The Unexpected Renaissance of Video Games

Thought Leadership

By Steve Park | June 03, 2020
Video game iconography

It’s rumored that Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

During my time as Director of Online Marketing for EA-Sports with Electronic Arts in the early 20-teens, one thing, in particular, stood out to me — the studio’s exceptional two-way relationship with their customers.

Our studios produced some of the best sports games on the market. Still every year, we took feedback from our customers and incorporated it to build even stronger game remakes. The result was new franchise additions that were even better — and more popular — than the versions before.

Fast forward to 2020. With many of us finding ourselves with an unexpected surplus of free time, video games are experiencing a major boom. And at the same time, our technical capabilities to build incredible gaming experiences are making huge leaps and bounds forward.

Together, these factors combine into the perfect opportunity to reinvent the way we game and reimagine the potential of how we tell stories, engage users, and build communities within gaming worlds. It’s not just thinking like Ford — it’s more like a shift from the Model A to the Tesla Model S overnight.

The following are a few of the new, outside-of-the-box experiences now available in the world of online gaming.

Experience stacking

Video games are getting more and more complex, with the introduction of AR, VR, and a multitude of gaming systems on the market. Alongside this evolution is the growth of third-party platforms that connect players, and allow them to collaborate, converse, and form relationships around the games they love.

Twitch is probably the most well-known of these. You’re likely familiar with the huge audiences that tune in for Twitch feeds of esports champions in action. But the real secret to Twitch’s success is the fact that most gaming console makers have built Twitch into their functionality, so players can start a basic Twitch stream with a simple click. (However, things get quite a bit more technically complex at the professional streamer level.) Players gain deeper connections to their community through Twitch, while gaming console makers find themselves enjoying the organic marketing outreach that comes with an increased viewership of their games in action.

PLLAY is another third-party platform that connects players, keeps them engaged in the game, and encourages them to invite friends to play. PLLAY allows head-to-head wagering based on the outcome of multiple games in a safe and regulated way and uses an AI tool to instantly determine the winner and payout. And just as with Twitch, PLLAY gives gaming systems and studios alike increased organic marketing outreach at the same time. (Disclaimer: PLLAY is a client of Apply Digital.)

People Holding Video Game Controllers

PLLAY, a head to head wagering platform

There are many other such tools for players looking for bigger ways to connect with fellow players outside the confines of an in-game world. Some examples include Discord, Reddit, and external marketplace sites that encourage player-to-player trading of digital assets.

The emergence of these spaces speaks to a larger point. We’re at a moment in time where the customer demand for better, authentic gaming experiences intersects with a widening need for deeper human connections. What a fantastic time to find the next ground-breaking way to build these connections.

Re-defining the limits of connections

Collaboration has always been a mainstay of artistic practice, allowing singers, performers, and artists of all disciplines to expand their skills, while also connecting with larger — and hopefully paying — audiences.

There’s another emerging space where impressive artistic collaborations are taking place: the virtual ecosystems of the video game world. Musicians, performers, and artists are coming together with video game creators to build out-of-this-world immersive entertainment experiences.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Organizers have brought Burning Man to life inside “Second Life’’ since 2015. In 2018, Minecraft hosted Coachella, a virtual music festival named after a certain analog world event, followed by BlockbyBlockWest this May. Last month, superstar rapper Travis Scott’s pandemic time performance took place in front of 12.5 million Fortnite universe citizens. And more recently, business world event organizers are exploring how to best host events inside of virtual worlds.

Travis Scott

Travis Scott partner’s with Fortnite

These collaborations have a few things in common. Outside performers and organizers worked directly with studios to build immersive audience experiences that were true both to the game world and the outsider’s brand. Attendees were invited to create custom content based on their individual experiences. And every event was well attended — BlockbyBlockWest even had to be postponed because too many people attempted to attend and crashed the Minecraft server!

This success also opens up endless potential for developers looking to create exceptional in-game experiences with authentic connections to the larger society and culture. After all, game-based storytelling is nothing if not fine art — why shouldn’t creative collaborations be the norm?

The rise of indie spirit brings new worlds

The big studios have broken incredible new ground, and set skyscraper high standards for the look, feel, and experience of video games. But they have also paved a path for small developers, individuals, and indie teams to bring their own video game design dreams to life.

Indie developers can now do incredible things thanks to engines built by the biggest game studios and then released for general use. These tools include Unreal Engine from Epic Games, Unity’s AR tools, and FrostBite by EA Games.

Indie teams favor this approach because they say this creative environment is faster, has lower costs, and has less overall friction. Those working with Indie studios report that they feel much more ownership in the final product. And despite their smaller size, Indie game makers are making a major mark on the video game canon, leading to the launch of giants like Minecraft and Limbo.

Apply Digital recently worked with indie developer Playtertainment to launch Winner Winner — an app that lets players try their luck with a physical claw machine, via a digital interface, and then have their prize mailed directly to their door. Playtertainment’s small size meant we were able to help them develop this game through an agile framework informed by ongoing user testing. The end result is a gaming experience well-received in the video game world.

Winner Winner App on Phone

Winner Winner, a digital arcade developed by indie gaming studio Playtertainment

So what comes next?

This pandemic has launched a gaming renaissance. The need to form authentic human connections, inspire artistic collaboration, and break walls for creators all highlights one distinctive point — there is no road map here.

The guardrails are off, and it’s time to break the mold, try something new and venture into uncharted territory. It’s an exploration worthy of Henry Ford, and we can’t wait to see where it takes us.

We’re so excited to be a part of this evolution in the potential of digital products and if you want to join us reach out to us at hello@applydigital.com.

Co-Written by Liz Goode.