The Minecraft Venue – Why Video Games Are the Future of Live Experiences


James Draper, CEO, Bidstack discusses live entertainment’s shift into video games and opportunities for brands and causes to be a centerpiece of the shift. Not only in the midst of COVID, is this a conversation worth having, but this touches on an important conversation in marketing – the rise of in-game advertising and esports marketing.

One of 2020’s most popular songs debuted in a video game. In April, rapper Travis Scott took over Fornite for the game’s biggest event ever — a 10-minute virtual concert. That in-game performance was one of the most sought-after events of 2020, drawing 12.3 million live viewers, which Business Insider pointed out is “roughly the size of a Thursday Night Football audience.” The fact that a specialized event inside of a video game was as well-received as the most popular sport on TV in America proves that an entire world — not just another medium — has opened up opportunities for an industry rebirth just when COVID-19 threatened its collapse.

Artists, game creators, and brands have new opportunities to collaborate and delight a diverse video game audience of 2.5 billion players worldwide and expand the already estimated $90 billion industry. The future of live entertainment is within video games, and the expansion of the advertising stack will include investing in in-game experiences.

In less than a decade, in-game events have matured into a broad range of interactive experiences from game-specific missions for players to earn exclusive rewards, previews, and commodities to cultural events placed within the game’s environment, such as Scott’s concert or Marshmellow’s DJ set. An example of the former would be Call of Duty Warzone’s Cold War eventOpens a new window , titled “Know Your History,” which drew thousands of players to play live for new in-game items and the exclusive part-two trailer of the franchise’s upcoming release.

But Why Do These Events Signal A New Era of Entertainment? Because the Audience Is There

According to the Entertainment Software Association, or ESA, 65% of American adults play video games dailyOpens a new window , and each game-playing household averages two players. Gamers represent a well-balanced ratio of men to women, span age ranges well beyond the stereotypes of teenagers, and have no aversion to spending money on new games, within the game, or on entertainment and accessories outside of the gaming environment.

These are not fringe audiences. And they’re not passive, either. In a 2019 study between Bidstack and Lumen Research, we measured over 500 players’ attention levels with eye-tracking software and heat mapping analysis. Results from the study indicated that naturally placed in-game ads outperformed online display advertising browsing norms across all of the titles tested, in some cases, by more than double. This level of dedication and the longevity of attention is unparalleled in other mediums.

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Without many, if any, physical spaces to host performances, the entertainment industry is left without their traditional revenue-generating avenues. They can’t charge admission to events, there are no events to generate sponsors, and it’s easy to see how this point in time leaves the industry in a state of postponing everything “until further notice.” Gaming presents an opportunity to flip this uncertainty on its head, with brands becoming immersed and integrated into the experience, gaining their own exposure.

Yes, Scott’s Fornite concert paired two of the biggest names in each industry, so success could be considered inevitable. But there are many lower barrier-to-entry opportunities, particularly thanks to the expansive library of game titles, that make it relatively simple to take center stage in a game. For instance, virtual event producers Open Pit and Anamanaguchi partnered with Brooklyn venue Elsewhere to put on a benefit concert for COVID-19 relief in the video game MinecraftOpens a new window . Open Pit continued this with another festival benefitting the National Bail Fund Network.

Experiential marketing and events no longer have to be confined to an indoor, real-world environment. They can be constructed and presented in a new world with infinite possibilities and workaround the confinements brought on by COVID-19.

It’s Also an Insanely Connected World

Many of the viewers of the recent in-game concerts weren’t playing the game themselves — they were watching via live stream on Twitch or YouTube. Not only are there official streams, but the industry is brimming with influencers, who most brands are no strangers to working with already. Influencer marketing agency MediaKix compiled a list of the top 30 gaming influencersOpens a new window — who combined reach a staggering 340 million followers on YouTube and Twitch alone. These Platforms extend games’ connectedness and interactivity in real-time and offer brands activating in-game an enormous secondary audience. People are not only playing, they’re watching others play, influencing aspects of their game, and discussing this as they go. It’s not “sit, stare, play.” It’s a full-fledged immersive experience between thousands, if not millions, of people.

This is huge for the next era of diverse advertising and brand activation opportunities. The reciprocal relationships of this world to our physical world have already begun to pay off for brands willing to take the leap.

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With this level of viewership potential and the inevitable migration from the IRL entertainment we know to the gaming environment, the exposure for artists, collectives, missions, and brands that find creative ways to get involved before, during, and after is endless. The in-game audience can, and will, gobble up new releases (as evidenced by Scott’s single, The Scotts ft. Kid Cudi, debuting top of the Billboard chart and breaking streaming records), event-affiliated merchandise (another Scott example, including a collaboration with Nerf), and tap into the extensive network of influencers and their audiences.

The opportunities are endless and exciting for creating virtual entertainment experiences within video games. It’s not a brand-new concept, but rather one where the technology has now evolved to a point where the scale, reach, and possibilities are much larger than at any point previously. Ultimately, COVID-19 or not, these in-game experiences are on the rise because that’s where the audience is. Communities are being cultivated with each passing second, and games are providing accessibility to experiences—and by extension brands and products—that have never been seen before.