its inception, but a surprising 53% of that went to table top projects, compared with 37% to video games.

  • It’s in the pipes…

Once upon a time, notes the FT (paywall), gamers were seen as the bane of internet providers’ for clogging up the internet at peak times. However, at the start of the month Virgin Media fervently bucked the trend with the release of a broadband tariff designed specifically for gamers, offering superfast speeds to make sure players maintain the competitive edge. Virgin worked with eSports company Gfinity to test its “boss-level broadband”, stating that the “vast majority” of subjects indicated willingness to pay a premium for it. As lead sponsor of EGX, Virgin sought to further attract this lucrative audience with an enormous (and loud) competitive gaming lounge, which gave attendees exclusive access to an upcoming version of the Destinyfranchise.

  • There is such a thing as too real

It’s clear that physical products – whether boxed games, sports tournaments, board games or fiber – continue to be of great importance to games in the digital age. There are, however, instances where the physical and the virtual should stay very much separate. EGX gave Ubisoft an opportunity to showcase the Nosulus Rift headset, developed to promote the upcoming title South Park: The Fractured But Whole, which allows players to smell the game as they play. Unpleasantly, the simulated smells are characters breaking wind. An interesting marketing stunt it may be, with entertaining results, but it raises the interesting point that, as developers strive towards increasingly realistic games, there will ultimately be a limit to how immersed audiences really want to be.



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