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TikTok is one of the world’s most influential social platforms, but the gaming industry is only beginning to grapple with its influence. As Harish Sarma — global head of sports and gaming content — says, the platform pioneered short form content. The stickiness of the format is why other platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Twitch are adding it to their products.
TikTok is investing heavily in gaming content. It is giving developers and creators new tools to reach its over 1 billion monthly active users around the world. Moreover, TikTok is transforming how consumers are discovering new games. From indie developers to the most popular games in the world, TikTok is leveling the playing field for audience acquisition.
TikTok’s discovery window
While gaming content thrives on other platforms, TikTok’s unique format has fundamentally changed the landscape. Short form video has lowered the barrier to entry. Rather than livestreaming for hours or editing long-form videos — which require major time investments — short form video can be produced faster. In turn, this allows for more experimentation and iteration over time.
As a result, this creates major opportunities for user generated content. While dance trends or challenges are the obvious case studies, creating trends also happens in gaming content.
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Hashtags or sounds are key tools to driving trends. While gaming companies can contribute to hashtags or encourage users to create content for a new format, ultimately hashtags belong to the community. As a result, publishers that are comfortable with remixes of their IP are in a position to succeed. After all, TikTok is a platform that encourages its users to participate in co-creation, not just engaging through comments and likes.
Beyond short-form video and UGC, TikTok’s most valuable innovation is its recommendation algorithm.
“TikTok is a way for people to discover things quickly. It’s an entertainment platform, not a social network,” said Sarma in an interview with GamesBeat. “Think of it as a place where the stuff you expect to see will exist, but also the stuff you don’t expect to see will also exist.”
Serving unexpected content can come in numerous forms. Gaming content is served to the wider community beyond the typical audiences. As a result, gaming content can have a wider impact on mainstream culture.
Additionally, TikTok has been a powerful tool for revitalizing communities. “This concept of unknown or past content reaching new audiences is endemic to Tiktok. It’s our DNA,” added Sarma. “You’re seeing this happen with archive content, because you’re reintroducing it to a new generation of fans where this content was largely locked away.”
In gaming, Subway Surfers is a prime example. Philip Hickey, CMO of SYBO Games, confirmed that TikTok catapulted the game to 4 billion lifetime downloads. This discovery engine isn’t limited to major publishers — TikTok is democratizing discovery for indie developers too.
It’s no secret that TikTok is popular, but the sheer scale of its gaming community has not garnered the same attention as other platforms. 50% of daily active users viewed some form of gaming content on TikTok in 2022. Moreover, 82% of TikTok users say they play games at least once a week.
More importantly, TikTok is driving discovery, downloads and sales of new games.
Part of the reason why gaming has grown so rapidly on TikTok is that the platform naturally drives inclusive content. Toxicity in gaming can be difficult to manage, but the platform’s algorithm sorts for content that resonates with a broad audience.
“TikTok is helping put gaming at the forefront of entertainment through the participatory and inclusive nature of both the gamers and the communities that are on the platform,” added Rema Vasan, head of global gaming business marketing for TikTok. “On TikTok, you’re reaching audiences that you would expect and a lot that you wouldn’t. That’s what’s making gaming part of this larger cultural zeitgeist.”
While TikTok has already driving culture on its own, the platform sees more opportunities to make inroads into gaming.
Esports — particularly mobile titles — are a key focus for TikTok. Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, a mobile MOBA, has quietly grown into a major esports title. In January, the platform sponsored and streamed the game’s M4 World Championship. The associated hashtag brought in 4 billion views in one month.
On a more domestic front, TikTok also signed a multi-year agreement with the eMLS Cup. The partnership will leverage its creators and MLS stars to promote the league to a new generation of fans.
While the console and PC gaming content is growing on the platform, mobile content has obvious synergy with the mobile-first platform. Adding native livestreaming helps it compete more directly with other platforms. Moreover, Twitch is not as optimized for mobile game streaming, creating a key niche for TikTok.
While there are (regulatory) obstacles in TikTok’s ascent, it’s clear that users are flocking to the platform to find things they didn’t know they wanted. Publishers that can think like marketers but act like creators will be able to take advantage of the platform’s rise.
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