James Kotecki (00:00): 

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This is CES Tech Talk. I'm James Kotecki. The world's most powerful tech event, CES 2024, brings the future to Las Vegas January 9th through 12th. Today we preview the future of gaming, and specifically the arts and science of influencing people to get excited about new games. Now, nothing says influence and excitement quite like TikTok, and today we're talking with TikTok's Rema Vasan, head of Global Gaming Business Marketing. If you care about gaming, marketing or how to use the latest technology to shape the actions of your fellow human beings, have we got a show for you. Rema Vasan from TikTok, welcome to CES Tech Talk. 

Rema Vasan (01:24): 

Thank you, James. It's great to be here. 

James Kotecki (01:26): 

I want to start with some contextualization maybe for folks to just get a handle on some of the numbers here, so whatever numbers you think are helpful in defining this conversation, but I'm looking for things like the size of the gaming industry, the scope of TikTok, and how the gaming industry shows up on TikTok. What kind of things are you measuring here as far as numbers? 

Rema Vasan (01:46): 

Yeah, for sure. Gaming today is a multi-billion dollar industry with over 3.38 billion players globally, 7 billion people in the world, over 7 billion, 3.38 billion of them are gamers. It's pretty incredible the size of that addressable audience, and it's also forecast to generate over 187 billion in revenue in 2023. This is according to News Zoo, which is a global authority when it comes to gamers and gaming data, and also a frequent partner to TikTok. This is being driven a lot by an uptick in console games as well as mobile games. As far as TikTok is concerned with, its over 1 billion monthly active users is the place where millions of people are actually discovering new games through really great entertaining content every single day. Our platform provides a really exciting opportunity for both developers as well as gamers to engage with new and diverse content as well as audiences. You asked me for numbers, so I'm going to throw a few in here. 

James Kotecki (02:49): 

Please do. 

Rema Vasan (02:51): 

First of all, we looked into the data of gaming content on TikTok. We were pretty astounded by what we saw. In 2022 alone, there were over 3.6 trillion, that's trillion with a T, not a B or an M, trillion, which is a word that's not used a lot, video views of specifically gaming content on TikTok. What we're seeing is that our community of gamers are really rewriting the rules of gaming culture. It's this place where gaming culture, entertainment are all colliding to create this phenomenon. Again, in 2022, 50% of our daily active users actually view some form of gaming content. Again, a very large addressable audience, and 76% of gamers on TikTok play PC and console games on a weekly basis. The same percentage, about 76% play mobile games on a daily basis. There's a lot of numbers in here, but the point that I'm trying to make is that, first of all, gaming is huge. It's very much mainstream with the number of gamers worldwide, and gaming on TikTok is a cultural phenomenon that many, many diverse audiences are partaking in. 

James Kotecki (04:04): 

When we talk about the definition of gaming, you've already talked about PC, console, mobile games, in this broad definition of gaming that we have here, are there any fuzzy things at the edges of the periphery of what that definition is where some people may call it a game or some people aren't, or is it a pretty well-defined universe of things we can all agree counts as being a gamer? 

Rema Vasan (04:26): 

I think PC, console, and mobile are pretty well-defined sub-categories of gaming, and I would say mobile probably fundamentally transformed the gaming and the gamer landscape. To contextualize that, I am a mobile gamer, a very proud one, proud Candy Crusher, as a matter of fact. I'm right now on level 1800 on Candy Crush. 

James Kotecki (04:47): 


Rema Vasan (04:48): 

I share this to say that just because I am a mobile gamer who plays Candy Crush and other such games makes me no less of a gamer than probably the stereotype that people have in mind when I say the word gamer, which is probably a young man, probably in a basement, probably wearing a hoodie, probably playing a certain genre of game. I guess there's pretty clear definitions of these subcategories of games, PC, console, mobile, but I think what has changed is the definition of a gamer, and it has become much more inclusive of people from all walks of life. 

