Sportification might well become the new big opportunity for the gameindustry going forward! This industry is slowly but surely disrupting the sportsindusty and is about to enter its end game: the sportification of existing and newly developed games. Put your VR goggles on, transform into an e-athlete and become a live participant in your own favorite egame. Let’s move and see what is in store!
Imagine a future where you are the participant in your own game. No, even better, you are the game! With the help of virtual reality and a pair of goggles, you will become a sweating VR athlete. This will not be behind your screen but in a real arena or on a playground where you have to use your athletic and physical abilities in order to win. Turning e-games into real action sports, that’s what sportification really is! It is targeting GenZ and posing a big future threat to more traditional sports.
Also interesting to read: GenZ and 11 great strategies to facilitate their sporting needs
Cutting edge technology is disrupting sports- and gamesindustries
Long are the days gone that it was relatively easy to determine what to do with your spare time. Technology had not really entered our lifes yet and choices were pretty well spelled out for us. In general we played a boardgame or we spend some time on the tenniscourt or soccerfield. Sports and games were the name of the game! Sounds pretty oldfashioned, does it not?
A lot has changed since then! Sports and games still play an important role in our lifes, but both the game- and sportsindustries have changed big time. The disruptive factor clearly can be found in the arrival of cutting edge technology, which has resulted in the convergence of sports and games.
A brief history of the sports related game industry
Lets take a quick dip in the history of the sports related game industry, which can be divided in 4 different phases. But first some fun! Watch the video below! I am sure you remember a few of these games!
All right, let’s plunge into the past!
Phase 1: the 60’s
- No technology, peaceful coexistence of sports and games
- Games and sports are standalone industries
In the 1960’s life was relatively easy. People played a game or participated in a sport to meet up with other friends and locals. And yes, there were also some sports related games in those early days. You might well remember the ever popular table football game or maybe you can recall Subuteo, which was also a table top game simulating a team sport (football). In those days everything was tranquil and the game industry did not interfere with the sports industry at all. However, a sleeping giant was about to be awakened.
Phase 2: 70’s – early 2000
- The arrival of technology is disrupting the game industry
- First electronic sportsgames are entering the stage
Let’s go back to 1972 when technology was entering the arena. You may remember Magnavox and Atari introducing the Pong game, which was sort of a tennis game. Pong was not the first video game, but it was the first mainstream one. When you look back at it, it was a little simplistic to say the least.. However, loads of people were totally enthrilled by it. It really marked the beginning of e-sports. Quickly new sporting games were entering the stage such as the simplified versions of Davis Cup and Soccer.
The beginning of the eighties was marked by consoles such as Atari and Commodore, platforms that rapidly introduced new games. Improved graphics made it all more realistic and the first Madden games were a fact. In the mid nineties and early 2000s platforms such as Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft and software developers like EA sports saw the light and took over. Many new sports games were introduced.
Looking back at this period, you may conclude that technology started to disrupt the original (non technological) game industry. However, the sports world was still living in its own bubble and did not really suffer yet! It didn’t see a major threat from either technology or the game industry. Does this mean that the sports industry didn’t suffer at all? No, it did to some extent. For the first time it had to compete for time and attention of young adults, as this group started to spend time on gamecomputers. Was this a pre-warning? If it was, the sporting world didn’t notice it!
Phase 3: 2006-2020
- The gaming industry starts to disrupt the sports industry
- The big game revolution: gamification and Esports
Looking back at it, 2006 might well have been the big turning point. Armed with the latest technology, the game industry set its mark and started to disrupt the sports industry. Two major developments started to filter through:
A. E-sports becoming a real sport
Fun Technologies organized the first Worldwide Webgames Championships in 2006. 71 players competed for a first prize of 1 mln USD. This marked the beginning of the explosion of e-sports, one of the 11 main trends in the sportsindustry. From this time onwards, prize pools started to grow exponentially and gamers started to professionalize.
In 2021 the total prize money in overall e-sports amounted to $201 mln and is growing fast. Mind you, this number has been heavily impacted by Covid 19. E-sports has grown big and attracts huge audiences, filling up entire stadiums. Increasingly e-sports are seen as real sports and even the IOC has stated that competitive gaming entails physical activity which can be compared to that required in traditional sports. It should therefore be not excluded that E-sports will become Olympic in the near future.
B. Gamification of sports begins
In 2006 the Wii was introduced. This game console was the first one, which, with the help of controllers, allowed for sports video games to actually be played like a real sport. Although the console never really took off, it probably marks the first real beginning of the gamification of sports. You may recall for example Wii-fit, Wii-bowling, golf and tennis?
