Global Trends 2020

New platforms for engagement and storytelling: will coronavirus accelerate the role of videogaming?

As we survey the world after the first part of COVID-19, we can see massive behavioural changes in an expansive range of areas.  Which changes will stick are not certain, but where they involve an acceleration of an existing trend we think it is more
likely.  One part of the digital acceleration during the pandemic has been a massive growth in videogaming globally, with games emerging as a platform for a whole range of entertainment in one place. As touring and live concerts stopped across the music industry, gaming became a key point of engagement with fans and an important revenue generator. Lockdown saw American artist Travis Scott entertain more than 12 million fans on Fortnite – one of the world’s most popular games –  in a virtual concert. Meanwhile other platforms such as Google have streamed music performances during lockdown, games like Fortnite benefit from a pre-engaged audience and the visual spectacle possible through the game’s graphics. Tim Sweeney, the CEO of Epic Games who own Fortnite, has indicated he sees Fortnite becoming a wider platform for engagement beyond videogaming in the future, and COVID-19 has been as accelerating agentthis.

Videogames also provide a way for sports tournaments and sports brands to keep fans engaged through the pandemic. The Madrid Open switched to a virtual competition pitting gamers and tennis stars, including British tennis players Andy Murray and Johanna Konta – against one another using the videogame Tennis World Tour and streaming live. Sports gaming franchises such as FIFA and NBA are already widely popular, but examples such as this show how the two spheres – live sport and sports videogames – will further interact and capitalise on strong fan bases in both spheres.

The technology of videogames also enhances live sport. The Premier League has kicked off again, but without stadium crowds. Broadcasters have turned to videogaming; Sky has teamed up with EA – maker of the FIFA videogames – to offer optional crowd sounds when watching matches on TV, including team specific sounds. This is hugely important for audiences. The way fans are experiencing sports has changed but features like this help to recreate the familiar experience.

Our analysis of signals point to a greater role of gaming technology and virtual production in film and TV, too – it allows for real-time shooting in an environment generated by a videogame engine that may otherwise only be possible in costly post-production. This has already been used in the production of films such as Ready Player One. Increased limitations on physical productions may see this technology used more widely. It offers reduced production costs, environmental savings due to reduced on-set presence and less travel, and technical benefits by using the skillset of people working in the videogames industry.

What happens next, as we slowly return to some kind of ’normality’?

Accessibility will be vital. COVID-19 forced industries to reach audiences in new ways. Art, sport and cultural events have in the past been at times inaccessible due to the prohibitive cost of tickets, geography or physical disability for example. In the UK, the arts industry is facing a massive challenge due to collapse in revenues. Reimagining ways in which live experiences are shown through using videogaming could be part of developing new audiences.

The opportunities for storytelling are endless. Videogaming has the potential to sit alongside other disruptors such as social media platform TikTok as not only a point of engagement, but for also a new way for content producers and audiences in general to tell stories and share them, exploring new formats and platforms in the process. Fortnite, again, leads here with a recently announced deal to show several Warner Brothers films on the platform in virtual movie nights. As platforms open themselves up to engagement outside ’gameplay’ they offer new channels for content creators to tell stories and reach audiences. One of the biggest trends in media has been the convergence of channels and content creators over the last decade: videogames, accelerated by COVID-19’s effects, are becoming an ever more central part of the media and content infrastructure.

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