Functional drinks seem to have identified a niche. Yet with gaming one of the most popular pastimes in the world, with an estimated 3.2 billion gamers worldwide, could they ever really? We ask, who are gaming drinks really for?
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that gamers don’t want to move from their screens. Ever. Marathon gaming sessions require sustenance. But when winning and fully involved in the game, you better be quick.
Gaming drinks began as a twist on the energy drink, providing a caffeine hit to keep players alert and hydrated. Yet ever sophisticated blends of caffeine, vitamins, prebiotics, nootropics et al are now coming to market, claiming to boost mental endurance, focus and agility, without an energy slump. Many, like protein drinks for working out, come in powdered form, ready to be turned into a meal replacement shake. However, with big money to be made, a number of traditional and/or global soda brands are also now trying to claim a piece of the pie.
Joining the party
And who can blame them? According to DFC Intelligence, the video gaming industry has grown from a worth of US $90 billion in 2016, to $179 million in 2021, up 14.4% from 2020. According to the Entertainment Software Association, the gender split of players is fairly even, with 46% being female. And according to Statista, the pastime spans all ages, though 38% of players are aged 18-34, and 26% of players are 34-54. Under 18s account for 21% of players. In the US, its estimated that 64% of US adults and 70% of those under 18 play video games regularly. The size of the prize then, is huge.
Among the soda brands to make a play for this multi-demographic, multi-generational, worldwide cash cow include PepsiCo. In 2018 it launched Mountain Dew spin-off Mtn Dew Amp Game Fuel. Packaged like a generic energy drink, in a slim can – aside from notable gaming concessions such as its no-slip grip, and resealable lid – it claimed to be an endurance drink, fortified with a vitamin and caffeine charged formula. The brand has also sponsored a number of tournaments.
Coca-Cola also has its eyes on the market. It has also backed tournaments, though in a notable departure from dedicated do-it-all bespoke gaming drinks, has partnered with food delivery aps to help gamers ‘fuel’ their games. And gaming ad campaigns such as ‘One Coke away from each other’ have attempted to further embed the brand with within the community.
Form and function?
However, functional gaming drinks – notably most commonly listed as dietary supplements – are somewhat more complex. In some ways. Leading brands such as G-Fuel, Sneak Energy, Gamer Supps GG have become almost a badge of honour for gamers, a sign that they’re a serious player.
And while the functional claims of each brand have grown ever more complex – from B vitamins, antioxidants, mental energy boosters and nootropics (including bacopa monnieri, N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine, and Mucuna Pruriens), to keto-friendly formulas – other elements of the brands are not.
Flavours seem – let’s be honest – somewhat juvenile. From sours, to blue raspberry, and strawberry laces, flavours call out some tuckshop favourites. Others including Strawberry Daiquiri and Pina Colada, call out the bar. And yet many brands are now making a play as sports aids for pro-athletes, brain boosters for high flying business execs, and diet aids. All the while with flavour names including Clickbait, Hype Sauce, and Guacamole Gamer Fart 9000. It’s a jarring contrast.
All things to all people
Some brands, for all their gaudy pack design and outrageous naming – both of which speak to not only the imagery used in games themselves, but a pointedly younger demographic – are however overtly marketing themselves to a much wider range of uses.
Endless Nootropic by The Protein Works for example is also being marketed at consumers trying to wean themselves off sugary sodas – a sly nudge at the global soda brands now trying to join the fray? Said to have a formulations that “promotes mental performance, reduces tiredness and fatigue, increases alertness and helps maintain neurotransmission”, it is also aimed at those “up against a deadline at work, having to pull an all-nighter on the mother of all projects, or looking to out-perform your competition in any sport”. And with a recommendation to substitute the drink for your morning latter or afternoon energy drink to save on sugar and calorie intake, it seems to be taking a swing for dieters too. Who then is it actually for?
Leading brand GG Sups also claims to be a diet drink. Low carb, keto friendly, and zero calorie, its other health claims include the use of six of the body’s most crucial vitamins and minerals organic caffeine, electrolytes for optimal hydration, and the use of organic caffeine. With ingredients to boost mental alertness, focus, and memory, some brands are being used by consumers as study aids too.
So what are gaming drinks really, and who are they for?
The mixed messages of their pack designs, flavours, and the potent functionality of their products maybe aren’t at odds at all. In a market defined by its appeal to all people, in all places, maybe their seeming split personality is a strength, having just enough for each demographic to identify with, and therefore appeal to most.
However, it’s this split personality that makes the products hard to access for consumers outside of the gaming world, even though many are now seeking out ever more functional products to help them perform in their daily lives.
Do mainstream soda brands have the edge then in penetrating this world? Though capable of sponsoring the largest competitions and getting their name out there, it seems not. The reaction of the gaming world to the Cola advert was at best muted, and at worst, derisive.
The most accepted and loved gaming drinks brands are born out of, not outside of, the culture, and speak gamers’ language, in a way that brands that already exist outside of gaming simply do not. However, it is the use of this language, among other qualities, that may stunt their growth outside of the gaming world. But with 3.2 billion potential consumers, we have to ask, do they care? Their attempts to reach outside of gaming suggests that they do.
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