James Kotecki (05:25): 

Of course, what's special about mobile gaming when it comes to TikTok is TikTok is obviously a mobile first platform. Then if you're getting some game that's marketed to you on TikTok or that someone on TikTok is recommending or reviewing, it's probably fairly seamless to go over and try it, so I imagine that a lot of the excitement and energy on TikTok might be around mobile gaming. 

Rema Vasan (05:46): 

It is around mobile gaming, but I would say gamers on TikTok are also passionate about PC, console games as well, as I just mentioned. Nearly three quarters of TikTok gamers play PC, console games on a weekly basis, and not only do they play the games, they talk about the games, they post content about the games, they share elements about the culture of the game, whether it's a mobile game or a PC, console game. That, I think, is the magic of gaming on TikTok is the way the culture of the game really comes to life, not just the traditional gameplay. 

James Kotecki (06:17): 

Is there a disconnect between folks at gaming studios who are trying to market these games and folks who are the most active on TikTok? In other words, technology is changing very quickly. People come up in different generations, people come up using different social platforms depending on how old they are. Are you seeing there's potentially a gap or are studios who want to reach out to engage the culture on TikTok increasingly filled with people who are more native to TikTok and they're speaking their own language? 

Rema Vasan (06:48): 

From a publisher's perspective? 

James Kotecki (06:52): 

Yeah. From a gaming studio or publisher who's trying to figure out how do I get people excited about my game? How do I engage with the cultures that already exist? Are those folks native to TikTok or are they needing to learn it and you're kind of guiding them through? 

Rema Vasan (07:05): 

I think more and more they are native to TikTok because TikTok has become such a platform that is truly cross-generational across different audiences. What we do is really look at whether or not they're native to TikTok, how can we really think about the key questions that will get them started and be successful on the platform. Publishers come to TikTok so that they can find new audiences, engage with those audience and unlock really the potential of the games that they're developing with really engaged and passionate communities. 


We take a really collaborative approach working with publishers as strategic business partners, not just as platform partners to really help them thrive. What this means is really understanding not so much how native they are to TikTok, but what are their business goals? What are their KPIs? What are the anticipated challenges and opportunities so that we can develop really bespoke recommendations and really help drive full funnel approach to ensure discovery, downloads, purchase and so on, and all the actions that they want to take that will drive against their business objectives. This is all the way from pre-launch, where we see a lot of opportunity, through to retention as well as engagement post-launch. 

James Kotecki (08:24): 

I'm sure that you work with a lot of great brands and a lot of great games. Maybe it's hard to pick a favorite, but is there one that comes to mind as an example of how this has worked well? Maybe someone that's come to you for this guidance and you've taken them through the process. What are some of the things that they actually did in practice? 

Rema Vasan (08:39): 

Like you said, it's hard to pick a favorite, so I'm not picking a favorite as much as I'm just outlining an example. A recent example of a really collaborative approach to launch is a Niantic, which is a pretty prolific game publisher. They were going to launch their original IP Peridot, which is, think of it as a modern day Tamagotchi type game. It was a launch that only launched exclusively on TikTok, so all of their paid efforts were exclusive to TikTok so it was a very different kind of launch. It was an extremely collaborative effort where we partnered with them again to really understand their business objectives, their audiences, provide really bespoke recommendations around the kind of audiences and the kind of creators who would appeal to those kind of audiences beyond the traditional gaming creators. For example, pet parents was a community that they really wanted to reach, given the nature of the game, so they tapped into pet creators as well as gardening creators and so on. 

James Kotecki (09:46): 

People who own real life dogs and real life cats and real life pets. 

Rema Vasan (09:51): 

Exactly. Tapping into those diverse audiences and diverse interests to help drive the discovery of the game. That was, I think, a recent example that I can provide as an example of how we've worked with publishers. 

James Kotecki (10:08): 

I think maybe we should just define for folks who didn't grow up with these little toys like I did and a lot of people I remember elementary school or middle school actually had, these were little tiny devices that you had on a key chain, and it was a very simple digital output. It was as if you had a little pet and you had to kind of feed it and check in with it every day. It could grow healthy or it could be sick or die if you mistreated it. It sounds like this is an update of that. I bring that up to say maybe not everyone listening to this podcast or watching this video version has experience with that because folks come, again, from different generations of different technologies. When we talk about marketing this to pet parents and plant folks, I'm curious, if we zoom out, are we talking about a technology TikTok that's really best suited to reach Gen Z or are we talking about a broader audience here? 

