What a difference a summer makes.
Not long ago, conventional wisdom had all but given up on culture. In our post-Covid reality, it seemed that people were content to live in their own worlds, letting algorithms script their shows and rule their social media feeds. Shared experiences, it seemed, were a thing of the past.
And then the Eras Tour came to town.
Like every other person with a pulse and a playlist, we’ve watched in awe and participated with delight as Taylor Swift shook the summer of 2023 out of its collective malaise. With an expected $1B+ in revenue (and another $4B+ in generated economic impact) it will easily go down as the highest grossing tour of all time. Combined with the still-dominant Barbenheimer craze, it’s clear that people are craving over-the-top shared experiences more than ever.
This chapter of entertainment history is still being written — the Eras Tour has months left to shatter even more records — but there are already tremendous learnings that the video game industry can leverage from this apex of experience.
The Ceiling for Premium Experiences Continues to Climb
The Eras Tour has defied the limits of experience economics, with audiences paying an average of $2,424 for a single entry. This astronomical price point highlights an essential truth: when a moment is rare, exclusive, and offers an unmatched value proposition, people will invest. And with performances lasting well over three hours, not a soul in the crowd has left feeling fleeced.
This revelation challenges the gaming industry to reimagine what premium experiences can look like within the confines of virtual worlds, tapping into players’ unquenchable thirst for once-in-a-lifetime, unforgettable events.
People are Craving Social Belonging and Immersive Engagement
No, Swifties didn’t invent the friendship bracelet — but don’t tell anyone under the age of 30. Whenever Taylor came to town, bead sales at craft shops skyrocketed. The exchange of homemade bracelets at every Eras stop has become a hallmark of the tour, transforming the experience into a tangible symbol of community. These acts served as a conduit for individuals to feel connected, to possess a piece of something greater than themselves, and to savor the experience for a lifetime.
This phenomenon teaches us that in-game artifacts, badges, and totems affirm belonging within gaming communities, as well as convey accomplishment. They create an immersive memory for the participant and a trigger for sharing, which initiates social connection and creates camaraderie.
Audience Intimacy Energizes Engagement
On the penultimate night of Eras’ Los Angeles leg, Taylor set off a mid-set, eight-minute ovation with a single gesture: she showed a slide that said “1989 Taylor’s Version.” To the uninitiated, this reference doesn’t even register. But to her legions of fans it’s yet another entry in an ever-evolving conversation between artist and audience. This intimacy begins in the digital realm, is reinforced through coded song lyrics, and is masterfully deployed in person. On this night, the thunderous joy from the stadium sparked by a title card was more than fandom, but the collective celebration that Taylor was continuing to challenge traditional power dynamics in the music industry and reclaim her musical legacy by re-recording the next album in her original catalog after a contentious copyright dispute with her former music manager. Swifties are insiders at scale and make a consequential impact on the bottom line— these re-recordings are streamed at a rate three times as often as the original releases. These bold moves show Taylor has her finger on the pulse of her audience.
For the gaming industry, this imparts a crucial lesson: being “in conversation” with your players — understanding their preferences, motivations, and aspirations — can unlock a treasure trove of opportunities. By walking alongside players and creating experiences that genuinely connect, game developers can craft moments that resonate as memorably as an IRL stadium event.
So, What Would Taylor Do?
All of this community engagement got us thinking. What if game studios built their communities like Taylor builds hers? First, they would triple down on the potential to connect real-life experiences with virtual worlds. This would allow them to extend the joy of those experiences beyond the immediacy of the event. By connecting players to a community of fans even after the event has ended, games offer a means of interaction with the intellectual property beyond just purchasing a branded product. With dynamic and multi-sensory features, games offer a richer experience than physical objects, which often end up collecting dust. This is a true advantage and opportunity that the game industry has only begun to mine.
Here are five things we think Taylor would do if she ran your game studio:
1. Cultivate Iconic In-Game Events: Eras didn’t follow a script on its way to becoming iconic. It anticipated fans’ expectations and exceeded the sequined socks off of them. Game developers can follow suit in the virtual realm, knowing players so well that needs can be anticipated, and games can be event-ized accordingly. In our current moment that may manifest as a hunger for community — but this manifestation will inevitably evolve. Deep knowledge of your audience lets you stay ahead of that evolution, and even be the catalyst for it.
2. Rethink the Ceiling on Premium Experiences: The success of collector’s edition releases in the gaming world shows that the monetary ceiling is there to be tested. Exploring diverse pricing strategies while offering the unique, the rare, and the one-and-dones can lead to surprising and lucrative outcomes.
3. Create Ways For the Masses to Feel They Belong: In-game badges, totems, and markers linked to events can foster a profound sense of community. Participation and achievement badges not only commemorate moments but also initiate social connections and signal a shared sense of belonging.
4. Empower Players to Play With Your IP: The act of gifting between players builds a sense of player ownership in their community, which drives retention for both gifter and recipient. Moreover, exclusive gifts from game creators, earned rather than purchased, bestow rarity and reinforce the notion of community.
5. Know Your Fans Like They’re Your Best Friend: Utilizing advanced tools, such as Solsten’s human insights engine, empowers game developers to tap into player personas and their underlying psychological motivators, mirroring Taylor Swift’s ability to read her audience. This understanding can fuel innovation and tailored experiences that keep player fandom stoked.
By creating iconic events, building community, delving deep into player psychology, and embracing the dynamic potential of games, developers can capture the hearts and minds of players worldwide. As the world of gaming and entertainment converges, the industry has the power to inspire awe, forge connections, and deliver unparalleled moments of delight that leave a lasting legacy. Just as Taylor Swift seized the summer of 2023, the gaming industry too can harness the boundless power of innovation, empathy, and creativity to create memorable experiences that bring players together on an epic scale.