The value of virtual worlds to brand and IP owners.
The opportunities for brand owners in the interactive market have changed and evolved hugely over the last two decades. The latest evolution of technology however, changes everything - and puts the brand owner in the driving seat.
The early days of videogaming offered brand owners little. Simplistic graphics, limited single-player experiences and a diverse range of platforms, from arcade machines to home computers, meant that the opportunities for licensing and introducing intellectual property into games were few and far between.
Even games based upon well-known Hollywood movies or TV series were hit and miss affairs. For many players, licensed games meant a less than enjoyable experience.
As technology progressed it became simpler for brands to find access points to the interactive market. Home computing and the introduction of games consoles from companies such as Nintendo, Sega and Sony meant that the gaming market itself grew.
However, the advancing technology actually created more problems for brands, with games requiring ever larger development budgets. This meant that opportunities for games based around, and commissioned by, specific brand owners were hugely expensive - and still viewed with suspicion by the still largely male, teenage audience.
Which left brand owners in something of a bind. Games were becoming increasingly realistic and set in the real world, yet brands were in many ways confined to ‘set dressing’ or simply appearing within the developer’s concept and vision.
Thankfully, the ongoing evolution of technology and the growing ubiquity of games is changing this dynamic in an entirely fundamental way and game creators and brand owners alike will have to change the way they think about interactivity.
One of the most exciting new developments in the interactive world was the growth of the ‘casual’ gaming market. Casual titles were not at the cutting edge of technology, did not demand the latest hardware and were often smaller, simpler titles, played on a variety of technologies from web browsers to handheld games console such as the Gameboy. Plus they were either free, or had a far lower price point than console titles. Hello ‘mass market’.
This created entirely new opportunities for brand owners, licensors and media companies alike. Games could be created around specific brands. Rather than sponsorship, in-game advertising or simply using brands within a game, licensors could work with a developer to create specific experiences.
And this was just the tip of the iceberg. Apple’s iPhone put simple, accessible games into the hands of millions of people, all over the world, who’d never considered themselves ‘gamers’ before.
Alongside came the rise of the social network. All of a sudden games became ubiquitous. No longer confined to expensive, dedicated devices. No longer being played solely by teenage males and - more importantly - they are no longer isolated, stand alone experiences.
Brand owners, media companies and licensors can now create something far more than a few minutes of branded play time. The opportunity is there to build entire new worlds, which can be accessed and used by thousands or millions of users, across every possible device - and all based around specific intellectual property.
Interactive entertainment can now combine the best elements of an online community, social networks and massively multi player games - all within a persistent virtual world. This world can be branded, sculpted, designed and created to give users the experience the brand owner wants them to have - and it can be part of their daily digital lives - complete with friends, family and trusted contacts.
Look at online games like Moshi Monsters, Habbo Hotel or even Huzutech’s first virtual world, based on Scholastic’s Horrible Histories brand. Thousands of players, spanning diverse audiences and demographics are now using these online worlds as trusted, virtual communities to meet and interact with their friends and as a focus for much of their online lives.
All of which is happening right now. The old barriers, definitions and conceptions of what is a ‘game’, what is a ‘community’ and what is a ‘virtual world’ are all breaking down and becoming antiquated. The future of gaming is already here. It’s online, participatory and social. And it’s being played by very nearly everyone.