Rema Vasan (11:04): 

I'm glad you brought that up because as we talked about earlier, there are 3.38 billion gamers in the world. By definition, gaming is now cross-generational, and recently we commissioned a white paper with News Zoo that shows that not only is gaming cross-generational, yes, of course there's a skew towards Gen Z and millennials, but we're actually seeing that there's a vast number of both Gen X as well as boomers that are playing games. In fact, there's some growth even with the boomer age group as well. That's as far as the logic gaming landscape is concerned. 


As far as the TikTok global gaming community is concerned, it's extremely unique, very diverse and reflective of how broad and cross-generational gaming is today. In fact, you can take, for example, a creator who's very prolific and successful on the platform. The handle is Act Tactical Gramma, G-R-A-M-M-A, all one word, and she has created a vibrant and uplifting community where people of all ages and backgrounds are welcome. Her video game streams have over 32 billion views. The diversity of even of the creative community is a great indicator of the diversity of the gaming community that we see on TikTok. 


I would say the other thing is in general on TikTok, people are discovering games, again, not just through traditional gameplay content. They're discovering it actually through the intersectionality of their interests. We just talked about pet parents and gardening and so on with Niantic. We are seeing a lot of crossover between gamers and different types of communities. For example, it could be a film creator re-imagining games as film. It could be a travel creator talking about what they're playing on the role. It could be a food creator re-imagining their characters as sweet treats and so on. 


Really what we're seeing is as a result of this gaming culture on TikTok doesn't really exist in a silo. It's an open space where people of all backgrounds, ages, generations, exchange ideas to get more out of their favorite titles. Also, the way the creators are working, they're getting people to discover and play games through all types of entertainment every single day. It's really not about that stereotypical niche gamer anymore, the one that I described earlier, and certainly not a certain generation. It's very much about gamers from all walks of life that come in to drive impact. 

James Kotecki (13:32): 

With so many people talking about gaming and coming at it from so many different angles, it almost doesn't even make sense to talk about gamers as this entity as a whole. Obviously, we're talking about so many different groups and so many different sub-genres, but I want to go into the creator aspect of this a bit more. If someone approaches you, a company that wants to get people excited about their game, is your advice first what you should do is go and involve the creators who are already out there? Are there some brands and platforms that are better served by creating their own kind of TikToks? In other words, do you try to have your own homegrown or home team, TikTok creators inside the building, so to speak, or is it typically a better strategy to reach out to the people who already have these engaged communities? 

Rema Vasan (14:23): 

I would say there are advantages to both approaches, and in fact, they can be absolutely complimentary. It really depends as to what the game publishers business objectives are, their marketing goals, their KPIs, et cetera. I would say that the starting point is to say that content for TikTok really does need to be created specifically for TikTok, but it can't really be repurposed from other platforms. I would say the other key criteria is really thinking about how you're fostering that sense of community as well as cultural relevance, which is really integral to success. 


An obvious benefit of partnering with existing creators who are already having their own loyal and engaged community is really producing content that's highly tailored and relevant to that specific audience. That helps create the genuine excitement around the new game. I would say also, we do have tools to help enable marketers success and creativity at scale. For example, we have a solution called TikTok Creative Exchange, which connects brands with an ecosystem of creative partners to enable fast scalable production of creative and build great creative collaborations. There's other tools like TikTok Creative Marketplace, TikTok Creative Exchange. What we're really trying to do here is to say there is no one size fits all solution. I think there's many different kinds of approaches and solutions, and they can be complimentary to one another as long as the content that's created is highly relevant to the audiences that we're looking to reach. 

