Gaming for good

Gaming has evolved exponentially from a niche hobby to mainstream entertainment in recent years. Mobile gaming is now the dominant platform, overtaking traditional home console systems.

How can we, as a society, focus the engagement gaming commands to make a positive impact? How do we encourage people to play for the planet, rather than let the planet pay socially and environmentally?

In collaboration with Jude Ower MBE and Mathias Gredal Nørvig, Rothschild & Co co-hosted a Sustainability Sphere with industry experts focused on how gaming can drive positive outcomes.

Jude is the founder of market insights platform Playmob and sits on the UK Government’s Global Entrepreneur Programme, and Mathias is the CEO of SYBO, famous for creating the game ‘Subway Surfers’. Both are driving forces behind encouraging gaming to focus on positive social impact.

The key takeaways from our conversations are presented below. But first, let’s play a game: which of the following statements do you think are true?

  • Revenue from the gaming industry is larger than the film and music industries combined
  • Almost half of the planet (3.2 billion) regularly play some sort of game
  • Gaming related content on TikTok reached three trillion views in 2022

We’ll give you the answer at the end of the article.

Capital allocation is key to the next level

Gaming has a huge power to influence players, and encouraging users to make informed choices in games could lead to a real-world boost for our planet. But what are the barriers holding back sustainability growth in the industry?

Commerciality and sustainability need to play for the same team

Whilst some investors realise the long-term importance of ‘green gaming’, in the short term the priority is usually focused on return on investment and profit figures.

One of the prevailing points raised during the discussion was that capital allocators need to be imaginative to support green initiatives. Investing in sustainable games can be expensive, meaning many studios cannot afford to prioritise it.

There is no cheat code for the value proposition

In the last five years there has been increased focus on sustainable investment strategies in the financial sector. This means investment decisions may consider environmental, social and governance (ESG) metrics or align with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Gaming companies, however, are not required to provide standardised data which shows the impact they have on society and the environment.

There are ratings which indicate the minimum age requirement to play a game but nothing to help judge its environmental impact, such as how much energy producing or playing a game consumes. Without clear definitions on how to quantify impact as well as consistent language and metrics to describe the problems and solutions, it can be hard for users to make a sustainable choice.

User experience is the priority

Playing is first and foremost a source of entertainment – people game to escape reality and may not want to engage with broader societal issues. Studios are well connected with communities, often engaging daily through social platforms like Discord, Steam and Twitch to understand the needs and wants of their users. Whilst the agenda is important for younger gamers, the industry must also explore ways of reaching users of older generations.

The event discussions showed the type of game can be a major factor in determining the engagement of the audience. Those in the publishing sector confirmed a mobile ‘cosy’ game is far more likely to attract players who are engaged with sustainability when compared to a PC ‘shoot ‘em up’ release.

Gaming companies are not required to provide standardised data which shows the impact they have on society and the environment."

A frequent challenge raised during the evening was how can the industry encourage business models which bring together people, planet, profit and purpose? In this section we will explore some of the possible catalysts to help address these challenges.

An environmental expansion pack

For capital to be allocated effectively to sustainable gaming, data needs to be collected and aggregated. This consolidation would allow the industry to use consistent impact measures to calibrate sustainability metrics. User acquisition and engagement rates, for example, are tangible metrics to show short-term growth and long-term consumer loyalty.

Policy can also be an effective tool in coordinating these measures. The European Union’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive will improve transparency for the larger gaming studios on carbon accounting and carbon intensity. Streamlining and summarising the data can help evidence the positive return on sustainable investment, encouraging patience of capital and driving investment.

How has the success of eco-responsible games been measured to date?

There are several existing schemes which demonstrate commitment to sustainability. Ustwo, a game developer, planted one tree as part of a reforestation project in Madagascar for every download of the game ‘Alba: A Wildlife Adventure’. To date over one million trees1 have been planted, acting as brilliant marketing to broaden their user base and helping the planet. SYBO’s ‘Subway Surfers’ launched a similar in-game Play 2 Plant event which led to a 13.5%2 increase in App Store impressions and visitors.

This model is easily replicated across industries to broaden the sustainable focus and global impact. There are more than 500 million3 users of Alipay’s mini-program ‘Ant Forest’ which rewards players for making small, environmentally friendly decisions with points which can be redeemed to plant trees.

Over time we can use these initiatives to encourage funds to be allocated to sustainable projects.

