Gaming is now a fashion in its own right.
T-shirts, cufflinks, lamps and even toasters – the possibilities are endless for products branded with and inspired by titles. And the hunger for a wider range of spin-off merch only continues to grow.
In the last five years the world of gaming merchandise has evolved from a single shirt to a whole new lifestyle consisting of high quality products,” recounts Leon van der Made, channel manager for gaming at manufacturer Bioworld Europe.
At the moment, our hoodies are getting a lot of attention. We are also seeing a big increase in smaller accessories like wallets, socks, beanies and caps, due to the coming holiday period. We have also just started on a new category: lounge pants. This is a segment that gamers have been asking about for quite some time.”
"We see high demand for collectible statues; particularly those based on key franchise characters."
Luiz Ferreira, Gaming Merchandise UK
Sandra Arcan, senior manager for licensing and merchandising at Konami, has seen a number of product types take off among fans.
Clothing is always popular,” she states. We are extending from basic ranges such as t-shirts into jackets and so on, because our research shows us that there is huge interest in the right garments. Clothing is definitely a growth market.
That said, though, figurines – especially limited runs – are growing in popularity, and the quality of the figures makes them extremely collectible. Spin-off books – particularly collations of art and design elements – are also growing in interest, as people are fascinated by what goes into developing big games.”
Luiz Ferreira, founder and director of Gaming Merchandise UK, adds: Throughout the year, sales on clothing such as t-shirts and core products like wallets, key rings and dog tags are pretty consistent.
As we move towards peak, we certainly see more interest in gifting products such as mugs and practical items – for example, beanie hats. We are also seeing high demand for collectible statues; particularly those based on key franchise characters, such as Ubisoft's UBIcollectibles range.”
Partially thanks to the increasing mainstream presence of gaming alongside entertainment mediums such as film, the market for merchandise continues to prosper – the sector grew to over 100m in the UK last year, according to MCV's games market valuation.
It seems that this success is also being sustained by growing consumer interest in official products, rather than the unofficial items that have flooded the industry in the past. For example, book publisher Egmont revealed earlier this year that its best-selling official Minecraft book has now sold one million units in the UK, with the best-selling unofficial book – Minecraft for Dummies – only selling 20,000 units.
This has been helped by many publishers and manufacturers investing more effort into the creation of unique products, designed to pique the interest of gamers.
Dan Long, co-founder and head of communications at Insert Coin, comments: An increasing number of gamers want more than just a logo or box art slapped on their chest.
The products that perform best are always those that hook into the heartbeat of a game – designs that are synonymous with the title, or worn by characters in the game. Those give gamers the chance to add to their experience of a game – it really does make all the difference.”
Arcan agrees that merchandise has moved beyond simple representation to become a style of its own.
At first it was fairly limited in terms of output, but now, as the art and creativity of games expands, so does the quality and variety of the merchandise,” she states. People no longer want a blindingly obvious t-shirt with a game name on the front; they want something a little unique that isn't so blatant.
Similarly, as gaming and its characters become more iconic, and people are more aware of them and their traits, so the possibilities for figurines and the like grow.”
Ferreira observes that many publishers have moved towards enticing consumers with a more in-depth take on a title's style, rather than pushing products designed primarily to serve as wearable advertising.
Five years ago only a handful of publishers and developers understood the value of merchandise other than using it strictly for promotional purposes,” he says. What we have seen since then is companies considering merchandise earlier in the game development life cycle and manufacturers of licensed products actively acquiring licenses to design and produce items, as well as the demand from retail to add such products into their ranges.”
"People no longer want a blindingly obvious t-shirt with a game name on the front; they want something a little unique."
Sandra Arcan, Konami
So knock-offs and advertising out, style and ingenuity in.
But how do publishers and creators go about teaming up to bring something fresh to the catwalk? And what should retailers be looking to stock?
Chris Marcus, commercial manager at Ubisoft, says that balancing the need for something unique and something that can appeal to the diverse player base of a game should be chief among publishers' concerns.
We always seek to find a balance between the creative vision our studios have for the brand and the desire of the gaming audience for products they would want to purchase,” he explains. To achieve a large scale licensing programme, we need to use this framework and develop goods that licensees are confident to make and retail are excited to sell.”
Arcan echoes Marcus' sentiment that style and suitability must go hand-in-hand.
It's not just about a strong visual aesthetic,” she comments. It's about working with partners that are reliable, reactive and are invested in developing a range which fits in with the brand ethos and with our overall brand marketing strategy.”
Long agrees that harmony with the entire franchise – and with partners – is vital.
The key part of any marketing is to be true to your brand – a