Game boys try branding ploys

With sales of video games booming, developers are now tapping into the expertise of branding groups to maintain growth, says Tom Banks

The UK video games market, worth £3.2bn in 2007, is expected to have grown by another £1.4bn come the end of the year, according to research group Verdict Research. At the same time, design consultancies are seeing new opportunities for work in the sector, with in-game graphics work – previously the preserve of software companies’ in-house teams – increasingly being outsourced to them.

Gaming giant Electronic Arts has turned to design groups in two separate projects recently, in what was an unprecedented move for the company. EA took on branding consultancies Lambie-Nairn and Sass to work on the graphical user interface for the Zubo and Monopoly games respectively.

Harvey Elliot, studio general manager for EA arm Bright Light Studio, says that, in both cases, external branding expertise was sought to help EA appeal to niche markets. ‘By keeping things internal, the danger is that the whole look and feel can become very game-centric,’ he says.

Elliot explains that Zubo targets younger consumers and Monopoly is aimed at families. ‘We’ve got a keener eye on a broad audience now,’ he says. ‘These could be the first games that some people play. If we relied on our traditional methods, it could prove difficult.’ He adds that EA would ‘absolutely’ be looking to design groups in the future.

Lambie-Nairn was originally briefed to create identity and packaging work on Zubo in February, although this was extended when the design group began to work with EA on typography for GUI in the game, instructed by its identity work. Sass was appointed to work on animated gameplay graphics in the Monopoly game, also after working on the branding.

Richard Wilson – chief executive of Tiga, a trade body which looks after the interests of games developers and lobbies Government – has recently commissioned a survey of 100 games developers, which shows that 16 per cent of games companies outsourced GUI design work over the past year.

As this is the first survey of its kind, it is impossible to compare results, but Wilson says he sees design consultancies working with gaming companies as a growing trend. ‘We have noticed it before, but it’s hard to quantify. My guess is it will be a rising thing,’ he says.

Wilson adds that ‘ongoing skills shortages’ could mean that gaming companies are looking to design consultancies ‘partly out of necessity’. He says, ‘Design businesses have expertise. It makes sense to develop the relationship.’

Michael French, editor of games development trade magazine Develop, says of the trend of consultancies working with gaming groups, ‘It does sound new to me, but it does not surprise me that these groups are influencing the games.’

He believes the trend is indicative of the financial muscle of companies in the booming games market.

French says, ‘With games being what they are now, [the developers] look at the brand from day one. When they’re using consultancies it means that they’ve got money to spend – and there are reports now about the games industry being recession-proof.

‘The developers’ willingness to take on [external] people is indicative of the growing professionalism of the publishing process.’

Most consultancies suggest that their brand knowledge gives them a perspective that gaming companies don’t have – and it’s this offer which is influencing GUI work.

Studio Output, which is currently working on a branding project for Sony Playstation, developed a logo for the game Little Big Planet in September 2007, which was then developed into the game. Ian Hambleton, Studio Output account director, says, ‘We embrace this more holistic approach to branding.’

Studiospaceone rebranded and renamed gaming company Remode, which was previously a Web development firm. Ella Romanos, managing director of Remode, says, ‘We’ll definitely be looking to involve [Studiospaceone] in some capacity – whether that’s for typography, or for GUI in the games.’

Lambie-Nairn senior client director Andy Hayes says, ‘Companies like [us] are experts in branding and identity, in the same way that gaming companies are fantastic for games. That’s why they should embrace using specialists.’

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