The next big opportunity: Gaming 101 for brands in Hong Kong

You probably didn’t learn about gaming in your business or marketing degree, but it’s slowly crept up as being the “next big opportunity” for brands. Wrapping your head around what is essentially a whole new world and venturing into the unknown isn’t always easy, but if I take you through the basics, you might hopefully get inspired to take a leap – or at least consider starting to dip the toe of your brand into the immense opportunity to connect with a huge and highly engaged audience. 

The market here in Hong Kong is bigger than what you might think, and the gamer, not as foreign as you might assume, but this doesn’t mean it’s a new opportunity to mass-market your business. It is the opposite. While more and more ways for your brand to engage with gamers emerge, like any communications campaign, a careful and considered approach, centred on your customer (and their culture) is essential to success.

Is the HK gaming market worth it?

The gaming market is in fact an entire ecosystem that includes not only games and those who play them, but hardware, esports, media, music, fashion, merchandise, services and influencers. Globally, revenue from this ecosystem amounted to approximately US$175 billion – which is more than the global movie and North American sports industries combined. But what is the situation here in Hong Kong? Are there that many of us gaming and is the opportunity significant closer to home?ddbftw leo tsui

In fact, the Hong Kong market closely reflects global trends and similarly provides huge opportunities for brands. Locally, it is also a large and growing market – with revenue earned in this space totalling US$456 million in 2020, which was an increase of 11.01% on the previous year (Source: Newzoo). The number of players here is now at 4.86 million, and this number continues to grow at a rate of almost 3% a year. While all forms of gaming have experienced growth locally, among platforms, mobile gaming is the overwhelming performer, and again, this is also the situation globally.

What do I need to know about the HK gamer?

These basic facts already help us overcome presumptions about exactly who our local gamer is. This is no longer a niche market and it’s time to forget the gamer stereotype – they are not the anxious teenage boys, sitting behind screens in their bedrooms, we have long associated with gaming. How can they be? Gamers make up over half of our population! Gamers are boys and girls, tweens, teens, mums and dads, professionals, office workers, blue-collar workers – anyone and everyone. And given the dominant rise of mobile gaming, they’re doing it anywhere and everywhere.

Such a diverse group of people may make them (or at least some of them) more relatable to you and your brand, but it is worth noting distinctions in gaming behaviour when considering brand opportunities and “appropriate” brand behaviour.

At a very simple level gamers can be categorised into three types: professional, core and casual gamers. The professionals, elite in their craft, are icons of the esports gaming arena and paid well for their expertise, justified by the viewership and following they generate. Core gamers are passionate amateurs with a strong competitive spirit, who take gaming seriously and might participate in amateur tournaments. Casual gamers are the overwhelming majority of this market, who enjoy gaming as part of their week as a form of fun entertainment and escapism. Depending on their level of commitment to gaming, each group will view brand involvement in their gaming space differently.  

And within each of these gamer categories are not just millions of individuals, but real communities. Gaming has become a real social space with 55% of gamers saying the main reason they play is to connect with friends (according to Entertainment Software Association), and it’s not only online. Gaming is also becoming more of a social activity offline, with 67% of parents playing with their kids at least once a week (from Entertainment Software Association) and many friendship groups physically gathering for the purpose of gaming together. Brands should not assume gaming only offers a one-to-one interaction with customers, as well as the power of word-of-mouth in the gaming world.

It’s also important to keep in mind the passive entertainment gaming provides – with it also being very much a spectator sport. More people globally, aged 18 to 25, watch people play video games online more than they watch sports (Limelight, “The State of Online Gaming”). This has implications for branded content creation.

What are some real local opportunities?

For any brand, the opportunity to connect in new ways with people is undeniable but the gaming world is essentially under-developed in terms of its advertising products for brands, so the scope might feel limited and getting started can seem daunting. I personally feel these challenges are helpful in forcing brands to be strategic as treating gaming as a mere media space for content will not be welcomed, and indeed, getting it wrong can potentially ruin any chances your brand has of being a credible part of this space.

The market is ever-evolving though and more obvious opportunities are emerging for brands. Partnerships with gaming brands throughout the ecosystem, and integration with gaming platforms can really help embed your brand in the culture, and this is the ultimate goal, but sponsorship of tournaments and events is a reasonably straight-forward and smart place to start.

Let’s take a look at a couple more immediate local opportunities on the horizon.

The 19th Asian Games will take place in 2022 in Hangzhou, and esports will become an official medal event for the first time in recognition of gaming as a legitimate “sport”. The recruitment of a local team and qualifying events across the six games in the competition will provide a great range of opportunities for brands to join the buzz and be seen to actively support an event important to our local gaming community. The team selection will commence later this year and in addition to basic sponsorship and product sponsorship opportunities, once the team has been selected, there will also be chances for brands to be involved with team members, by supporting demo matches or other such “content creation” activities.

The HK Esports Festival, will resume this year and no doubt be most welcomed across gaming communities. This event, which started in 2015 is the largest esports expo in Hong Kong. It’s a four day festival at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and sits within the ACGHK, which is Hong Kong’s largest anime and comic event. In the past, this HK Esports Festival has attracted gamers from over 20 countries and millions of online viewers so it can offer brands great exposure to the younger generation of gamers. Typical large-scale event opportunities exist here for brands with booths and sponsorship of activities over the course of the festival.

How do I best play the gaming game?

For any brand looking at the gaming community, being seen as a supporter of these local teams and events is a great place to start, but being considered as part of the culture is really the ideal scenario. You might come up with a genius way for your brand to jump in and exist credibly in the gaming space, but more likely, you have to earn it a little bit. Recognising from the start that getting your brand involved will be a bit of a journey will help manage expectations internally but also help gain respect from your customer.

Something that does indeed seem to be characteristic of gamers, is their territorial nature regarding their gaming domain, and newcomer trust issues. Gaming didn’t happen overnight. It has been around for decades, starting out as a niche community of passionate gamers (some now powerful influencers), who were looked down upon, ostracised and made fun of. The distrust comes from the fact that brands that are trying to get in now, weren’t there before. They weren’t there to stand up for the gamers who were being made fun of, when the industry was paying its dues, and now they want to turn up and reap the rewards. So a good first move can often be in a purely supportive role – to contribute to the industry and earn some trust.

A form of sponsorship or support in other ways can ensure gamers open their doors to you and get comfortable seeing you in their space. Supporting the industry is a real sign of respect and can act as an “initiation” into the world of gaming. This is perhaps best viewed as an investment for a brand, but once this sign of respect is noticed and acknowledged, gamers will be much more comfortable having you in their space and then more and more opportunities will become available. Each game or gaming activity or event has its own unique customer journey and experience, with unique opportunities for brands to make gaming life easier or more entertaining for the gamer, that really do feel limitless.

But you have to start somewhere, and if you haven’t already recognised the legitimacy of gaming as a means to better connect with your existing and potential customers, and the opportunity to elevate your brand’s relevance in today’s world, now is as good a time as any to enter the arena.

This article is contributed by Leo Tsui, DDB Group Hong Kong’s chief business officer, who heads up the newly created gaming specialist division, FTW (For The Win).