James Kotecki (15:56): 

Is that list of creators a curated list that the TikTok team has put together with folks in mind who are going to keep in mind things like brand safety? I'm not sure if that's the term that they would use, but brand safety obviously is a big deal. You don't want to partner with someone and then find out later that they're problematic or they seem fine at first, and then they go into a dark place and they drag your brand down with it. I'm sure that's top of mind for a lot of folks who want to engage, and I imagine that's something that you're looking out for. 

Rema Vasan (16:23): 

Yeah. All the creators in the TikTok Creator Marketplace are all verified, which means they're verified for all different factors in terms of what brands look for in partnership with creators. For sure, yes. 

James Kotecki (16:38): 

You also mentioned that it's best to create TikTok content for TikTok specifically, not try to court over other kinds of content. Do you have a position on the opposite, though? I have seen TikTok content floating around and it kind of gets repurposed and reposted in different ways that go beyond TikTok. Is that a selling point for you? Do you say, look, you go on TikTok and actually this is the central place, and then even if it goes off the platform, you're still promoting your message? Is that something you take a position on? 

Rema Vasan (17:05): 

Not a position as much as the larger point, which is when you launch your game on TikTok, and if you're doing it in a way that really appeals to the audiences that you're looking to do to reach and also positioning yourself in a culturally relevant way, you are inherently going to become a part of culture, which means you are going to go off platform, and that's a good thing. It's not so much a selling point as much as just the point of think about how you can really leverage the culture of your game to become a part of the larger cultural conversation. 

James Kotecki (17:40): 

Yeah. I have a question here about attention span, and I'm not even sure if I'm going to phrase this question the right way, but I'm trying to get at a point around TikToks are famously short. The time people spend playing games, even quick hit mobile games is very long, and of course, you can get really immersed and lost in a game. That stereotypical person sitting in their basement is stereotypically spending hours doing that. Is there a synergy or a disconnect or a both and situation here where you've got short form content meeting with and promoting long form content? 

Rema Vasan (18:12): 

Yeah, it's a great question. What I would say is while yes, you're right, TikTok is very much known for short form video, but an average person spends a movie's worth of time on TikTok every single day. There's a lot of engagement, and it's also very much about media consumption for people with fast-paced lives. I would say that watching, creating and engaging with game content is very much on the rise. Gaming enthusiast spends five times more hours watching and almost four times more hours creating top gaming content on TikTok, and this is data that compared one year over the other just in terms of how much people are engaging with, creating and talking about gaming content. 


The other thing I would also say is that we do have solutions like TikTok Live, which is inherently longer form, which allows both creators as well as users to produce longer form content and connect with audiences in real time. What I would say is to answer your question in terms of the dichotomy between the hours spent gaming versus TikTok being a short form platform, I would say that gaming content on TikTok is very much complimentary and incremental to actual gameplay. People might discover new gaming content and then connect with like-minded communities, talk about the games, find new games, find their fandom, and also actually find interest in gaming and beyond, so it's very much a complimentary play. 

James Kotecki (19:46): 

Do game producers use TikTok as a sort of feedback element as well? If you think about what happens post-launch and these communities get built around certain games, people can spend years engaging in a community around their favorite games. Do game makers use that as an intelligence gathering kind of tool or just a way to understand what the culture of the game is to influence maybe how they do updates to games, how they might make sequels to games? Can you talk a little bit about that? 

Rema Vasan (20:18): 

Absolutely. We actually have a few examples of this in a report that we released recently. It's the What's Next Trend Report. What's Next is the branding for the larger trends that are happening on TikTok. When I say trends, I don't mean [inaudible 00:20:35] or something a bit more transient. I mean the trends that stand the test of time that last for a year plus. It's a deeply analytical look at what's happening on the platform, truly project the trends. We just recently released the What's Next Trend Report specifically for gaming. Within that, what we were seeing is actually a lot of what you just outlined, which is a lot of game publishers looking at things like the comment section, looking at what feedback they were getting that actually translated into game updates and more. 


I'll give you a specific example. ROBLOX actually partnered with a diverse creator, a diverse TikTok creator, and got the feedback from that creator to influence one of the environments in the game. To the point, it's not just about getting the feedback to influence the content for sure, but it actually could even go beyond that. and There are examples of brands that have done that really well. 

