Almost a decade ago, on the stage of the League of Legends World Championship, American rock giants Imagine Dragons performed their track ‘Warriors’.
The single marked the beginning of a partnership between one of the largest names in rock music and the most viewed esport. Fast-forward five years, and the group also composed ‘Enemy’ for the game’s immensely successful Netflix show ‘Arcane’.
Both singles racked up more than a billion streams across platforms, showing that a partnership between video games and music can work wonders for both sides of the relationship.
Non-film music is dominating the charts
In India, the recent emergence of both non-film music and the video game industry makes the partnership between the two even more unexplored.
Non-film music in India has steadily started to dominate charts, having more than doubled in music label catalogues – from 5-10% to 30% – in the last three years. The total number of gamers in the country grew at an astonishing rate of 165% between 2016-2018 and now boasts half a billion. To put things in perspective, internet penetration still hasn’t even cracked 50% in India – and the market is already tremendous. Yet somehow, despite all the numbers pointing to its scale and adoption, gaming has never quite been considered as something at the forefront of pop culture in India.
Big Bang Music’s Founder and CEO, Gaurav Wadhwa, feels that gaming is set to be a major pop culture focus. “For decades, Gaming has been a large consumer category. It’s the first time that we are seeing other pop culture genres acknowledging its power and actively interacting with it for their benefit. Gaming today offers the most loyal and engaged audience which is why it’s a natural intersection with music and expression that is driving a new artist, content and fan ecosystem in music.”
Music collaborations with enormous gaming ecosystems
Garena Free Fire, the largest mobile game in India with over 40 million monthly active users, was one of the first gaming brands in India to kickstart a dedicated music strategy. With over $4 billion dollars in revenue and over 150 million users globally, it’s a behemoth.
Beginning in 2020, the brand saw common ground between their target audience, a rising hip-hop culture, and the football community in the country. In an attempt to bring together these worlds, the brand launched an inspiring and anthemic tune that brought it all in one.
The song, ‘Be The Legend,’ was composed and sung by Akshay The One, an emerging rapper from the state of Punjab. What elevated the entire experience to another level was its release alongside a video that featured actor and youth icon Ali Fazal, who brought youthful exuberance to the visuals. Entirely organically, the song trended at #7 on YouTube, passing 2.5 million views within two days.
Free Fire’s music focus continued into 2021, but this time with a more ambitious and larger demographic as their target audience. With an objective to create a “Diwali Banger” that featured an A-list cast, Big Bang Music curated a music video that featured one of the pioneering moments between Bollywood celebrities and popular social media influencers.
The Kill Chori video starred actress Shraddha Kapoor and influencer Bhuvan Bam while being composed and performed by Indian music heavyweights Sachin-Jigar, Nikhita Gandhi and Ash King. A success from its launch, Kill Chori trended at #1 on YouTube for two days and at #4 for the whole week. With over 60M views, 9M streams, close to 20K organic reels, and even featuring in Spotify’s global 200 chart, it proved that a brand anthem in gaming can be a huge consumer pull.
Understanding the gamer is key
For music teams, conceptualizing a song for a game like Free Fire is all about understanding the consumer. There isn’t a single formula for success, especially when the player base is so enormous that different styles of music could have equally good effects. What is apparent today is a strong emphasis on youth and male targeting, given that close to 60% of gamers in India fall in the 18-25 year old demographic and 82% of all gamers are male. However, in the dominant mobile gaming market, these numbers point towards a much more diverse story with 32% of gamers belonging between 44-60 years old and female gamers constituting 43%. Depending on the game in question, these numbers skew drastically towards particular demographics. A shooting game like Free Fire would have a more male dominant user base, but puzzle games see women being far more prominent.
Pranab Punj, Group CMO of Rainshine Global, a creator-first digital content company, is enthusiastic about the uniting of music and gaming in India. “Games and Music is a marriage made in heaven, and both share a common audience pool. Music matters the most to today’s Gen Z gamers; a recent research report suggests that 42% of Gen Z gamers listen to other music while playing games. With games like Rocket League, gaming is becoming a massive discovery platform for new musicians and an inspiration for new music for artists like Saahil Bhargava, whose recent single Blood Starved Beast drew inspiration from the game Bloodborne.”
More focused understanding of audience tastes can be found by watching the streamers who play each game. Their role as tastemakers to their audience can’t be stated enough as they often have millions of fans who tune into their streams for hours on end. The music these personalities end up playing during these videos could influence the sounds that a future gaming anthem should base itself on.
Gamers tend to be a more loyal consumer category than most, devoting significant daily time to play or engage with content related to their favourite title – so being able to associate an artist or a song with a particular title isn’t just a short term play.
Beyond anthems: gaming and music’s future in India
The future of the relationship is far from an established route. There’s plenty left to explore and innovate with how gaming and music can work off one another to grow. Anthems are a proven success, especially so when done with tact and creativity. But there’s also a huge market that’s largely untapped in streaming, esports, and more.
With esports teams getting large support from fans, perhaps the next route will see team anthems being built to further that connection. Already, a large Indian PUBG team called Soul has co-opted AP Dhillon’s ‘Spaceship’ as their unofficial anthem. Just one glance at the comments of the song’s video will have you see that it’s been entirely swarmed by the team’s fans who use it as a rallying call before each match.
What’s certain is that the next decade is going to see as much interplay, if not more, between gaming and music as there has been between film and music.