From 4K to virtual reality and Steam Machines, the UK PC gaming market is moving so fast it can be difficult to keep on top of trends and technologies.
We look at the latest developments in the sector, how customers buy and what you need to know right now to get ahead of the competition.
TOP TECH TRENDS: WHAT’S NEXT?
Virtual reality is arguably the biggest piece of technology set to shake up the gaming industry in a long time. The Oculus Rift headset finally lands on March 28th with a £499 price tag. While it’s initially being sold direct, there are official system bundles available, including the ASUS G11CD and ROG G20CB desktops, the Alienware X51 and the Dell XPS 8900 Special Edition, which are available to pre-order with the Rift included. The HTC Vive headset is due in April, while other devices like Gear VR and PlayStation VR are due this year too.
Virtual reality has been explored in detail by PCR in the past, so what about other technologies you should be aware of?
Intel and Micron are developing 3D XPoint memory, while HP and SanDisk are working on Storage-Class Memory. Both technologies claim to be 1,000 times faster than flash memory and could push things forward in the future.
NVIDIA and AMD are working on their new Pascal and Polaris GPU architecture respectively, with announcements expected later this year.
“I am expecting to see vast growth within the gaming segment over the next few years,” says Entatech gaming product manager Adam Whitworth. “VR is going to be massive this year with product releases coming from several major brands including HTC and Oculus. HBM2 will also be a major release this year with cards expected from both NVIDIA and AMD around Q3. Combined with this, we expect to see several major AAA game release titles to go with this hardware to enhance the experience even more.”
4K is also increasing in prominence as more powerful adaptive-sync monitors hit the market at lower prices. Even projector brands like Optoma are starting to target the gaming space.
Martin Kent, UK territory manager at Hannspree UK, tells PCR: “PC gamers are reaping the rewards of evolving technology and much more industry competition leading to wallet-friendly pricing. The most notable hardware changes and trends in recent months include a wave of affordable 4K monitors with four times the pixels of 1080p, delivering more detail and unprecedented clarity for gamers, and adaptive V-sync technology with FreeSync or G-Sync means even the most demanding games have no screen tearing and a steady frames per second rate.”
Club 3D’s European sales exec Gerjan Blonet says that retailers should not forget about making margin from accessories and bundles which may not make the headlines, such as cables: “With 4K UHD and multi monitor gaming quickly becoming more popular and affordable it’s good to look at adapters and cables to choose for the most stable, immersive and convenient gaming experience.”
On the accessories side, devices are getting more feature- rich, with the likes of MionixLabs’ Naos Quantified Gaming mouse tracking the user’s body and heart rate.
Razer also has mice with 16,000DPI – the vendor is expanding into other areas too.
“The Razer Seiren professional microphone series was released last year, and this year will see the release of Stargazer, the first purpose built streamers’ camera powered by Intel RealSense,” says Razer’s UK PR specialist Nick Haywood. “To further expand our streaming range, we have Project Sheena, a 1080p 60FPS capable capture card for high- performance game-recording.”
High-powered smaller computing devices are becoming the norm, such as Alienware’s Steam Machine and portable notebooks are getting more powerful and power-efficient.
Cooler Master’s UK country manager Adrian Liu adds that gamers are increasingly looking for customisation options, too.
“During last year’s Insomnia event we introduced the ‘Make it yours’ slogan and ‘Maker Spirit’, hence why our stand had an unique workshop feel. Also with the live modding experience, this allowed us to be different by making maker/gamer a community experience. We find that gamers, avid users and modders all fit into the ‘Maker’ category and they can be inspired by others as well as inspire the next generation.”
Finally, Entatech’s gaming product managers Adam Whitworth and Richard Fenner reveal some of their top-selling brands.
“We have just had our strongest quarter with Corsair to date and there is still plenty of space for more growth,” Fenner reveals. “Also, Fractal Design was originally introduced to Entatech’s product portfolio as an exclusive brand and is now one of the top five case brands within the UK.”
Whitworth adds: “We have just smashed our record with NVIDIA for two quarters running and business with Gigabyte and Corsair continues to run at record beating levels. Fractal Design and ZOTAC are going from strength to strength. I look forward to seeing the additional growth in the likes of MSI, AMD and Mad Catz.”