Enhancing awareness, one nudge at a time

Gaming as a genre is incredibly diverse, ranging from adrenaline inducing adventure games to tools which aid in maintaining an individual’s cognitive function. It can also be used to gamify a user’s behaviour to encourage actions which have a positive societal impact.

Scientists have discovered links between clogged blood vessels in the brain (stalls) and Alzheimer’s. ‘Stall Catchers’ is a game where players analyse research to help advance these medical studies. Using the game, players can contribute to research much quicker than scientists could alone.

The discussions raised the opportunity of utilising unsold advertising inventory in games. These gaps in paid marketing could be populated with sustainability-related content to nudge behaviour to focus on the environment. Geocasting – the analysis of user location – could be a valuable resource to target these adverts to support specific problems. For example if a player is gaming from an area which is suffering from wildfires, an advert could suggest a donation link to a verified charity.

Similarly, there are small day-to-day options which studios could incorporate, such as ensuring there is a ‘low power mode’ on all games to allow users to be more power efficient.

Gaming is a huge social connector. Gaming can also have a positive impact on mental health. By presenting challenges for the gamer to overcome it brings forth a sense of confidence. This in turn can elevate the user’s mood and can leave them feeling braver and more resilient.

The social impact isn’t only found through software; hardware can be tweaked to focus on inclusive design. A charity in Oxfordshire received the prestigious Special Award at the 20th BAFTA Games Awards in March 2024 for its work to make computer games inclusive. The charity, called Special Effect, helps people with severe physical challenges to access video games. The organisation uses specialised technology to enhance access to video games and creative self-expression for people with a wide range of disabilities.

The power of a wider clan

Many of the attendees are part of groups such as the Playing for the Planet Alliance, which as a collective has a reach of roughly 1 in 8 people worldwide. Collaboration between studios can help align profit with purpose.

More than 90%4 of developers on the App Store are small studios, meaning industry partnerships can help achieve sustainable goals without the risk of branching out alone. Whilst standalone studios may feel any change they make will have a small impact, when combined they can have a huge impact. After all, many hands make light work.

Listed gaming companies can also help raise awareness of sustainability. ‘Fortnite’, one of the world’s most successful games, recently teamed up with food manufacturer Heinz to raise awareness of falling soil quality due to over-farming. This year also marks the fifth year of the eSoccer Aid partnership between EA and UNICEF, which has raised almost £100m5 to date.

Studios of all sizes are experimenting by collaborating with celebrities and influencers to drive awareness. SYBO co-curated a character for ‘Subway Surfers’ with J Balvin, a famous Colombian singer, with proceeds from in-game character purchases donated to a non-profit in Kenya via PlanetPlay’s platform.

Gaming can have a positive impact on mental health. By presenting challenges for the gamer to overcome it brings forth a sense of confidence."

Beyond the metaverse: a vision for the future

The sheer reach of the gaming industry is clear. It took television 22 years to hit the milestone of 50 million viewers whilst it took ‘Pokémon Go’ only 19 days6. With an audience of over three billion people, the potential impact the gaming industry can have on the future of our planet is phenomenal.

Apps such as ‘Duolingo’ – a learning app – have created a devoted user base from gamifying education. A business with positive impact and loyal engagement can afford to experiment into varying revenue streams. The depth of their following therefore creates a resilient business model given the dedicated customer base. As investors, this is one element we look for in our company research.

The industry will continue to grow, but the game isn’t over to help our planet.

At the start of this article we asked you the following question: which of the following statements is true?

  • Revenue from the gaming industry is larger than the film and music industries combined7
  • Almost half of the planet (3.2 billion) regularly play some sort of game8
  • Gaming related content on TikTok reached three trillion views in 20229

The correct answer? All of the statements above are true.

Thank you

Rothschild & Co would like to thank the following people for attending the event and contributing to the report: Francis Lo of Dot Dot Fire, Franco Lam of Dot Dot Fire, Gurjeet Sidhu of Seven League Software, Jake van Beever of Rothschild & Co, Jude Ower MBE of Playmob, Maria Sayans of Ustwo, Mathias Gredal Nørvig of SYBO, Matthew Farrow of Kwalee, Matt Pollen of Litta, Max Rossiter of Rothschild & Co, Murari Vasudevan of SYBO, Nic Walker of Space Ape Games, Paul Flanagan of Creative Mobile, Rebecca Hunt of Octopus Ventures, Rhea Loucas of PlanetPlay, Richard Brass, of Rothschild & Co, Sabrina Au of Dot Dot Fire, Sophie Orlando, and Valentina Marchetti of Ubisoft.

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