Can gaming save the high street?

26 February, 2020

No longer the lone teenager locked in his bedroom like some maladjusted Kevin, ‘gamers’ are not only coming to town but are likely to be important new players in how we think about retail in the future.

That was one of the key take-aways from a talk on the implications of the massively burgeoning gaming industry on the UK property market by Savills’ Nicky Wightman, director of global occupier trends, which, according to Martyn Evans, creative director of U+I hosting the event, “means she literally knows everything.”

A packed U+I THINK event, ‘Don’t Put Gaming in The Corner’, of more than 250 from property and architecture listened somewhat star struck as Wightman scoped the unprecedented scale of the growth of the ‘esports’ and gaming industry, now the biggest target for venture capital into the UK and one that already dwarfs music, TV and film combined.

“This is a sector that is characterised by big numbers”, she said. Estimates for “the next entertainment frontier” show that there are now 2.5 billion world gamers with revenues predicted to exceed $150bn this year, and half of Brits – “some 37m of us are gamers, if you include playing on our smart phones on the tube.”

“As an agent you want to know about gaming companies,” said Wightman, “there are 20 towns and cities across the UK with as many companies operating in places like London, Manchester, Reading, Slough, Brighton and Cambridge.” In all, there were some 2,250 companies now in the UK ‘gaming space’.

The two main occupier models for gamers were the development of huge arena events, primarily in the US and Asia, such as the Esports Stadium in Arlington, the largest in the States, and new gaming parlours with bars and restaurants such as the new London venue at Platform in Finsbury.

“An invaluable take-away in the design of all these models is that, contrary to perceptions, gamers are a vibrant and strong community. They want to meet, chat, share, and watch each play.”

Both in new retail and repurposing “a lot of these models are new; they are untried and untested, you should be aware of that”, Wightman said. “There is a risk you are first initially but when you think about the audience numbers, which are massive, the demographics, (most are mid-30s, and nearly half are women), the reach, the relevance, it’s starting to look like something that is very difficult to ignore.

“That’s why so many brands are moving into this space. If you are an organisation or have a business where you are interested in where community meets digital, you have to ask yourself ‘can you afford not to be in this space’.”

What she called “the collision of the creative sectors with gaming” was well ahead, with some 230 gaming courses now being offered in UK universities and colleges. “Gaming underpins masses of other technological industries and in fashion, it is becoming the new frontier in storytelling where fashion might happen in a gamified world”.

Hotels where you could “eat, sleep and play” were becoming ‘new branded spaces’ while a trip to the local shopping centre or high street might now include some aspect of gaming in newly-designed retail or repurposed spaces.

“The conclusion is that while much of this is going to be bespoke, the blending of digital and the physical in multipurpose spaces in offices and retail is going to be super important for the future.”