What is gamification, you might wonder. Gamification can be defined as the process of adding games or game-like elements to something (quite often a sport) in order to encourage participation and/or improve performance.
Anyway, back to the Wii. From the time onwards it was introduced, the gamification trend really started to take off! Not only gamedevelopers took advantage, manufacturers of wearables were also entering the stage and taking a piece of the pie. Brands like Strava, Nike (Nike Fuel band), Fitbit and Garmin are just a few examples of players that were taking advantage of the gamification trend. By the way, they still do!
Also interesting to read: 9 powerful reasons why gamification of sports matters a lot
Sports participants have changed into game players……..
Why did these two developments matter? The answer is simple: because they marked the beginning of sports and game industries increasingly converging with each other. For the first time it became visible that the game industry could make an impact on sports and even more important, that it could compete with it. The game industry at the time seemed fully aware of this potential. A big pot of gold was awaiting at the horizon.
But what was the response of the sports industry? Sports equipment manufacturers seemed to be aware and reacted quickly. However, sports federations did not. They remained conservative and seemed not to acknowledge the threat. Or was it just plain arrogance? Many of the sports these federations were representing had been around for ages, so why bother? Well, they should be bothered because the figures tell differently! Traditional sports in mature markets are seeing participation rates going down. E-games (and new sports) are eating away market share.
Phase 4: 2020 – …….
- Gaming industry starts to disintegrate the traditional sports industry
- E-sports are starting to take off
- Sportification possibly becoming new opportinity for the game industry
Now that the game industry has tested the waters and has fueled confidence, it has realised it can make more than a few ripples in a pond. It is time for the next stage! Its strategy seems again to be twofold.
A. Take gamification to the next level and let the fan decide on whats happening during real sports games.
You can read in my blog on fans calling the shots that interactivity between fans and gameplay is becoming ever more important. Younger fans are used to make their own decisions in the e-games they play. However, these new fans also would embrace the opportunity to be involved in the real deal! Being a football manager or racing director in a game or choosing their own players in Fifa is no longer enough for most of them! They want to be at the steering wheel and have a say in real sports!
In the US there is now a fan controlled football league, where fans decide on which play will be executed, which players will be bought and sold, which colors the teamjerseys should have etc. The fans in this league make the calls. In soccer there is a team in France, which is also controlled by the fans, whilst in Formula E, fans can decide on which driver will get a power boost. I am sure, we will see more of this in the future in order to enhance fan engagement.
Also interesting to read: Fans calling the shots: 10 awesome examples
B. Sportification will be the next big opportunity for the game industry
If you can gamify sports, why not sportifying games? In my opinion, this will be the end game of the game industry! Let’s take an example! Imagine Fortnite! Not on your computer or TV screen, but live! You are becoming the participant in your own game! Again, live! It means making all the moves with your own body in for example an old factory complex. Put your VR/AR goggles on and go! They do already exist! VRarcades (as some of them are called) are popping up everywhere (see video)! You really can become a true VR athlete here.
Undoubtedly this will evolve in future sports tournaments: taking e-sports to the next level! New professional athletes will stand up and train for this sport. This will be e-sports 3.0. GenZ will love it and hence it poses a big threat to loads of traditional sports which stand to lose further market share. Moreover, it will give new generations a huge incentive to become physically active again.
Alternatively, rather than a game developing a new sports, there are also newly invented sports that make use of technology. What to think of Hado, immensely popular in Asia attracting huge capacity crowds. Watch the video below and I am sure you will be in awe.
What can the sports industry do?
As said before, the traditional sports industry has not been very pro-active sofar. This is not surprising given the fact that most federations are headed by older people. It means they are not fully aware or at least are not fully acknowledging these trends. So far, they have adopted a sit and wait strategy.
However, it is not too late! If federations adopt a more pro-active strategy and are willing to change their sports, there is still lots to play for, given their huge traditional followings. Introducing technology where possible and co-creating with the game industry may stop the rot. Gamification will be a must going forward in order to survive as a sport in the longer term. Federations should start to think like real businesses.
I realise I may have exaggerated a bit, but I firmly believe these trends will play an important role going forward. Sportification is likely to become the big new opportunity for the game industry. It may even get the younger generations out of their chairs and start be physically active again. What do you believe? Share your thoughts! Most appreciated!
This post was originally published on November 27, 2019 and has been updated