James Kotecki (21:37): 

There's this notion of marketers wanting to be culturally relevant to engage in culture and to be meaningful in that way, but how does that actually come into practice at TikTok? When you talk about cultural relevance, it can seem like a bit of a nebulous term, so what does that mean in your case? 

Rema Vasan (21:54): 

Yeah, for sure. There are many avenues that marketers can take to bolster a brand's cultural relevance through TikTok. There's probably three recommended strategies to think about the game in the context of cultural relevance. I would say the first thing is really craft a full funnel strategies, which is to engage your gamers or your players at every stage of the gaming journey on TikTok, maximizing your impact from the pre-release phase where we see that TikTok has a pretty significant impact. We see that when TikTok is part of the pre-release phase of the game, gamers tend to spend 1.8 times more than when TikTok isn't. Really maximize your impact across the full funnel and across the different stages of the journey of the launch right from pre-release to the post-launch period of your game. 


I would say the second point is active participation is key. Think about the different gaming conversations and trends on TikTok. Think about how you can amplify the discussions and the discourse on TikTok by collaborating with authentic creators and crafting really meaningful engaging content. Then of course, I would say the third thing is authenticity, of course, but think about content that's authentic to different types of gamers that you are looking to reach. As we established, there is no one gamers. Think about the gamers that you're looking to reach. What's the authentic content that's going to appeal to them? What's the interest that's going to appeal to them so that you have a much more meaningful and impactful presence on TikTok that extends beyond the platform itself, as we were talking about earlier. 

James Kotecki (23:25): 

We've obviously been talking about how to use TikTok to engage folks if you are producing a game and you want to get people excited about your game, but there is potentially more to the story here for brands that are not gaming brands, but who want to be associated with games. Maybe their brand is in the game somehow, or they want to somehow make that connection to gamers for other reasons. How does TikTok play there? 

Rema Vasan (23:51): 

I would say we definitely can play a great role for non-endemic brands or brands that are not inherently gaming brands but are looking to reach gamers. I would say probably three things to consider. The gaming audience, particularly the gaming audience on TikTok is the audience for different brands, and this is across different verticals that we're seeing. Given the scale of gaming on TikTok, as I mentioned, 50% of our daily active users view gaming content, so it's a large addressable audience. The second thing I would say is that because TikTok is the place where gaming culture and entertainment collide, there are really meaningful ways for the gaming industry, but also for these non-endemic brands to engage these gamers and drive impact for their brand. 


Perhaps it would be best dimensionalized with an example. DoorDash, which is of course a big brand, not a gaming brand, has been tapping into the gaming audience on TikTok across different efforts. They in fact started off with a handle that's specific to gaming, which is at DoorDash Gaming on TikTok, in addition to at DoorDash on TikTok, and most recently, they hosted something called Battle of the Brands, which is a live bracket style gaming tournament that pitted DoorDash's key national merchant partners against each other in a friendly competition over several days. DoorDash turned to TikTok to really think about how do we bolster viewership and engagement with a very cohesive full funnel strategy. This generated over 28 million impressions exceeding click-through rates, as well as engagement rate targets. 


There's examples like this. Another great example is Elf, a very, very different brand, again, looking to reach gamers. They had a whole activation around this called Gamers Got Talent, which was a show that brought to life the different talents of games that was, again, led by Elf. What we're seeing is that there's a lot of non-endemic brands... that there's a lot of opportunity for these non-endemic brands to also reach gamers in meaningful ways on TikTok. 

James Kotecki (26:04): 

Because gamers are everyone. Everyone is gaming. There's all different kinds of games and interests, so there's kind of a vector for every possible brand who wants to engage here. 

Rema Vasan (26:13): 

Indeed, indeed. 

James Kotecki (26:16): 

I know we've talked about a lot of great ways to use TikTok and to engage with a community authentically to build excitement and cultural relevance for gaming, but without naming names of course, where do you see this go wrong? Where do you see people make miscalculations about how to approach TikTok when it comes to marketing, especially for games? 

