Does fun gaming represent a serious opportunity for big brands?

25 Mar 2011|Added Value

Toby Barnes, Mudlark

Don’t get me wrong; Marketing is a serious business.  And with budgets to meet and targets to hit it’s easy to forget that sometimes people enjoy nothing more than immersing themselves in games.

When Toby Barnes from cross-platform ideas factory Mudlark dropped into the Added Value UK offices recently, he was quick to champion the increasingly significant role that games have to play in our daily lives.

The gaming landscape has moved on dramatically from reclusive teenage boys huddled around their games consoles (I should know, I was one of them) – and is now a multi-billion pound industry catering for just about every facet of our society. My mum solves brain puzzles on her Nintendo DS, my Gran played virtual bowling with us this Christmas and my little brother is obsessed with destroying oddly shaped structures with small but lethal birds on his iPhone.

But what was once considered to be a chronic waste of time is quickly becoming recognized as a powerful tool to engage, challenge and delight consumers. With the internet now firmly established in our national psyche, and way of life, it posses the question; “have we moved into the post-digital age?”

According to Toby the answer is a resounding “no” – in fact, we are only just at the start!

The Nike+iPod performance challenge collaboration

Mudlark’s view is that the challenge today is to harness the idea of gaming and give it a purpose, it is no longer enough for users to attain top of the leader board status just for the fleeting honour it may bring. Nike were quick to recognize the possibilities of introducing gaming into their brand ethos. The Nike + iPod range allows athletes to measure their performance through a series of interactive challenges – taking something as natural as running and turning that into a challenging, fun and even social activity helped dispel the myth of the lonely jogger and brought the sport to a wider audience, not to mention Nike’s products!

Similarly, Apple have turned the mobile phone market on it’s head with their App store and on-the-go gaming. Where once consumers were expected to shell out £40 for a single game that might give a few months of gameplay, people are now more than happy to pay as little as 59 pence for a few hours or even minutes entertainment.

The upcoming Sony Playstation Phone will further push the boundaries and begs the question; “Do we still have phones that let you play games – or portable consoles that let you make phone calls?”

A visualisation of Mudlark's London Transport game

Mudlark continue to push the boundaries of interactive gaming, their Chromaroma application allows users to track their journey’s on London’s transport network by syncing with their Oyster Card. Users are set challenges that revolve around their daily routine – normally get off at Marble Arch tube station for work? Then why not get off a stop early at Bond Street this week and walk to earn extra Kudos. The point is, consumers don’t always want everything spoon fed to them, gaming is one of the few formats that can inspire a feeling of pride and achievement – and what brand doesn’t want to be associated with that?

And yes, before you ask, Toby and his team have pitched the idea to Tube bosses at Transport for London who loved the idea, but pointed out that their concern right now is actually to get less people using our already overloaded underground train system!

The opportunities for learning from games is huge and remains a largely untapped source. Game designer Jane McGonigal believes that the real power of gaming lies in the empowerment of the users. Online games like World of Warcraft are challenging gamers to become creative problem solvers, who never give up and believe that anything is possible – imagine if this mentality were adopted on a more regular basis in the real world!

People like to be engaged in an interactive and exciting format, so tell stories, set challenges and inspire…

…we’re game, are you?

Watch Jane McGonigal’s TED talk on how gaming can make a better world.

Written by Alistair Downs, Added Value UK

And for more on Brands & Gaming from Added Value, click here.

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