Navigating a broad and complex demographic
The term "gamer" is rapidly becoming a redundant term. In the UK, 86% of people aged 16-69 have played computer or mobile games in the last year and 54% play "on most days" . Considering gamers as a small niche of basement dwelling nerds is an outdated and inaccurate stereotype.
The term does pose some interesting discussion though. It's become an overloaded, catch-all term that's both all-inclusive and highly divisive. As highlighted from the aforementioned stats, taken as its literal meaning (i.e. people who play video games), "gamers" simply equates to most people. However, self-identifying "gamers" tend to consider themselves a more exclusive or committed tribe. To some, considering everyone who plays games a gamer, is equivalent to considering everyone who eats food, a foodie. Often such enthusiasts will draw the lines of distinction between seemingly simple or "casual" games (often including games played on mobile devices) and niche, high-production, abstract or high-skill based games. Others will debate the definition as being based on the amount of time or head space the activity takes up or whether it is considered a primary hobby or not (you might read the news every day, but few people would consider news reading as a favoured past-time).
Complicating matters further, some choose to distance themselves from the gamer labelling. Even those heavily involved in the pastime and many who work in the industry itself. As joyful and fun as gaming is intended to be, there are subcultures that have a less than welcoming reputation that have staked their claim as gamers. Toxicity, misogyny, sexism, abuse and bullying are all terms frequently seen in headlines and conversations in both games communities and wider media. Understandably these are traits many choose to distance themselves from.
So, in summary: "it's complicated". And it's important to understand that. With a global audience of 2.7bn people spending $160bn (Newzoo). the gaming audience is a prize target for a growing number of non-endemic brands.
The most common mistake brands make when trying to engage with games audiences, is to go for the low hanging fruit. You can't just grab a pixelated, retro font and some 8-bit bloopy noises and be done with it. Games culture is a huge, complicated part of modern popular culture - and diving into it flippantly will not pay dividends.
Understand the audience
Before jumping in, it's important to spend some time within that space. Learn the terminology, history, trends and subcultures that exist. The best bet would be to engage with someone who is already invested in some regard, as it's not possible to just spend a few hours on Google or skimming the BBC news articles on gaming to get a good handle. Many of the behaviours and insights happen in "throw-away" channels such as live streams on Twitch, rapidly buried Reddit threads or closed-audience chats on thousands of different Discord servers. Games culture very much needs to be experienced for desk research to have any real context.
Understand the chain of influence
"Influencers" is a term used beyond games in today's digital landscape, but again, looks very different in games compared to other verticals such as beauty, hospitality and other high-end retail. Where a high-polish, roses-tinted lifestyle lens is applied to seemingly everyday people in those spaces, gaming tends to favour what you might call "realness". Influencers and content creators in the games space are a little less filtered, and often much more real time, eschewing high-quality Instagram edits in favour of live-streamed, raw video conversations on Twitch.
The impact of such content creators however, are amplified in the games space. Successes of mega-hits such as Apex Legends, Among Us and Fall Guys can in large part be put down to the network effects of engagement with high profile "celebrities" alongside smaller "long-tail" streamers. Twitch reports that 64% of their users purchase products recommended by esports and gaming personalities. That is a huge potential return on investment by any influencer standards.
The preference within the community for authentic voices and conversations that feel "real", actually lowers the bar to entry for influencing within the videogames space, in a way. You don't need the best lighting rig or to be the most attractive overall person to succeed, you just need to be true, unique, and interesting. Real passion for games shines through, and "gamers" of all kinds pick up on it. This creates a challenge though, when trying to engage the audience - a paid promotion may work wonders if the influencer really loves your product, but the audience is particularly savvy compared to other industries, and often won't respond positively to hard sells that don't feel genuine.
If you make games, and want streamers to play your creations, services like Keymailer can help connect you with the right people. If you don't make games but still want to reach gamers, a number of platforms exist to find and connect with influencers of all sizes.
Like many games themselves, engaging with a gamer audience presents you with a choice that is high risk, but also high reward. Carefully plotted tone of voice will be your biggest ally, and if you want to reach gamers, you'll need to proceed with genuine authenticity.
With livestreaming platforms like Twitch, this audience can be mobilised like never before. Gamers are a huge demographic, who are more likely willing to part with disposable income, and happy to be advertised to, within reason. Players of all kinds love to discover a new favourite game, service, or accessory.
So do the research, and find the right partners. If you do, the ever-growing pool of gamers is ready for you to jump in.