News & Views

Opinion / It’s time to play with Purposeful Gaming

by Contagious Contributor
Chris Gorell Barnes, CEO and founder at Adjust Your Set, believes that gaming for good can help solve real world problems

Gaming is taking over the world. I’m not just talking about Pokemon Go turning us into zombies who need pavement-embedded traffic lights to keep us alive. Gaming’s reach goes even further than that. So far, in fact, that it’s infiltrated the upper echelons of the global establishment. Beyond tales of bored parliamentarians entertaining themselves with furtive games of Candy Crush, we’ve recently witnessed the unexpected spectacle of Japanese prime minister, Shinzō Abe, dressing up as Super Mario for the Olympics.

Meanwhile, back in marketing circles, Facebook has laid a stake in the gaming ground by announcing its partnership with Unity; the game engine of choice for those in-the-know. Facebook’s likely goal is to develop its own game distribution platform. When a media behemoth like Facebook takes such a step, it’s clear that gaming’s power and ubiquity is growing exponentially and can no longer be ignored by marketers.

But we need to understand that games can provide something smarter than mere frivolous entertainment. When approached the right way, branded gaming can be used to both communicate and actively realise brand purpose.

To be fair, brands have already dipped their toes in the mysterious otherworld of gaming. A few years ago, ‘gamification’ was the buzzword du jour and we saw marketers exploiting gaming’s addictiveness through branded games. But in a culture deluged by a glut of games and apps, it’s hard to cut through… especially when you’re competing against veteran developers like EA Sports.

A more recent dovetailing between brands and games comes from the growing phenomenon of eSports (above), which is predicted to be worth £320m within two years. eSports is where top level gamers are given the same status and adoration as A-lister sports pros. It’s rapidly becoming seen as a professional sport, one with an ultra devoted and generally young fanbase; a scenario ripe for sponsorship deals.

This is a burgeoning area of interest for brands that recognise gaming’s marketing potential, especially those that want to target hallowed millennials. But there’s an even better way for marketers to capitalise on gaming’s natural affinity with millennials; a way that amplifies the contemporary brand’s must-have of ‘social purpose’.

Philanthropist gamer Bachir Boumaaza has identified gaming’s potential as a fundraising tool. Twitch is an Amazon-owned social network that live streams games being played by the globe’s most popular gamers and generates revenue for the players through donations from viewers. Boumaaza uses this model to raise millions for charities like Save the Children and has recently developed a gaming platform called GamingForGood.

But the notion of ‘gaming for good’ can run even deeper than the fundraising model suggests. Jane McGonigal’s initiative, Gameful, is a gathering of developers seeking to make games that change the world for the better. They show how a Candy Crush approach to data problems can help solve real world problems. This is exactly how ‘games’ like Foldit and Planet Hunters have recruited masses of punters to help scientists crack decades-old conundrums.

Full brownie points, then, to Deutsche Telekom and its Sea Hero Quest project; a mobile game that helps global research into dementia by enhancing scientists’ understanding of spatial navigation. The project is a stroke of genius because it’s handed the brand a marketing hat trick: Engaging consumers? Tick. Communicating the now mandatory brand ‘purpose’? Tick. Actually ‘doing good’? A rare double tick.

Don’t be fooled into thinking Deutsche Telekom just got lucky. Opportunities to create purpose-focused games are as plentiful as the problems they aim to fix. NeuroRacer, for example, is being developed to improve pensioners’ memories. To me, it’s crying out for a partnership with a silver surfer brand. What’s more, thanks to the imminent arrival of mainstream virtual reality (which is already being used to build empathy around mental health), the opportunities and hunger for gaming will only increase.

This type of ‘purposeful gaming’ drives genuine interest whilst ‘baking in’ social purpose in an incredibly authentic way. Now that it’s almost mandatory for brands to contribute to humanity, developing a game that uses data to solve real problems is a smart way to simultaneously create engaging marketing whilst actively ‘doing good’. This, surely, makes playing with purposeful gaming a no-brainer for brands.