“Computer Games and Merchandise. Surely not.”

Posted by Simon Kay on March 20, 2012

We have heard this statement made by many people for many years.

Merchandising around “computer game” brands could surely only be for the hardcore gamer and they are all spotty teenagers who sit in dark rooms and play with their mates. They are “Pizza Geeks” who drink coke and play games all night long. Right? Wrong – that is definitely not so, times have changed and this is very much a generational shift.

Less than 12 months ago, I was asked by a licensing industry reporter, “So why has games merchandising not worked out yet”? My answer (to someone who was clearly not a gamer) was: “How can it until the decision makers all over the industry begin to accept influences from a generation that has grown up playing computer games.” That reporter was lost for words.

The fact is that a generation as described has arrived in this industry and the principle of playing computer games is not alien to them at all. This generation has embedded itself steadily within the licensing industry and thankfully they are now influencers and decision makers. More importantly the advent of social networks and app stores through smartphones has made gaming available to the masses. You don’t need to be a geek or have a next generation console, anyone can play on the numerous digital devices on the market.

Suddenly everyone is playing games. Naturally the geeks are still there, and always will be when it comes to early adoption of tech and some games, but the mass market has arrived. Mum, dad, son, daughter, and even granny and grandad have all started playing games over recent years. Not surprisingly, that immediately delivers much wider merchandising opportunities than many ever thought, especially with the committed eyeballs often in immediate reach.

Not only in traditional licensing do these influencers and decision makers now exist but also at retail, where buyers are of a generation that grew up playing computer games on their ZX Spectrum or Commodore 64.Today’s parents have been active participants in the dynamic technical revolution that has had digital products and games at its heart. This is a natural demographic and generational shift for the industry. The fact that parents endorse computer games as part of everyday life for their children is also hugely significant.

So, are all these games brands that are flying at us viable merchandising opportunities? Well, yes – but like any other sector, whether that be movies, TV, or animation, merchandise licensees will need to get educated and educated fast on what is significant out there and why.

Just like any other sector you need to watch the trends but perhaps even more so with games. Hits come along quicker and you don’t have the same peak dates in the year (other than Christmas) that would mean, for example, that certain movies will be bigger hits because of the holidays. That does not happen in games in the same cyclical way.

The message is to get educated and begin to learn what is a long-term opportunity and what is not, just like you would have done when looking at movies as one-offs, or trilogies as long-term merchandising possibilities. Which ones have longevity and which are a fad? Do they have continuous development and investment? Do they have heritage? Do they have a loyal fan base and a growing casual audience who also love to engage with the games? Where do they engage? What demographic is the core?

At the retail level we need to see something else that rarely happens. Yes retail departments – it is time to join forces and collaborate in games and merchandising. The way to make a bigger impact is to bring these worlds together. Something perhaps Game and other retailers have been too slow to react to. Other core questions come to the fore such as – how is the merchandising program going to be leveraged? Can the games incorporate concepts that marry merchandising with game-play? Do the games themselves have built in merchandising mechanics such as collectability, customisation, trading, role-play, turn based engagement, and ultimately fun, that lend themselves to merchandising?

For the traditional games companies themselves, merchandising is growing in importance. With diminishing returns from retail boxed product, merchandising offers a very tangible route to promote and maintain traction in a world that is increasingly download led. DLC, apps, all things digital, will still need some form of presence at retail and merchandising is one of those avenues that can be explored in numerous ways. At AT New Media, we know the significance of this sector and both the short-term and long-term strategies needed, as we are focussed on all things digital. For example, within merchandising we managed the Crazy Frog, the first major crossover character from the digital world to become a merchandising success and more recently have been really enjoying our work on the long-term WORMS™ merchandising project. Since earlier this year, we have been looking to enhance our merchandising projects and our focus on games/gaming/internet/digital brands is key. So a few words that everyone will be familiar with when it comes to looking at merchandising opportunities for brands from any sector… Learn, Plan, Integrate, Engage, and Market. The key one here for many at the moment is Learn. Take the time to get it right.

What will be even more vital in this sector is that licensors will need to engage more closely with the merchandising community – possibly more so than any other medium that has delivered content to the masses in any previous generation. So yes, games merchandising is definitely here to stay!