It is just over 18 months since video games retailer Game re-listed itself on the London Stock Exchange, having been bought out of administration in 2012. As well as gaining a new name, Game Digital PLC, the company was reborn with the aspiration of adopting a new business model, which has begun to come to fruition since its acquisition of e-sports company Multiplay in March 2015.
While still dominated by traditional retail, Game now sees live gaming competitions as a key growth area in which it intends to become the UK market leader. Meanwhile, it has turned its stores into hubs for experiential marketing and special events, in which virtual reality technology is set to play a central role from next year. Insight and marketing director Fred Prego tells Marketing Week how the business is slowly transforming.
What trends do you see shaping gaming in 2016?
As a group, Game Digital is changing because we realise that the market is changing. That’s why the group is now divided into three different divisions: the retail division, with all our Game stores and Game.co.uk; e-sports and events, following the acquisition in March this year of Multiplay; and the third division is digital solutions, delivering more gaming solutions to the Game community through technology.
We are seeing a massive rise in e-sports and it is important to us, which is why we acquired Multiplay. E-sports and events are something [Multiplay organises through its] Insomnia gaming festival. They have three every year and we are planning to grow it further next year – in new locations and potentially new countries.
More and more consumers are playing e-sports, but not just playing, they’re also watching. There was a big demand for us to expand on that and we’ve just announced recently that at Insomnia, Game are sponsoring major competitions. We’ve put money towards a big prize fund to entice professional players to compete at Insomnia. This is something that we are going to look at more and more.
What level of participation do you get from e-sports?
To give you an idea, we had a qualifying competition before the event [called The Great UK Game-Off]. Within minutes [of opening the application process] we had reached our quota and we had to increase the size of our qualifiers. Within hours there were still too many people trying to compete so we decided to do warm-up competitions before the qualifiers for people who had not been able to enter.
One of the strategies for us – where the relationship between Game retail and Multiplay e-sport is key – is that we are not going to be targeting just the pro players. We want to become the leaders in the UK in terms of e-sports, and the way to do that is to use our stores to play e-sports at grass-roots level; organising events in our stores, organising events locally, because only we can do that kind of thing. We started in August: we tested small competitions in two regions in the UK in a few selected stores and we had almost 3,000 entrants. The finals were played in cinemas and the final of finals was played at Insomnia.
How big a part of the Game business will e-sports be?
It’s difficult to say because the e-sports market is growing at a very fast rate at the moment, but we have invested a lot behind e-sports events, both at Game to support Multiplay, but also at Multiplay, so e-sports will become a big part of our business in years to come.
How big an opportunity is virtual reality for Game?
We pride ourselves on being at the forefront of gaming technology. This is one of our missions. We have signed exclusive deals with virtual reality manufacturers. In October we began selling Merge, which is a VR tool to use with your mobile phone. We are in discussion with all the VR suppliers to make sure we are the first at Game to get these new technologies for the gaming community.
I do believe that this technology is something you can’t understand through the web – even watching a video is not the same as experiencing it yourself. Definitely I do believe that our stores will play a key part in delivering the experience to gamers so they can make their own decision whether it is for them or not. That is where our opportunity is.
How important is experiential marketing to Game’s retail model?
The market is evolving very quickly. Digital is growing, consumers are going online, but one thing we have realised that our stores do very well is the experiential side. That’s the bit that we have really been trying to focus on over the past year. We do midnight launches, for example; we do cosplay [where people dress as characters from games]; we do lock-ins for the ‘first play’ of new games. We’re really involving our gaming community in our stores to give them a different experience.
When do you plan to start rolling out virtual reality devices in stores?
We’d love to do that as soon as possible but it is all very dependent on what the suppliers are doing, so we are continuously talking to them to make sure we are first, a bit like when we did it with Merge back in October. We were the only retailer to offer the mobile phone virtual reality tool to the market for the gaming community in the UK. That’s something that we are continuously looking to do.