HOW ARE BUYING HABITS CHANGING?
Today there is a wealth of purchasing options for gamers to consider. From High Street retail and the likes of GAME to etailers such as Amazon and Ebuyer, to system builders like Yoyotech, who also tend to have a presence at gaming shows including Multiplay Insomnia and EGX, there’s a host of options.
Gaming customers can be a fussy and passionate bunch, and will expect vendors and retailers to truly know their stuff. Many vendor websites nowadays are built to be friendly to the user and packed full of knowledge at the same time. Go on the Crucial or HyperX websites for example, and customers can put in their PC spec to automatically find out which upgrade is right for them.
As GfK says, gamers are willing to pay a premium for top quality products and service – that includes buying from independent PC retailers if their offering is right. Others will have a go at building their own machine from scratch, but will still need to purchase the individual components to build them. This gives your brand an opportunity to become the expert and guide them on their journey, or give them a sweet enough deal to convince them to buy from you outright.
Price comparison websites and those that allow users to share their build ideas are growing in popularity. We spoke to Philip Carmichael, the founder and owner of one such site, PCPartPicker (which attracts more than one million unique visitors per month), for his views on the changing landscape and the growth of his ten-person team.
“Users come to our site for two main reasons – to find good prices for components (price comparison), and to make sure the parts will all work together (compatibility guidance),” he says. “For price comparisons, we pull in pricing from retailers in several countries via a collection of feeds, APIs etc. We match up that data with parts in our database to provide the price comparisons, trends and alerts.
“Customer service is also a major driver right now. Do-it- yourself PC builders want reassurance that they won’t run into issues if they need to make returns. In many cases, their choice of retailer is driven by this – even if it means spending more.”
So how can retailers get involved? “We work with retailers directly, though the involvement varies from retailer to retailer,” Carmichael explains. “We typically establish affiliate relationships with the retailers, so that if we refer a sale we earn a small percentage commission.
“While our referral traffic converts very well – and higher than organic traffic by a good margin – it’s our automatic compatibility checking that sets us apart. The compatibility checking reduces returns, and thus RMA costs, by providing verification that components will work together before ordering.”
HOW BIG IS THE MARKET?
In 2015, £138 million was spent on gaming PCs, monitors, mice, keyboards, headsets and graphics cards in the UK retail channels, according to GfK data.
“Overall the gaming peripherals and components markets demonstrate that gaming remains an opportunity for the channel,” says Dominic Ashford, senior account manager at GfK. “What is particularly significant is that these markets appear to be less price sensitive than many other technology markets. The data suggests that consumers are prepared to pay a premium for products and features that enable or enhance the gaming experience.”
That’s just the hardware. ERA data shows that £927.6 million was spent on boxed games in the UK last year, while almost £1.9 billion was spent on digital games (making games bigger than the music and video industries).
3 TIPS TO BUILD YOUR ONLINE STRATEGY
Mark Reed, director at marketing agency Heaven Media, offers his advice on growing your brand through social media and gaming networks.
1. SOCIAL MEDIA
When speaking to consumers, if your voice isn’t genuine from the perspective of the mindset or attitude for the target audience you’re aiming for, then it will have a negative impact. If you’re not working with other partners to bounce off one another, in order to affiliate your social channels with the Valves and Riots and Razers out there, then you will never establish that social credibility.
2. THE INFLUENCER SIDE
Working with influencers on YouTube and Twitch is a minefield. Use the right influencer and you can obtain the best ROI you can ever get from marketing dollars, but use the wrong ones and you can end up defaming your brand and getting terrible value. Companies like Heaven Media are well-heeled at extracting the maximum amount of value from the spend and holding these guys accountable to deliver it.
3. ONLINE PROMOTION
Beyond banners, we tend to focus far more on sponsorship of tournaments that are clearly targeted at the regions and the audience demographic that the brand needs. Take Twitch for example, if you’re looking at selling £1,000 notebooks, targeting 12-year-olds watching a Minecraft stream won’t give you a strong return on investment. It’s about targeting the right channels at the right times within YouTube or Twitch for advertising, to have the maximum impact. It’s fundamental that an agency helps, because we’re doing it for several brands and the trackability we have in place clearly shows you where value is.