MediaMonks Games unlocked its own achievement this November, as the most playful proposition in the global creative production company celebrated turning ten. During this time the industry has gone through its own transformation. From Flash bursting onto the scene, to the rise of mobile and gaming for the masses, it's been a decade packed full of developments.
The games industry looked a lot different pre-2006. There was very little advertising and branded games weren't that common. Early attempts weren't always on point. Two in particular spring to mind - Pepsiman, which was so out-of-the-box that it wasn't comparable to anything out there.
The second is Crazy Taxi, which paved the way with high production value and included some sublimely subtle branding. Around 2006 Flash came into play, which opened up both opportunities for branded games and helped the industry grow as a whole. Along with Flash came the opportunity to make games for more web browsers, and because games were now available on more web browsers, it opened up a whole new audience for the industry.
Typical of the Flash era were games like Dofus and Habbo Hotel. Overall it became far easier to both make and play branded games. And because more audiences could be reached, the interest in branded games from advertisers grew.
iPhone Changes the Game
A few years after Flash came another game changer - the iPhone 3G. By offering licenses for $99 (instead of thousands) the games platform was suddenly affordable. The iPhone proved to be a liberator for games, as developers - who were no longer at the mercy of a select few platforms - could themselves create games for the app store. I consider it to be the industry's Braveheart moment. With affordable licenses came clamorous cries of freedom.
Entertainment developers switched their focus to making games for mobile devices, whilst the advertising industry focused on targeting mobile phone users. The advertising and entertainment industries suddenly found themselves together on the same platform and both industries had to compete for consumers' time. In those days, I think the advertising industry was lagging a bit behind the entertainment industry in understanding what motivates people to play games. Back then we prioritised the message over the fun and, as Candy Crush emphatically showed, it didn't work. No matter how many brands made variations of Candy Crush, none were ever half as popular or successful as the entertainment version.
For us in the industry it became clear we had to think about games in a different way. We needed to think how we could make amazing games that were appealing, yet still incorporated branding.
From Niche to the Masses
Around 2011 - as iPhones became synonymous with cool - there was also a cultural shift in how game players were perceived. Gamers were no longer seen as nerds; gaming was now the norm. Within a relatively short period there was now the audience and cultural perception that made games a primary medium for brands to interact with consumers. From there, the industry started thinking about how games could be integrated into other mediums and experiences.
We moved from the likes of Pepsiman and co. to producing quality branded games. It was clear to see how far the industry had evolved. At MediaMonks Games, we produced Macy's Wish Writer which sums up the progress perfectly. Within the app we merged research, tradition, and technology, packed it with mini-games, narrative and activities, all with seamlessly integrated branding.
In the wider industry, games like Pokemon and LEGO Star Wars were flawlessly designed to bring consumers into contact with both the brand and the product. Advertisers had perfected the art of reaching consumers via games.
Golden Times Ahead
It used to be that as a games developer you either wanted to be associated with Hollywood AAA or Indie groups. Over the last few years we've seen the rise of a third group; the branded game developer. They are perhaps less vocal, but they're now more relevant than ever. And importantly, they've produced some brilliant games.
Right now advertising games are more creative. Developers and creatives haven't been tied down by the limitations of only being able to produce games for consoles. I think you can really see that in some refreshingly creative games for mediums like AR/VR (check out the VR game Accounting). The creative progress in advertising has definitely been noticed by the entertainment industry too. Giants like Sony, who have traditionally been console-only, are now branching out into other mediums like streaming services to compete creatively.
What this means for the future only time will tell. It's been a great ten years and it's a great time to be involved in the industry. Whatever happens, I have no doubt the new platforms, creativity, content and battle for people's attention will only make better games. And in my opinion, it's only a win-win for consumers!