What marketers can learn from online gaming’s winning playbook

Marianna Nash / September 2020

It’s no surprise that the online gaming industry is faring well in today’s climate. Two and a half billion gamers were already playing worldwide.1 And, now, as people look for ways to pass the time and safely socialise at home, many of them are discovering the world of online games.

It’s no surprise that the online gaming industry is faring well in today’s climate. Two and a half billion gamers were already playing worldwide. And, now, as people look for ways to pass the time and safely socialise at home, many of them are discovering the world of online games.

Looking for online gaming inspiration

To cope with uncertainty, escape monotony, and connect with others in quarantine, people are searching for new virtual experiences. Not all of them are gamers — in fact, many of them are getting into gaming for the first time — so they’re actively seeking inspiration.

Search gives us insight into how people want to spend their time in quarantine, and it reflects a growing wave of interest in the online gaming industry. Last month, searches for “game app to” grew over 100% in just a week.2 More broadly, searches for “best online games” rose 100% year over year.3 And between 35% and 44% of survey respondents across 14 countries said they had downloaded a game or fitness/well-being app in the past week.4

Line drawing of a handheld gaming device and a green arrow indicating growth. 100% growth in searches for “best online games” since last year.

Streaming viewership for games is also rising. Beyond playing together, people are forming highly engaged online communities on platforms that let them watch and comment in real time. Now, as part of YouTube’s Stay Home #WithMe campaign, creators are making it even easier to connect by inviting their fans to game with them.

Line drawing of video play window hovers over solid green illustration of a console gaming controller. YouTube search interest in “gaming” nearly doubled since last year.

YouTube search interest in “gaming” nearly doubled since last year.5 That growth is consistent with findings from Nielsen that streaming has increased across all hours of the day in the U.S., thanks, in part, to gaming live streams. Games marketers would be wise to court enthusiasts on streaming platforms, while keeping in mind that discovery happens on a wide range of channels. To reach those most likely to download, consider using App campaigns to promote your games across YouTube, the Google Play store, and other key destinations.

Even marketers outside the gaming industry may want to consider redirecting their ad spend to games, since mobile gaming apps and the ads they run have been seeing more engagement in recent weeks.

Online gaming provides social contact, at a distance

Gaming connects millions of people worldwide every day. And whether they’re sharing tips on YouTube or getting creative with gameplay, people are seeking virtual experiences that help them foster existing relationships and new ones.

Search interest in “online games to play with friends” jumped by 20X between February and March, indicating that people are looking for games they can play with real-world friends and family.6 And search interest in “multiplayer video games” rose steeply in late March.7

Line drawing of a console game controller with abstract outline of people hovering in background. 20X growth in search interest for “online games to play with friends” between February and March.

Games marketers should stay on top of online gaming trends and monitor their own metrics to better understand what people want from their games. For example, by segmenting their audience based on new trends, game marketers could specifically address those looking for connection with eye-catching ad creative that highlights the social aspects of their games.

Other marketers might also want to think about how they can create community around their offerings. Customers will be receptive: According to Edelman, 83% of consumers say they want to see brands connect people and help them stay emotionally close.

Tailor your messaging to the moment

It’s always been crucial for brands to match their tone to the moment, but never more so than now, in this dynamic, rapidly changing market. The same Edelman study shows that 89% of consumers surveyed would like to see brands offer free or lower-priced products to health care workers. That’s important for all brands to consider, but especially those who now find themselves in a position to give back.

Game developer Playdots is partnering with and donating $10,000 to Frontline Foods, a charity that supports local restaurants by purchasing meals to deliver to medical workers. One of its games, Two Dots, features an in-app Charity Treasure Hunt event with branding and messaging that encourages players to donate. There’s even a chance to compete for the exclusive “Selfless Silverware” medallion.

Games marketers can best serve their growing audiences by reaching out through the right channels, keeping a pulse on emerging consumer needs, and updating their positioning strategies and ad creative in response to those learnings. Advertisers outside of the gaming industry should consider how they, too, can foster an authentic sense of community around their offerings. And if they haven’t already, they should think about reaching out to this fast-growing, highly engaged, content-hungry audience.

Now at home, people bring their offline passions online with YouTube