Gaming is huge and SGK’s Soichi Yamaguchi explains how brands can seize the opportunity presented by this massive market to engage more deeply with gamers through innovative design.

Today, the world of online games goes far beyond a niche hobby. With the definition of “gamers” wider than ever, it’s becoming new “town squares” where people from all ages, countries and walks of life connect.

Online games have emerged as a behemoth of a platform, with an astonishing 1.7 billion players (55% of the total player base) calling APAC home. In 2022 alone, gaming in APAC amassed a mind-boggling US$95.6 billion in revenue, with US$57.9 billion stemming from the thriving realm of mobile gaming. If we count the number of global gamers – 3.2 billion – as a population, it would equal India, China and the United States combined.

So, how can brands seize the opportunities presented by this market and truly engage with gamers through innovative design?

Decoding the gamers’ ecosystem

Gamers are a tribal community, investing substantial time and money in crafting just-right environments that enhance their gaming experience, comfort and performance. Think super-stretch, comfortable gaming wear and anti-sweat solutions to reduce sweaty hands – and that’s just in terms of attire. But there’s no need to completely reinvent your product line. By simply tapping into design cues inspired by gaming culture, brands can find ways to speak their language, capture their attention and foster an authentic connection.

Looking to find an entry point for conversation? Here are some design strategies and trends for brands to leverage:

Energy drinks: The gaming fuel

Just as athletes rely on sports drinks to optimise their performance, gamers turn to energy drinks as their ultimate gaming fuel, enhancing their cognition, alertness and concentration during intense gaming sessions. This affinity is vividly reflected in the packaging design, with many energy drinks employing high-energy colours and cues that ignite a true-to-gaming adrenaline rush.

That’s why Mountain Dew launched MTN DEW AMP GAME FUEL, an energy drink specially crafted to fuel endurance gaming and a bid to become the official drink of gamers. With a bold and electrifying design language that takes cues from both sports and energy drink categories, it not only stands out on shelves but signals its gaming creds with high-octane, tech-inspired graphics.

Colour trends: Unleashing both vibrant hues and soothing shades

In the gaming world, vibrant and electric colours often set the tone, reflecting the kinetic environment of most RPG games. But in Japan, a special genre of “iyashi-kei”, or healing games, instead transports players to alternative realities with minimal conflict, emphasising nature and the simple pleasures of life. Its most famous rep? Animal Crossing, whose soothing, visit-my-home-with-animals, open gameplay provided solace to millions during the pandemic.

By leveraging softer colours that evoke a calming environment, brands can tap into the latent desire for tranquillity that speak to fans of iyashi-kei. A prime example of this approach can be seen in Coca-Cola Japan’s category-disruptor product, “Chill Out”, the country’s first relaxation drink. In stark contrast to the high-energy nature of energy drinks, this product incorporates hemp seeds renowned for their relaxation properties. This carries through to the design language, which employs cool and soothing colours, and dovetails with the soft gradients of another burgeoning trend, that of CBD drinks.

Nostalgia reloaded: Embracing modern retro

Against a background of uncertainty, nostalgia is on the rise across the marketing landscape and this holds true for gaming as well. Using retro geek cues from the era – think Game Boy, Pacman, 16-bit graphics – brands can evoke “golden” (for some) and ironic/novel (for those younger) memories of the ’80s and ’90s.

Clio’s Arcade concept, for example, not only took cues from gamepad controllers for its packaging but also features gaming-inspired product names like Kill Cover. E.l.f’s “Game Up” makeup collection, on the other hand, features “electric shades, high-energy scents and supercharged formulas”, as well as a gamified secret code that unlocked bonus points, gift cards and more.

Blurring boundaries: Bridging virtual and reality

With Gen Z being the first digital native generation and Gen Alpha looking like it’ll be the first virtual native generation, the line between online and offline worlds is blurring like never before. With NFT-enabled ownership, everything from in-game Gucci clothing to RTFKT shoes, Jacob & Co watches and even virtual real estate at the Metajuku virtual mall are increasingly gaining social currency and status.

And the exchange is a two-way street. The digital is bleeding into the real world and vice versa. Car brands now actively feature themselves in games to gain brand awareness while subtly testing out gamer reactions to forthcoming, real-world features. Coke’s limited-edition Pixel flavour was first released on Fortnite, before being made available IRL. And beginning with Marshmello and Travis Scott’s success, concerts on Fortnite have now become an ongoing series, making concert-going now a shared, virtual affair for many.

How to bring gaming culture to life in your brand

Today, gaming isn’t just for stereotypical “gamers” but represents a new paradigm for interaction. The biggest shift to remember? That gaming has expanded beyond simply “entertainment” – comprising e-sports, casual or hardcore playing – to encompass much more social interaction, whether it takes the form of watching game content, socialising in-game without competing or attending events in games and out.

As games become immersive worlds in their own right, brands can find almost infinite potential and ways to connect, collaborate and find resonance, from content and music, to travel and events. Beyond the superficial cues, however, only by truly understanding this community’s lingo, sub-culture, behaviours and preferences can brands truly resonate. Three start points to consider are:

  • Build community: The gaming generation is searching for a virtual space to connect and unwind. As prototypical metaverses, brands would do well to remember that they’re there to provide a platform that enables and facilitates gamer-to-gamer interaction, not to create a brand-to-consumer monologue.
  • Sync real and virtual: Embrace the blurring of phygital boundaries by seeing how on-screen characters or virtual assets can be bridged with the real world. Instead of channel-first, think story and IP-first. Augmented reality features, limited-edition physical merchandise tied to in-game achievements or real-world events inspired by gaming themes are just some of the starter ways to merge these realms.
  • Cross-fandom approach: In the multiverse that is the gaming landscape today, different tribes congregate and meet on different platforms depending on shared passion points. By bridging different gaming communities and exploring cross-fandom collaborations, brands can expand their reach but this begins with understanding the diverse landscape and its even richer sub-groups.

Republished with permission from SGK.