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Tinderbox: How Gamers, Merch and Esports can Supercharge Retail

Dave Tovey of Tinderbox shines a light on the digital landscape of gaming, consumer goods and retail.

Tinderbox, a division of the Beanstalk group, is the dedicated licensing and brand extension arm specialising on video games, digital media brands and Esports. As well as managing consumer product programs for some of the world biggest gaming brands including “Call of Duty”, “Xbox”, “Halo”, “Crash Bandicoot” and the esports league “ESL”, Tinderbox is an industry expert in how gaming and consumer behaviour align.

Speaking with License Global about the rise of gaming in retail, the interactive market of global lockdowns and the changing relationship of gaming and retail, Dave Tovey, Head of Tinderbox, shines a light on the digital landscape of modern retail.

LG: How is gaming and retail different today than the bygone days of queuing outside stores for the latest releases?
DT: Midnight launches are still a thing as gamers love the sense of community and excitement behind these. However, there is no denying that game downloads via their platforms or subscription services has made it easier than ever to access content when you want. Gaming companies have championed this, providing events and a sense of community across their online gaming and social media platforms. As an example; at Gamescom last summer, Footlocker partnered with Xbox for a 99 premium jacket. On launch there were queues around the block, which shows gamers still like to engage with events for the games and its merchandise. 

How is gaming retail changing all the time in terms of consumer and buyer engagement?
Whilst you can’t ignore the growing trend in digital spending, hardcore gamers still enjoy the experience of going into a store and being able to own and display their favourite titles, and experience shows that the fan community will often look at enhanced “collector edition” versions of new titles within franchises that they love and the physical items that accompany these. Brick and mortar stores are heavily focusing on in-store gaming events which drives visitor footfall and purchases. Game pre-orders with exclusive merchandise bundles also encourage fans to buy the physical boxed game. Retailers have also seen that video game fans often live and breathe gaming IP’s like a comic book fan would, and they all want to own product to display their fandom – so you are seeing a large amount of video game merchandise appearing at retail across the broad

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How is the download economy of PlayStation Store or Xbox Live, for example, growing all the time? Especially in the midst of COVID-19.
The World Health Organisation have recently recommended video games as a hobby for people social distancing, as it’s a great way to stay in touch with your friends and meet new people via multiplayer games. People have taken this advice and, according to reports, Microsoft has seen a huge 775% jump in demand for its Xbox live service. Games are now even more accessible through the online console subscription platforms, such as Xbox Game Pass. Often described as “Netflix for video games”, these services give the user access to hundreds of current video games to play for a small monthly cost, which really breaks down the barrier of entry to the games and makes the game far more accessible to consumers. Because of this, games are seeing a big increase in Daily Active Users, which in turn creates more fans who will go on to purchase licensed product. Video game companies are also doing their bit to fight the virus though, whether that’s through fan engagement with charitable DLC events or profit and equipment donations.

How could gaming act as an example for retailers looking to weather the storms of lockdowns, high street health and consumer demand changes?
Before COVID-19, users dedicated hours of their time each week to video games and unlike other content it is dedicated, as you often can’t dual screen and play at the same time. Mass and specialist retailers have really got behind games over the last couple of years, however with more users coming to gaming as a way to calm their anxieties or fill their time we could well see merchandise available for a wider depth of video games at retail. With two big console releases coming soon, it is also a great way to bring consumers back to store with midnight launches and launch events, with merch tied into this. Due to the nature of these platforms, users are savvier in online shopping, so retailers have an opportunity now to really up their ecommerce efforts to reach fans directly. 

How can the esports culture affect the retail side of gaming even more.
Esports is an exciting new opportunity at retail, anyone could be the next esports champion, so it would benefit retailers to support with entry and pro price point equipment to cater for more audiences. GAME’s Belong gaming arenas are a great example of retail and esports combined and I would recommend anyone wanting to understand esports to visit. Esports manufacturer Razer has also opened stores in high profile locations across San Francisco, Vegas and London which has further brought this category to the masses. Over time, as the leagues and teams become more and more well known, we can really see that some will be as well-known as the NFL or Premier League, which will bring the brands into new aisles. With advancement of 5G mobile technology as well, this could be a great way for retailers to hold esports tournaments in their stores.

What can we learn from the lockdowns and the retail uncertainty, and what do you think comes next?
The headlines have grasped that gaming is thriving in the lockdown period, and we have anecdotal evidence that online spending for gaming consumer products has also been strong. So, the video game world will not only weather the storm but will also continue to grow. Coming out of the lockdown, and into the period of new console launches and AAA launch titles, I don’t see any reason why the continued move firmly into the mainstream won’t continue.

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