I love the video game industry. Ever since I was a kid playing Goldeneye on the N64, I’ve always enjoyed immersion that a video game brings. Over the years I’ve seen the perception of the industry change. It’s gone from an activity for people with no life, entertainment for nerds and even the source of society’s ills. But now, with the global market forecast to be worth $256.97 billion by 2025, video games are no longer a sector on the fringe – they’re big business.
Despite the industry growing in value, there is still a major disconnect between the consumer profile of brands and the corporate reality. As with most industries today, a studio or publisher is no longer valued on their product alone, but how they operate as a business. With many businesses in the sector coming under fire for poor practices, it’s time that those operating in the video game industry take a more serious look at how they come across as a company.
The rise of corporate risk
Throughout 2021, the video game sector has seen many negative headlines associated with its conduct. Whether it’s an investor outcry against a poorly released title, or employee backlash over work culture, there is an increased focus on the business side of video games. Even in the past few weeks alone, we’ve seen claims of bullying and gender discrimination at Paradox Interactive and the CEO of Tripwire stepping down due to signs of support for Texas’ Anti-Abortion Law.
While we’re used to seeing headlines around these issues from other sectors, it’s a relatively new thing for video game companies to experience this negative attention. The reality is that the industry is facing the growing pains of corporate responsibility. While video games have been around for decades, the majority of public attention has normally centred on the consumer side – the next console or the latest IP – and not how the company conducts itself.
There is no doubt that we’ll continue to see more attention on businesses in the sector – with issues of discrimination, overtime (often referred to as ‘crunch’) and general mismanagement remaining ongoing trends. If businesses in the industry are unable to get ahead of these discussions, they will become the target of criticism from investors, the public and the press.
Despite the growing scrutiny on the sector, the industry has a lot to be positive about. Aside from industry growth, there are important topics that deserve increased attention. Major brands such as Xbox are championing accessibility within their gaming community, gaming businesses are confronting tech behemoths like Apple on how they operate, while the esports scene provides increased job opportunities in the UK.
Then there’s the way the industry is now viewed. Even just a few years ago, video games were seen as a distraction for kids and the realm of pubescent boys. Today, the sector is diverse with gamers from all ages, genders, races, and backgrounds playing together. Schools are now recognising the collaborative and learning potential of these platforms while major studios are releasing AAA titles that are on par with summer blockbusters.
Even with the negative headlines, the future is bright for the sector. However, to be part of these positive discussions, businesses need to understand how to communicate their corporate message clearly.
More than words
I’d be lying if I said that having a corporate communications strategy in place would solve all of these problems. Culture, diversity, and broader corporate issues are more than just PR. However, comms has a key part to play for businesses as they seek to showcase a positive corporate approach.
We’ve seen other industries – such as music and film – follow the same path of started with a consumer focus and having to adopt a corporate message as well. The video game industry is no different. Those that are quick to act in adopting this approach will be more appealing in the market – they won’t be seen as businesses making a new game, but a corporate entity that is a lucrative investment opportunity. Communications is a part of this shift and something all companies within the sector – from developers to publishers – should be factoring in.
A corporate communications strategy is an opportunity to reflect on the business as a whole. It’s a chance to recognise where the company may be falling short as well as what it’s doing well. When a company identifies what it can truthfully say to stakeholders, it begins to understand where it may be failing and how it can enhance its operations.
Simply put, the video game sector has matured – growing in size and value. With maturity comes responsibility – to staff, to investors and to the public. The sector needs to establish a suitable approach to key corporate issues in order to be seen as a credible industry. The conversations about issues such as diversity, crunch and management are not going away. The next console or title is no longer the only question investors, the public and press will be asking from now on – so it’s time to be prepared.