Every brand is trying to stay relevant, and gaming is a perfect example that offers practical lessons for all industries. At its largest ever, and still growing, there are predictions that the video game market will be worth $321 billion by 2026. With so much to play for, the need to stay relevant is more critical than ever. Many game studios have succeeded over the years, only to fade into irrelevance when the next big trend catches them off guard, dragging away audiences that never come back.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery – which is why so many gaming studios are tempted to trend chase with their own version of a sub-genre when it becomes a hit. However, trend chasing is no way to stay relevant in any sector. The unfortunate reality is that because of gaming’s famously long production times, by the time your emulation is released, the next trend has already arrived and players have moved on. This need to stay on trend can prove to be a risk and simply does not work for everyone.

It’s a matter of playing the long game

The game industry provides plenty of examples of successful longevity, either with yearly reoccurring titles (FIFA, CoD) or live games that can make small iterations in-line with current trends and ideas (RuneScape, Destiny). With major flagship titles providing a solid and somewhat intractable brand base, developers have the freedom to explore and be more experimental elsewhere in the wider brand framework. Minecraft and the Minecraft Dungeons spinoff is a good recent example. This approach is realistic, practical and aids in staying relevant without making sudden, sometimes risky, changes.

The same goes for pursuing the niche. Typically, indie developers will have more chances to pursue a niche market as they can grow a small but committed fanbase in that area to help advocate for it. Trying to appease too many people all at once can have a detrimental effect and result in diluted concepts that miss the mark entirely. The Real Time Strategy (RTS) market is a key enduring example of this. Sometimes, it’s beneficial to stick to what you know best and be patient – your industry relevance will grow if you take the time to nurture your series of games. 

Even the world’s largest franchises struggle with relevance

When Pokémon Go arrived in 2016, 500 million downloads were recorded in its first six months, and most other games lost daily active users as the hysteria peaked. It is still one of the world’s most popular mobile games, but global user numbers have since plummeted.

The combination of sunlight, exercise, exploring nature and making friends have been cited as the main reasons Pokémon Go rose to popularity, but it was by no means perfect. Players were not happy about some of the changes – beta testers who started playing first had their accounts reset, and despite reporting bugs and spending time testing the game, were not rewarded for their time. Players reported that Niantic failed to release features that would keep the game interesting, and on top of that, the 3-step tracking that gave immediate feedback and helped players find Pokémon was taken away and no suitable replacement was provided.

Many players that joined became disinterested. This isn’t to say that every hyped game will eventually drop off, but it can certainly happen if companies don’t strive to maintain interest and take player feedback onboard. If disinterest can happen with Pokémon, one of the world’s biggest brands, then to maintain relevance companies should prioritise longevity – making a game a solid place to return to once the hype wears down.

Cultivate community and build longevity 

Ensuring longevity is about cultivating trust and loyalty. If you build an excellent game and listen to your players, they will return time and time again and be the driving force that keeps you relevant. Companies can form hardcore and highly loyal communities with all of the forms of social media available. Speaking to them frequently, keeping them updated, and involving them in decisions in the game nurtures that loyalty and develops long-lasting relationships. A healthy, strong community is what will keep numbers strong – and it will be more forgiving of missteps.

Case in point – Pokémon’s “main line” games like Pokémon Violet and Scarlet are two colossally successful games that have sold truly incredible amounts of copies – and are much maligned by the community that bought them. Graphical and gameplay issues created a sub-standard experience that doesn’t measure up to what most modern gamers might expect, but the developer can rely on the audience because of banked goodwill, nostalgia, and being the best at what they do in their niche.

Relationships can also be nurtured on other media platforms – for instance, live streaming platforms. Essentially, meet with players on their terms on platforms they like. How better to keep players talking about your game and engaging with your company than to have them experience it on a platform where they can discuss it with like-minded people? Games that stream well and have large live audiences on Twitch and YouTube stay relevant through the popularity of streamers, by supporting and giving limelight to people streaming your game you can help build their audiences which will, in turn, build your audience as well.

Winning the game of relevance

For those looking to remain relevant in an ever-changing market, it can be an ongoing challenge. What relevance boils down to is cementing your values and vision, and using the tools in your repository – which goes for the whole entertainment industry. There’s no need for an overhaul or the latest flashy ideas, and you certainly do not need to go viral – although that is sometimes nice. Keeping your finger on the pulse, listening to your audience, and making decisions that are true to your mission will not only ensure that you stay true to the brand your audience knows and loves, but will also cement your place as a go-to in your industry.

Cover image source: Sean Stone