Gaming begins to prove its worth as an effective medium

Interest in the video games industry as entertainment and its merits as a media channel is gathering pace. Last week BBC director-general Mark Thompson, announcing his plans for the corporation’s future, praised the computer games industry for

The video games sector has succeeded in reaching audiences more traditional media can’t, and advertisers and media owners alike are taking notice. But there is still more to do, says Dawn Paine

Interest in the video games industry as entertainment and its merits as a media channel is gathering pace. Last week BBC director-general Mark Thompson, announcing his plans for the corporation’s future, praised the computer games industry for its ability to communicate with and understand the younger generation and said the BBC could learn from the games platform.

It is not just the Beeb that is taking notice. As in-game advertising and brand association with games proliferates, more traditional advertisers, seeking to reach ever harder to reach consumers, are turning to the medium. Meanwhile, Microsoft is rumoured to be eyeing up online in-game network Massive Inc and “advergaming” is a market that looks set for huge growth/ reports last week suggest market value will hit $732m (&£400m) by 2010 (Yankee Group).

As we all know, television audiences are fragmenting, personal video recorders mean viewers are skipping ads and advertisers are seeking to reach a segmented audience with disparate tastes.

Mainstream advertisers are finding greater attraction in the games medium as they begin to realise they can communicate effectively with their consumers through games. The platform offers an arena of participation where players can interact with each other and brands. The industry is growing too: according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, it is set to grow $55bn (&£32m) by 2009. In the past the industry has been criticised – and still is to some extent – for promoting violence and crime. But the games genre is now receiving serious consideration.

We are seeing the Government promote the use of video games as educational learning tools – digitised pre-school toys offer concepts similar to that of games as a way to help boost children’s development. Last week researchers from Nottingham University said a study had shown that playing computer games could be used to help treat amblyopia – or a lazy eye to you and me.

The ever broadening appeal of the games industry and the unprecedented demand for new experiences is something very close to Nintendo’s heart and at the forefront of our global thinking for the future.

The emergence of new audiences including lapsed gamers, women, seniors and non-gamers has meant we need to find new ways to speak to these people who sit outside the traditional 16- to 34-year-old audience.

Nintendogs has shown across the world that finding these new audiences does lead to growth and the emergence of the Brain Training phenomenon in Japan (and about to hit the UK) has shown the appetite for new ways to play.

It’s simple: people are tired of playing the same old games on the same old formats in the same old way. This is coupled with the fact that changing individual attitudes are bringing a change in the way people approach entertainment and leisure time.

People who grew up playing games are now in their 20s and 30s and have careers, partners and families all putting demands on their time – naturally gaming is then less of a priority for them as they can no longer dedicate or afford to invest 80 hours to complete the latest game. These people still want to play video games but require different types of games, in short new ways to play.

If you examine the household penetration rate of home consoles over the past 20 years you will see that it hasn’t really risen from around 30% – to date the industry has just kept selling to the same people. It has been making games and controllers for the same people for the past 25 years, most people who aren’t in the “gaming club” often find modern-day controllers and interfaces confusing and intimidating. If you examine some of the most recent examples of great games and systems appealing to new audiences,

you will see they all have new, interesting and innovative interfaces. Nintendogs and Eyetoy to take just two examples have two things in common: firstly success in the mass market with the casual gamer and secondly all have new and innovative interfaces and offer new ways to play.

Casual games also create a great entry point into video games for people who have never played before or think that gaming is all about spending 60 hours a week holed up in your bedroom pretending to be a wizard or recreating drive-by shootings.

The games industry has something to offer everyone and just as the music industry offers classical, pop, house, jazz, R&B etc and the film industry offers art-house, sci-fi, and the Hollywood blockbuster, so the games industry should be creating titles and genres that appeal to as many people – and increasingly brands – as possible.

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