Stakeholders are killing your gaming initiatives

I’ve been going through the past couple of years of projects as an internal service design exercise. It’s always good to look at what you are doing with clients and ensure it matches what they need.

We are often asked to help clients “do X with gaming.” That could be finding an influencer agency, creating a messaging strategy for a new product, or helping them find the right gaming audience. It’s always upstream strategic work for the organization.

For many projects, however, there’s an inciting tension that has to be resolved. Stakeholders.

“But I thought stakeholders were always an issue for a consultancy to resolve.” You’re right, but gaming presents some unique challenges.

Challenge 1: Who owns gaming?

When academics first started studying games, there was a new question for universities. Where should games “go?” Since they’re software, they ostensibly belong in computer science and engineering departments. But they were also primarily text-based at that time, so literature departments could lay claim.

As games grew in complexity, more gatekeeping emerged. Visual elements pointed the way to digital art departments. Sound design and music departments wanted to play. Finally, games started having their own game studies departments and, eventually, their own entire schools.

Your organization likely has a similar fragmentation.

We worked with a mid-size technology client with multiple stakeholders, all of whom could make a legitimate claim for gaming. The business development lead was moving inventory to game publishers. The product team sought ways to integrate into gaming consoles and platforms like Discord. The marketing team needed gaming-specific segmentation and campaign direction. The client also made their own gaming experiences on a large virtual gaming platform (Take a guess which one!).

This wasn’t even a gaming company…and yet…there were so many fiefdoms all laying claim to gaming. Resolving these “title disputes” is vital to work out before any meaningful gaming work can be done. Having someone who is the designated cross-functional gaming lead is a mandatory.

Challenge 2: Who understands gaming?

Despite gaming’s overwhelming cultural popularity, professional literacy about gaming is generally low for two reasons.

The video game industry is relatively small despite the popularity of video games. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 268,000 people are currently employed in the US in the games industry. That’s ten times smaller than the film and TV industry and twenty times (!!!) smaller than tech. It’s 3x more likely someone is a bartender than working in the games industry.

That means finding people with working experience in gaming outside of the games industry is relatively rare. Unfortunately, the collective literacy will be low unless your organization prioritizes capturing spillover from the gaming industry.

Challenge 3: Mismatched Priorities

I regularly talk to younger marketing professionals who are deeply interested in games but have trouble winning purchase from leadership. (There are ways to talk to your boss about games!)

A generational interest gap is not new, but the degree of the divide is unique to games.

With social media usage, for example, about 80% of those aged 18-49 use some kind of social media. For 50-64—it’s 73%. Pretty close! And yes, what each group is using will differ between Facebook and TikTok, but the category of behavior is pretty similar.

With gaming, it’s day and night. The average age of a CMO is 54 years old. That age cohort has the LOWEST time playing games, lower than those over 65. There’s only a 10% chance that the person running your organization’s marketing plays games AT ALL.

That means that, if they exist, directives around gaming are done second-hand. They’re channeled through a marketing leader’s children. Over time, this will change as gaming-native talent work their way through companies. But for now, expect a big generation gap between critical decision-makers and game players.

Challenge 4: Upstream/Downstream Conflicts

The last stakeholder issue is around communication.

Due to the literacy and age gap issues, upstream and downstream can move in different directions. A CMO gets excited about Roblox and wants to push a new metaverse initiative down to their reports. But lack of organizational literacy or skepticism around “fit” dooms an initiative in infancy on execution.

Conversely, a younger set of marketers are seeing dynamism with gaming influencers. But no omnichannel plan or connection to the marketing department’s KPIs means leadership sees no reason for investment.

Buy-in, in both directions, is critical.

So many times, we’re brought into an “evangelistic” position by a forward-thinking CEO, pathfinding with stubborn reports. Sometimes it’s an ambitious youngster begging their organization to embrace the future. There’s tension either way—but better to know that before asking for help.