The way we pay and access games never seems to stay the same for very long. Come November, we’ll hit the 50-year anniversary of Pong, and from arcades to VR, we’ve seen a lot of changes to how we play, but also how we pay.
Now, with subscription models, no-disc discount consoles, streaming, free to play, and microtransactions, you could be forgiven in thinking it’s got a bit complicated, whether you play on your phone, a £2000 computer, a £300 computer, a console, a handheld, or hybrid (see Nintendo Switch).
Whilst the options may feel overwhelming and unnecessary to some, this is a sign of the changing face of gaming as it has dissolved into the mainstream. There are now 2.5billion gamers around the world and in response the model has had to change.
In the past, it was either quite expensive, or very expensive. Gaming was a niche hobby which required the newest technology – at the beginning, this technology wasn’t even typical for home use. I grew up with a computer in the house, but I realise now this would be like someone having a whole room dedicated to VR. But as innovation accelerated, older technology became more affordable and trickled down to more mainstream consumers. But having the newest and best will always be an investment, which avid gamers have always been willing to pay. Although I am not ready for the VR room.
So what is the true price to pay now? Well, what you want it to be. It’s become much more accessible and becoming increasingly more so. Mobile gaming brought in those who didn’t want to invest a whole lot of money, and subscriptions (paying a monthly fee to access a large library of games with no extra cost) really opened up “hardcore” gaming to a wider audience, who now can try a variety without the £60 price tag commitment – this is particularly beneficial for beginners or casual gamers wanting to dip their toe in and find their way to play. The huge variety in ways to play and pay means more people in different times of their life can engage or maintain their hobby. According to YouGov, Netflix is still the most popular brand in the UK, and to hold that as a brand, you need to have an everyman appeal, something that a subscription model offers.
Advertising models seem like a potential next step for gaming, and personally that’s not for me, but for other’s it might be. Another YouGov report claimed 39% of UK consumers would cancel their Netflix if it moved to ads. Microsoft are considering lacing in ads into games. So rather than interrupting your experience, it’s less intrusive. Yet this speaks to a lack of respect for consumer choice. I think the approach is being floated with Disney+. They offered up a choice, pay, or pay less with ads. It might seem obvious, but when every brand likes to say its customer focused, you’d think there’d be more choice. The long and short of it is that price may help broaden your audience, but choice is just as important.
There’s another big domino looking likely to fall, one that’s been talked about as long as I can remember, but we’re seeing the beginning of. And that’s essentially removing the need to pay upfront for expensive hardware. Being replaced with a system where games are streamed to your TV or monitor. So you don’t pay hundreds or thousands for the hardware, and you just pay a subscription to play the games and stream everything.
For marketers and advertisers then, there are two big considerations here. Firstly, there are the benefits of accessibility and inclusivity. Gaming has a murky relationship with this, and there’s a lot of energy and movement to detoxification that brands can embrace.
Secondly, there’s the widening complexity of audiences. Gone are the days of the ‘18-34, Male’ hegemony. That’s mostly well accepted, but how we further segment demographics into how and how much they might want to pay has to be considered, too. Recognising your audience and its sub audiences is crucial to turning marketing into sales.
Smart audience segmentation can help with the former issue too. The “traditional” audience is still the largest, and most open with its wallet too. Yet some of its number have felt isolated as their historically, niche, nerdy and sometimes pariah like hobby opened up to the world. By knowing your disparate audiences, what they want, who they are and how they want to play and pay is key to audiences feeling in touch with the creators and owners of their beloved games.