In this edition of Spotlight Southeast Asia, WARC Asia Editor Gabey Goh looks at how can brands plug in and play with the region’s mobile gamers.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on how brands can play better with Southeast Asia’s mobile gamers. Read more

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, mobile gaming in Southeast Asia (SEA) was already big and getting bigger. Data from GWI shows that SEA is one of the largest and most active gaming markets in the world, with 86% of internet users in SEA (approximately 584 million people) playing games on a mobile device, while 46% have an active interest in gaming or play on PC or console.

What the pandemic did was propel mobile games into mainstream brand consciousness as marketers chased after the attention of consumers stuck at home.

But are brands fully leveraging this new “mass medium? What should be next for brands that want to do more with mobile games but are unsure if current plans and ideas have what it takes to gain a foothold in the hearts and minds of SEA’s gamers?

This Spotlight edition seeks to pull together current thinking and guidance on how Southeast Asia’s marketers can level up their advertising/marketing strategy when it comes to mobile games and tap the growing opportunity to do more with the region’s gaming consumers.

Mobile gaming is a habit in SEA

Data from research firm GWI shows that gaming is a habit for Southeast Asians, with half (47%) of consumers having played games on a website or on an app in the last month and half saying they are interested in gaming (49%).

In addition, 13% have posted about gaming on social media in the last month. When watching TV, 91% of consumers will go on their mobile phone, while 44% will be playing games on a device.

Creating connections comes first

For the gaming brands interviewed for this Spotlight, there’s been no doubt that the gaming landscape in Southeast Asia has grown. But alongside this growth are the growing expectations that gamers have when it comes to their favourite game titles and experiences. This means that brands, much like the game developers that they work with, will have to have a very nuanced approach to engaging with these audiences.

  • Cater to the diversity and digital-first nature of SEA: The most active gaming region in the world is also the most diverse and every marketing strategy must embrace that at its core, while leveraging the reach available with mobile-first consumers.

    “This offers brands immense potential to tap on, given they are able to reach users regardless of whether they are located in the cities or suburbs. Consumers in the region are also among the most engaged in the world, spending more time on mobile than anywhere else. The challenge then is to develop content that resonates with multiple local audiences, while leveraging common themes that users across various cultures can all relate to,” said Jason Ng, VP strategic partners, Garena.

  • Don’t treat mobile games as a one-and-done tactic: Participating in one-off events or activations may not drive a huge or lasting impact for brands.

    “Brands should take a holistic approach when marketing to gamers by activating across multiple channels, experiences and content. This creates an opportunity for the brand to reach and engage with the community across the entire fan experience. When fans engage with a brand consistently across multiple activations and platforms, it becomes a long-term opportunity to create awareness and genuine relationships,” said Carlos Alimurung, CEO, ONE Esports.

More than just a game

Contributors to the Southeast Asia Spotlight all agreed that the potential of mobile gaming to engage with consumers has yet to be fully tapped by brands. And one common theme in the insights and guidance offered is centred around the need for brands to see the bigger ecosystem that surrounds mobile gaming.

  • Gaming is a culture: Understanding your audience’s gaming behaviour is a good start but a limited view.

    “For many brand leaders and advertisers, connecting with gamers might feel foreign but increasingly necessary. By taking the time to explore the culture of gamers, it becomes much easier for brands to find opportunities to connect and add value,” said Alasdair Gray, strategy director, BBH Asia Pacific.

  • Aim to add to the experience: While there are many innovative and exciting mobile gaming marketing opportunities out there, the key for marketers is to understand how they can design an experience that can add value to the marketer/gaming audience relationship.

    “It is important for marketers to understand insights such as the aspirations to play, how gamers interact and engage with the larger gaming ecosystem, the community, their behaviour, interests and the emotional needs that gaming fulfils. With these insights, marketers can design a well-informed strategy that can be brought to life through creative and disruptive gaming ideas,” said Haroon Qureshi, partner content, innovation & partnerships, Mindshare Asia Pacific.

  • Ads can be a positive thing in games: Increasing time spent on mobile games gives marketers an unprecedented opportunity to drive brand awareness, especially through rewarded video ads.

    “Marketers can leverage on ads that reward users with in-game items, additional lives and more, resulting in greater user experience and an overall positive sentiment towards the brand. Essentially, the message the brand conveys is this: consume my ad and get a reward at the end of it,” said Umamon Siriluksanaporn, country manager, Thailand, POKKT.

  • In-game advertising can’t be an afterthought: Advertising and mobile gaming have a unique relationship. Since most mobile games are free-to-play, developers sell ad space instead to monetise their content.

    “As with any advertising strategy, it is important for brands to clearly define their objectives from the start. While it is still less saturated than the social media space, advertising activity is ramping up quickly and companies that get advertising right in this arena will undoubtedly reap handsome rewards in the future,” said Rishi Bedi, vice president and general manager for SEA, Japan, Korea, InMobi

  • Livestreams can be a powerful conversion tool: Research by Twitch suggests that gamers in SEA are also more likely to buy or download a game that they have seen someone else play, which is exactly what livestreaming reinforces.

    “Livestreams are powerful conversion tools that introduce and support the gaming community in ways that they enjoy. To level up their marketing strategy, brands need to know and engage the right audience, interact live on stream, and leave a lasting impression,” said Cheeri Leo, director of sales marketing APAC, Twitch.

  • Build a lasting relationship with consumers: Throughout the pandemic, mobile games have become a popular channel to reach consumers and offer opportunities for marketers to go beyond traditional marketing through mobile gaming.

    “Marketers need to consider mobile games as a long-term brand-building strategy by going through to the end of the digital funnel rather than for short-term conversion,” said Dr Ho Phu Hai and Dr Soumik Parida of RMIT University, Vietnam.

  • Connect with the wider ecosystem: Connecting to the mobile gaming audience is not necessarily limited to the game only but also involves the surrounding ecosystem as part of the story-telling journey to engage with mobile gamers.

    “Within mobile gaming, esports is interesting as it offers a wider ecosystem than casual gaming. As esports is also an essential part of mobile gaming, rights utilisation is not limited only to the gaming assets but can come from the surrounding ecosystem. For example, the pro teams, players and sportscasters for esports competition can act as Key Opinion Leaders,” said Rommy Yosef Pantouw, associate content director, dentsu X Indonesia.

Despite its popularity, mobile gaming in the region is still in its early stages of growth and maturity regarding where brands fit into the picture. There is flexibility and variety in how marketers can choose to leverage this trend, from treating it as another advertising channel in the overall media mix, to making long-term investments in supporting the gaming community and esports scene.

But ultimately, the mobile gaming space is one that cannot be ignored for much longer – no matter what vertical a brand sits within – given how pervasive the activity and accompanying culture have become in Southeast Asia.