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What do automotive companies have to gain by driving brand awareness through video games?

Industry Commentary
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In 1976, Nissan’s Datsun 280Z model was officially licensed for the arcade racer Datsun 280 ZZZAP, making Nissan one of the first car manufacturers to license their IP into video games. 

Car manufacturers and automotive companies have been using video games as a way to get their vehicles and products in front of new audiences ever since. Many have licensed IP into popular racing games such as F1, NASCAR, Rocket League, Gran Turismo, V-Rally and Need For Speed, or partnered with video game companies for marketing promotions and giveaways, such as Toyota’s 1998 partnership with Square Enix to incentivise pre-orders for Final Fantasy VIII by giving away a Toyota Echo. 

image: Riot Games

While there’s always been a strong relationship between video games and automotive companies, the licensing deals seemed to have revved up in the last few months. 

We’ve seen The Pokemon Company partner with BMW for a Pikachu-branded Mini Concept Aceman car, McLaren driver, Lando Norris, sitting behind the wheel in Master Chief’s helmet from Halo, artist Frankie Zombie teaming up with Motorsport Games to design custom skins, Mercedes-Benz moving its relationship with Epic Games up a gear by extending its esports commitment to 2025, and PUBG: Mobile collaborating with Dodge to let players drive its American Muscle cars in the battle royale shooter (and breathe!) 

All of that, without mentioning the mountain of licensing deals that will have been made for upcoming games such as Need For Speed Unbound, SBK 22, and WRC Generations. 

While licensing plays such as those in the games mentioned above are fairly standard, it’s reasonable to say that wider collaborations and promotions are getting more unconventional. Let’s remember that it was only as far back as June that Honda paid a presumably very large sum of money to Fortnite streamer, SypherPK, to host a three-episode sponsored live stream where he toured a custom-built Fortnite map with an absolutely massive Honda HR-V parked in the middle. 

But as unconventional as these collaborations might be, they make a lot of sense. Car manufacturers need to move away from diesel and petrol vehicles and embrace electric. Their target market, according to consistent research, is Generation Z (born 1997–2012), with over half of 18–24-year-olds revealed to be the most likely to switch to electric vehicles. And Gen Z males are the most engaged with gaming, according to Deloitte, while highlighting the fact that game companies are focussing on attracting and retaining teen gamers. 

While game companies will use this as an opportunity to make revenue from in-app purchases – something that automotive companies can take a cut of too if they’re making IP available through the likes of Fortnite and other titles – car manufacturers will also be banking on creating brand familiarity in the hope of converting players into customers. 

We’re also starting to see gaming technology be put to good use in vehicles. BMW recently partnered with the Cloud-based AirConsole to deliver casual video games to its EV displays. A great way to keep the kids entertained, no doubt, but please don’t game and drive. 

Just like the countless high-fashion brands that have recently embraced video games and activated campaigns through gaming and metaverse platforms such as Roblox and Fortnite, esports, video games and the metaverse are the biggest growth areas for automotive companies. 

While we’re a long way of seeing a fully-imagined metaverse, Roblox and Fortnite are the biggest indicators of what idealised virtual worlds could look like – and we’re starting to see these platforms integrating drivable vehicles into their user-generated content and mini-games. 

If players are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on virtual fashion items, why wouldn’t they do the same for their own vehicles and customisable skins? 

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