The growing intersection of gaming, marketing and social responsibility

Like almost all other mammals, humans learn through play. In the very early stages of childhood, playing with others teaches us vital social skills such as listening, compromise, and problem-solving. But learning behaviours, skills and habits through games and play doesn’t stop there. 

Games have been shown to help children learn and cement mathematical concepts better than those that learn without. Research has also demonstrated that games can even help improve learner concentration while reading. And it’s not just children either. In the workplace, games can help with employee onboarding and training, team building and social cohesion, stress reduction, and increased problem-solving as well as improved morale.


Utilised effectively, games can also serve as vehicles to drive awareness for important issues and causes, shift attitudes, nudge behaviour change and ultimately help drive social change. One company which understands the power of games to drive social and business change at scale, particularly at a time when everyone carries a gaming device in the shape of a smartphone in their pocket, is Sea Monster.

Since its 2011 founding, the Cape Town-headquartered company has developed a specialisation for working with big brands in South Africa and beyond, to design impact games that help brands foster meaningful connections with their audiences and drive positive change in the world. These include sensitive storytelling games developed with big pharmaceutical companies to educate audiences about HIV and responsible sexual health decision making, to training games for marine officers and other vocational workers to help them better perform their jobs, and to collaborations with big banks on games that help inspire children and adults to achieve their financial goals.

Driving change through gaming

According to Sea Monster CEO and co-founder Glenn Gillis, the rise of these kinds of games reflects a convergence of two key factors: a shift in consumer expectations for brands to stand behind their higher purpose, and an acknowledgement, from brands, that games are a medium through which they can build communities with their audiences, and engage with them around the things that really matter to their brand, matter to their customers and that matters to the world.

“Today’s consumers expect brands to make an effort towards improving the world, and the forward-thinking ones are taking notice,” he says. “Instead of just pushing price and product and chasing profit margins, more and more brands are devoting efforts towards aligning their brand purpose with a greater societal one.”

“At the same time, brands are recognising the huge potential that the medium of games offer them to reach new global audiences, engage their customers, and meaningfully add value to their customers’ life stories,” he adds.

Games also offer several other advantages when it comes to these converging needs. The first is scalability.

Part of the media landscape

“Gaming has become an integral part of the media landscape, with estimates that by next year, the number of gamers in the world is going to reach 3.6 billion,” Gillis says. “Gaming is not a niche,” he adds. “The audience of every brand is gaming in some form or another already, and brands are, unsurprisingly, keen to tap into this massive, engaged audience.”

That level of engagement is another advantage offered by games.

“Unlike other advertising and marketing platforms, like much of social media, where brands find themselves in a fight for eyeballs, likes and comments in pursuit of what they call ‘engagement’, branded gaming experiences are delivering brands minutes and even hours of deep engagement time with their customers,” says Gillis. “That’s largely unheard of in the world of marketing.”

That, in turn, is what makes games so powerful when it comes to building loyalty and affecting change, something that brands are under increasing pressure to do.

“Brands and big businesses are not exempt from our global crisis,” says the Sea Monster CEO. “In fact, they have a huge role to play in shifting the dial towards creating a better future for current and future generations, which is why they are increasingly being held to a higher standard.”

How Gamification can help

As an example of how games can help brands achieve that change, Gillis points to Sea Monster’s own portfolio of work.

“Probably half of the many games we’ve made at Sea Monster are with financial institutions,” he says. “No one wakes up wanting to learn to budget, but people often wish that someone could help them learn to manage their finances better.”

Gillis points out that many gamers have learned more about budgeting from playing role-playing games than they have from any textbooks, adverts, or blogs on the subject.

“So banks should be asking themselves, how can they do a better job of teaching financial education using games,” he says. “Get that right, and they will have both customers with better financial habits, and appreciation from their customers for actually offering them something useful in exchange for their time.”

The same, he points out, is applicable to other sectors.

“We want to see more fashion brands using games that explore the impact of fast fashion and showing us how they’re working towards a more sustainable and ethical model,” he says.

“And we want supermarkets making games where we learn about food security, where our food comes from and about nutrition. And digital games that are funded by sports teams which advocate for team work, healthy lifestyles and community.”

Gamification conclusion

“The world desperately needs change and brands have the audiences, the budgets and the influence to play their part,” Gillis concludes. “The opportunity for brands, game developers, and other stakeholders to work together to develop games that players love, that bring important societal matters to the fore and that ultimately make the world a better and more informed place, has never been greater. The businesses and brands that seize this opportunity and leverage games as a meaningful medium through which to connect with their audiences and drive their brand purpose will make an impact that will be remembered for all the right reasons.”

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