Is Gaming the Future of Shopping?

The face of gaming has changed, with big implications for brands and retailers. The average video gamer is a 34-year-old parent and homeowner, and women represent nearly half of this gaming population. In 2019, eSports’ audience was 10x larger than the number of people who viewed the Superbowl, which has traditionally been the biggest night in advertising.

Gaming has undoubtedly become the most relevant and ubiquitous pastime of the last ten years and offers a blueprint to the future of commerce in three critical ways:

1.    Rethink what’s considered a retailer platform

2.    Rethink what is an accepted form of currency

3.    Rethink what "real" means to shoppers

Lesson 1: Rethink what’s considered a retailer platform

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that e-commerce is here to stay. Yet, online shopping is just the tip of the iceberg. Gaming platforms and the virtual worlds within will be the stores of the future where shoppers can learn about and buy real products. Vollebak, KFC, and Design Home are pilot examples of where such commerce is headed.

Vollebak, a British high-tech clothing brand, will launch a store in Decentraland, a virtual universe where users can try, buy and sell virtual goods for their “in-game avatar,” like a “Mars Jacket.” The best part is that owners of the virtual jacket can convert it to a physical jacket through Vollebak’s website.

Meanwhile, KFC UAE knows that gamers use keyboard shortcuts to speed up their in-game performance. So, the brand invited gamers to use the shortcut Shift + K + F + C to order as quickly as possible while playing so they could get back to the action. Once gamers save their favorite meal, address and credit card, orders can be seamlessly placed and delivered.

Recent data shows that 80% of gamers in North America, Western Europe, and APAC eat while playing – opening endless opportunities for food brands that are ready to drive conversions for this captive audience.

Similarly, Design Home, a game that allows users to live out their interior designer dreams by curating digital spaces, is now allowing gamers to purchase products for their “real world” homes. This option has become so popular that Design Home has not only created a private label line of the virtual furniture seen in the game, but has also partnered with William-Sonoma, West Elm, and Pottery Barn to make their products part of the in-game challenges as well as real home décor shoppable items.

Imagine the possibilities this brings to industries that thrive on major life moments – the wedding industry with wedding registries, the college industry with dorm move-ins, or the childcare industry with baby shower wish lists, and so forth.

This begs the question, could the biggest opportunity for commerce be immersive shopping—a true interplay between virtual and physical environments?

Lesson 2: Rethink what is an accepted form of currency

Non-government backed currencies, from Bitcoin to Ethereum, are becoming part of the lexicon yet still feel pretty intangible to the average person. As a result, very few brands are embracing them. What may facilitate faster adaptation? You guessed it, gaming.

While people may not fully grasp cryptocurrencies, they are already using all sorts of digital currencies in gaming platforms daily – from V-Bucks (Fortnite), Robux (Roblox) and Bells (Animal Crossing) to Gold Bars (Candy Crush Saga) – just to name a few. The player can either buy in-game currency or win it by playing the game. No matter how it’s sourced, the currency can be used to purchase anything from digital mahi-mahi to the latest digital pair of sneakers.

Roblox, in particular, takes it to the next level by allowing gamers to create and sell minigames to other players for Robux, an in-game currency they can then convert to real-world money – with some creators generating over $100MM USD in just one quarter.

Plus, when you consider that Roblox is the fastest-growing game in 2020 and is played by about half of all Americans under the age of 16, it’s easy to imagine that non-government issued currencies will be even more readily embraced by the next generation.

It’s important to understand this new world, learn to navigate it, and even participate in it.

Lesson 3: Rethink what “real” means to shoppers

While we traditionally think of physical things as real because they’re tactile and sensorial, consumers are diverging from this thinking. There’s greater synergy between the virtual and physical worlds when it comes to the tangible aspects of shopping--and, as a result, more acceptance of fully digital products. The final, most valuable lesson is to reconsider what “real” will mean for consumers.

It starts with gamers creating their avatars, or in-game characters, essentially inserting themselves into games. This blurring between real-world and digital identity has led to gamers forming a special connection to their in-game avatar: some gamers even form idealized versions of themselves in games.

So, it’s no wonder that in-game skins and digital outfits are by now a norm in the gaming world. Many gamers are even willing to spend real money for a branded virtual item, like a digital-only Gucci bag that sold on Roblox for over $4,000—which is more than what the physical bag costs.

This means we are moving from Direct to Consumer to a new model, Direct to Avatar – the emerging business model of selling brands direct to avatars to engage gamers immersed in the moment.

If you can get players to experience your brand, it becomes an important shopper touchpoint, much like how brick and mortar retail has evolved to be a place for people to experience a brand before they buy online.

What if players could test drive a car in a game? Tesla did just this by inserting their Model 3 and Model X in Tencent’s Game for Peace, which resulted in a boost for real-life test drives and orders.

Or what if you could immerse yourself in a fully branded world? Warner Bros. got people excited about the upcoming Aquaman movie by creating the Aquaman world in Roblox, challenging avatars to quests to match a custom experience to a current event in the DC fandom. This resulted in such high ticket sales among the young adult segment that Warner Bros. has instituted this pre-launch tactic for other films, including Ready Player One and Fantastic Beasts. Just imagine the possibilities if games could be used as testing grounds that propel physical market success.

It cannot be denied that consumers are replicating their real-world habits in the mind-blowing world of gaming. Gaming is offering a free glimpse into what lies ahead for retail and shopping innovation. We must simply ask ourselves, are we ready to play?

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