Rema Vasan (26:35): 

I would say, let me flip that question maybe and talk a little bit more about what are the things that are must haves to see success and where we've seen a lot of success. I think it really hinges around community. I would say there's probably three C's. There's communities, there's creators, and then there's cultural relevance. Maybe there's a fourth C, which is creative, which as we talked about before, it really does have to be native to the platform in order to be successful, so repurposed creative generally doesn't work as well. To see success, what we really recommend marketers do is to use TikTok to really build a community around their game, and think of them almost as entertainment properties, as IPs, the way you would think about a movie. Because gaming is becoming mainstream entertainment, you just have to look at what's happening in the world right now with the crossover IPs. It's more important than ever before for developers and publishers to really grow their IP to broaden the approach to reach the very diverse and ever-growing gaming communities. 


We talked a little bit about generations earlier. Gen Z and millennials spend almost the same amount of time playing video games as they do on entertainment platforms, which is pretty amazing. Really thinking about how you can activate those communities that are committed to really discovering the games, talking about the games, bringing to life the culture of the games is really important. What we really recommend people think about is how do they activate this flywheel between game publishers, creators, and communities? Gaming publishers, what we recommend is really establish an authentic presence that brings to life that IP that inspires creators and fandoms and passions, and then creators, working with the right kind of creators that appeal to the diverse audiences that the publishers are looking to reach and giving them the freedom to bring to life that IP in ways that are most relevant to their communities. Then the magic really happens with the flywheel when the communities then take it and make it their own and amplify the publisher and the creative engagement, and then really creating massive scale at pace. 


I'll give you some examples, and this is in public domain. You can look it up on the platform. Hashtags on TikTok, which is a good indicator of how much that particular IP is relevant to audiences. Hashtag Candy Crush, as established before, a game I play, over a billion views. Hashtag Call of Duty, 113 billion views. Hashtag ROBLOX, 900 billion views. This goes on, and it's really about... so people that are doing it right are really leaning in, activating that flywheel and thinking about the role that they play versus the creators versus the communities. 

James Kotecki (29:31): 

Yeah. I think what I'm hearing from you is thinking about this as a silo of I'm just going to think about my TikTok marketing strategy for this game is really a limiting way of thinking about it, and instead thinking about an IP that is in this broader community that people are consuming. Entertainment and all forms of interactivity and social media and gaming and movies and TV can all kind of be part of one large fandom, one large community. Thinking about TikTok in that context is more helpful. Is that a fair assessment? 

Rema Vasan (30:04): 

Indeed. Yeah, I think that is a fair assessment, and I think thinking about how you can really activate the power of the creators and the communities to bring to life that swarth of this IP and bring the IP to life I think is really important as well. 

James Kotecki (30:19): 

Hey, speaking of community, the tech community will be gathering in Las Vegas this coming January for CES 2024, and I would love to know what TikTok is planning for us there. 

Rema Vasan (30:30): 

Yeah, of course. CES is definitely a great event for us to connect with our client and partner community, especially at the start of the year, and help them plan a really successful full funnel TikTok strategy for the year ahead. We'll be unpacking how to harness TikTok for brand building, how to fuel an omnichannel strategy, so we're very much looking forward to it. 

James Kotecki (30:50): 

Well, Rema Vasan, Head of Global Gaming Business Marketing at TikTok, we really appreciate you joining us today. 

Rema Vasan (30:58): 

Thank you so much, James. It was great to be here and enjoyed the conversation. 

James Kotecki (31:02): 

Well, that's our show for now, but there's always more tech to talk about. If you're joining us on YouTube, be sure to hit that subscribe button and leave a comment. If you're listening on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, iHeartMedia, or wherever you get your podcasts, be sure to hit that follow button. You can get even more CES and prepare for Vegas at ces.tech. That's ces.tech. Our show is produced by Nicole Vidovich and Mason Manuel, recorded by Andrew Lin and edited by Third Spoon. I'm James Kotecki, talking tech and TikTok on CES Tech Talk.