I must admit that when I first saw the Change 4 Life ‘PlayStation’ ad I felt exactly the same way as everyone else. How could this happen? How could the Department of Health and the charities, the ad agency, all get this so wrong?
It was sloppy marketing to say the least and typical of what we have come to expect from certain quarters when it comes to our stereotype.
But if you put yourself in the position of their marketing department, then what would you do to gain the greatest awareness of obesity and sedentary lifestyles?
Clearly, the ad targeted many people’s paranoia, the kind that is often amplified by media such as the Daily Mail.
But anyone who knows anything about games, which is half the population these days, will have immediately dismissed the ad as irrelevant. The other half, who don’t play games, would have immediately accepted the stereotype.
The industry has changed more in the past five years than in the previous 15, but the general public’s image of this industry has hardly changed at all.
Games marketing in the 1980s and ‘90s was anarchic and controversial, with giant poster ads featuring baths full of blood for Resident Evil and all sorts of other shock tactics.
That’s what the population saw. And that’s what they remember. Whilst our industry used this strategy to appeal to what was then its only target market, we left a dangerous legacy.
These days, of course, our products address a wider marketplace. But what strategy do we have when it comes to good news? This is a crucial question for all of us, and our trade body ELSPA.
Recently, following the Byron Review, the industry has had to deal with the Government looking into the way we run our business. The work done by ELSPA since then has been tremendous.
But there is still a disconnect between ELSPA and many of its members, as there doesn’t seem to be a joined up approach to promoting industry positives.
ELSPA has had to significantly up its game because of Byron and it has its strongest ever board, populated by leading publishers and platform holders. But there is a real need for all of us to look at the games industry’s image. We must try to correct the stereotypical opinion that non-gamers have of us.
As the BAFTA Video Game Awards recently demonstrated, this is now a grown-up industry centred on art, creativity and innovation.
Our charity initiatives, such as the ESC’s original pledge to the Paddington Academy (which saw us raise £2.2m and the Government put in £20m to green-light the project) are very impressive. Over £11m has been raised by this industry over the years, which by any industry’s standards is a very decent amount. But guess what? No one knows about that.
The games industry must constantly demonstrate when it has been a cause for good.
We must explore what elements we have that are positive, such as our contribution to GDP and technical training at colleges and in-house.
We provide hugely good value entertainment and we have growing links with education. We are a modern, growing industry that promotes art and creativity. The products that we make often aid social interaction, improving life skills and even fitness.
ELSPA and the industry at large must find ways of getting a lot closer to the Government, to assist them with their tasks. We must become partners.
Then the stereotype might just fade.