Growing Pains: How advertising in the Aussie video game industry is beating middle child syndrome

Ryan Cunningham: “Some are still late to the party, but that’s because of a lack of understanding”

Australia’s gaming market is worth $4.21bn – up from $2.67 billion in 2021 – yet it remains a niche market for advertisers with industry experts claiming it is wildly misunderstood. 

Despite the continuing growth in the category locally and globally, there remains a lag in understanding of the audience, according to Ryan Cunningham, CEO / Founder of specialty gaming agency You Know Media.  

“Gaming is a key part of Australian culture, and also just culture generally, around the world. While it’s massive in terms of money it generates, it’s also massive in terms of the audience that participates, of all ages.”

“Some are still late to the party, but that’s because of a lack of understanding of what gaming has become in contemporary society.”

Cunningham says the market is in the midst of a “huge shift in how games are perceived by not only gamers but people who don’t play games.”

Using gaming platforms as media opportunities has seen a renaissance in the past decade. This renaissance has come from the gaming zeitgeist that grew popular in the 2010s and exploded in the 2020s. Some know what Fortnite is, most know the moral panic surrounding violent video games such as Grand Theft Auto and everyone knows someone who plays games.

“While obviously much bigger now, there was still a huge gaming audience 10 years ago, but brands didn’t understand what it was. They had a real bad PR problem,” he said.

“Then, most people thought gamers were just 14-year-old kids on their Xbox or 45-year-old men in their mum’s basement. I literally had CMOs tell me those exact quotes. 

The launch of Prime Video’s newest series Gen V has brought with it an ad campaign made in collaboration with Rufus – Powered by Initiative, MBCS and You Know Media. It sets out to prove games can be used for effective, attention-grabbing marketing that engages target demographics and provides results.

Eight Twitch and YouTube streamers got a taste of the superhero university life by playing The Sims 4, a game published by EA and developed by Maxis. With over 70 million players worldwide across all platforms as of April 2023, The Sims is a powerhouse franchise that has been at the forefront of games popular among young women.

Popular Twitch Streamer Loserfruit playing The Sims 4

The campaign involved the streamers playing a tournament titled ‘Supe My Sim’ which saw them playing as characters inspired by the show, completing challenges related to the themes of the series.

The brief given to You Know Media said the campaign was aimed at women under 30, and to them, that meant going outside of the box. 

“Our team along with Rufus thought, what if we use The Sims and utilise their university expansion pack to recreate both the characters and also the experience of the show and make it tangible in a digital world for the audience and we use different talent to bring it to life.

“Then it morphed into what can we actually do with the IP, in terms of understanding the rules of what EA would allow us to do. EA ended up loving it and thought it was a great way to make it real along with the streaming talent integration.”

In terms of appealing to the target demographic of young women, a large chunk of the execution went into ensuring they had the right talent on board.

“The question of what talent we wanted to use was floated around a fair bit and we know it was significant because we needed them to fit towards this idea at this specific game. 

“Pulling in creators that only play Call of Duty and getting them to play The Sims for a campaign was a no-go zone, we knew audiences would hate that. 

“A lot of qualification analysis went into picking from our pool of talent, and that part of the process was super tricky.”

‘Ticking the box’ is something Cunningham said clients are still accustomed to doing, and he stresses that box-ticking is not going to bring the potential success that can come out of advertising in the games space.

“There are still a lot of clients out there that are just looking for an easy solution. They just want to tick the box with gaming and they’re having less success. 

“In saying that, real success advertising in the games space doesn’t mean investing millions of dollars, the smallest campaigns can be the most successful if done properly.”

See also: IAB Australia Gaming Summit 2023: The misconception around gamers and how a gaming ad campaign can be a catalyst for change

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