It’s no secret that the gaming market has absolutely exploded over the past decade. In 2020, gamers spent a record $56.9 billion in the United States alone, an amazing 27% increase from the year before. While this market has been tapped by display manufacturers and to some extent premium networking companies, the high-end audio industry has largely left this sleeping giant alone, but now is the perfect time to rattle its cage.
The introduction of the next-generation of home video game consoles has put integrators in a privileged position to expand into a new and exciting market with very little associated overhead. In the past, many integrators adding a gaming system into a home theater took on the mentality that they’d only profit a small amount from the sale of the console and maybe upsell the client on a few nice-to-have upgrades like a beefier router or a comfortable gaming chair. Now that gamers have HDMI 2.1 baked into their consoles and the ability to play games in 4K at 120FPS, installers should really be looking at the home theater and audio options available to gamers.
The best part? Most of these audio solutions are already things integrators are likely to be installing for use in high-end home theaters or “man caves.”
Rob Jones, self-proclaimed gamer and CTO of Enclave Audio, says integrators should really be thinking of the gaming audio market as an opportunity to expand the role of residential integrators, all while using the technology in which they’re already well-versed.
“I think the gaming market is a good opportunity for integrators because it’s adjacent to what they already know like the back of their hand. With the recent release of the new systems, this booming market is an opportunity for integrators to tap,” says Jones.
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”Creating the ideal environment for gamers goes beyond the single aspect of gaming, it’s about enhancing the overall in-home entertainment experience. Upgrading the game room, living room, or home theater for gaming purposes will also improve the movie watching, music, live sports, and streaming experience for homeowners.”
How to Get Involved in Gaming Using Immersive Audio
If there is one thing virtually all gamers value, it’s sound. Anyone who has played Halo, Hunt: Showdown, or another competitive online shooter knows that clueing in on footsteps around you, the creeks of opening doors, or the muffled reloading of rifles is often one of few things separating top tier players from bottom barrel scrubs. This is to say that most serious gamers you’re likely to encounter on a project are well-aware of the benefits of higher-end audio, making this population a little easier to extol the virtues of expensive speaker systems to versus your average customer.
“For gamers, there is a difference between playing the game and truly being part of the experience. Immersive audio significantly improves not only the overall experience, but it can improve game play as well,” says Jones. “With the added benefits of accurate object-based location, the sound puts gamers right in the game rather in front of it.”
The easiest and most cost-effective way to immerse gamers in a quality audio experience is to pitch them a 5.1 or 7.1 home theater system that can also be used as a gaming room. Since these speakers can pull double duty, integrators can balance the needs of the customer with the benefits of the system to give the homeowner not only a great gaming experience but a killer film-watching experience too.
“For most gamers, the adrenaline rush they get playing their favorite game is one of the core reasons they enjoy the action as much as they do. Creating the proper environment for gaming, including higher-end audio, will make an impact on gamers who are playing games where the environment is critical to gameplay, and a multi-channel system will create a [more] immersive experience,” adds Jones.
This is good advice to keep in mind, and now that object-based surround sound is a major draw for gamers, integrators should try to offer up options that make good use of the built-in Dolby Atmos compatibility of the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. While gamers will have to pay a yearly fee to use Dolby Atmos on these consoles, tossing in a year of the service along with the install will only cost $15 out of pocket.
Gaming Audio is More Than Just Speakers
While surround sound systems and high-end speakers are a match made in heaven for gaming enthusiasts, the hardcore audience has always preferred gaming headsets or a combination of a dedicated cardioid microphone and open or closed-back pair of headphones.
The good news for integrators is that the best options in this field nearly all come from brands common within the residential AV industry. Brands like Sennheiser, Beyerdynamic, and Audeze have been involved in the high-end gaming headset market for a while now, and these products are often an easy accessory to suggest when working on a gaming room project, especially if integrators can explain why these headsets are a cut above the more mass-market options.
“[High-end] gaming headphones and headsets…can interpretatively create a great experience for some gamers,” says Jones. In truth, customers who come to integrators to work on a gaming room or home theater project are likely looking for an immersive gaming experience, which is something higher-end headsets with 3D audio capabilities and more robust virtualization technology can provide.
“The less sophisticated listener might appreciate the audio capacity of a virtualized set of headphones while the more discerning gamer, who is looking for action locations [in-game] may have complaints about the experience they have with a [budget] headset,” adds Jones.
Selling Gaming Products Effectively Is Easy
When starting to pitch immersive audio products to clients interested in gaming, it’s important to remember your audience. Gamers tend to skew on the younger side, so think Millennials and older Gen Zers when approaching your sales pitch. Many gamers prefer to try something out before buying or might prefer to be shown a demo versus simply being told what’s so great about a system.
Thankfully, modern games are chock-full of expertly crafted sound design done by some of the best in the audio business, so integrators have plenty of demo options to choose from. Jones suggests focusing on demos from large, well-loved franchises like the Call of Duty, Battlefield, and Gears of War games. The Battlefield games in particular are heralded for their sound design and spatial audio options.
Selling immersive audio products to gamers also opens up a gateway to gaining more long-term customers. As these clients learn the benefits of immersive audio while gaming, they are naturally going to be more likely to seek out upgrades elsewhere like a display or higher quality router.
“I think [immersive] audio will act as a gateway to a better understanding of what the multi-channel audio experience can bring to consumers. Integrators can hook gamers on immersive audio and the benefits it brings to their overall gaming experience,” says Jones. “As gamers begin to understand the quality that high-end audio brings to home entertainment.. they will be eager to make additional upgrades.”