Curiosity will help you stay ahead of the game, says Martyn Evans

Martyn Evans index

Nicky Wightman is director of global occupier trends at Savills. It’s a grand job title for a very down-to-earth person. We haven’t known each other long but whenever we meet my heart lifts because I know I’m going to have one of the most interesting conversations of the week. And that’s because Nicky is essentially curious. She’s fascinated by what she doesn’t know.

In the last couple of years, Nicky has spent a great deal of time learning about gaming and e-sports. She’s convinced that it is not only an important sector in its own right but one that will impact on almost everything else we do in our working and leisure lives.

Some 37% of people in the UK call themselves gamers of some kind – from those who play Candy Crush on the bus on the way to work to the folks who have parallel existences “in-game” through hugely sophisticated community-driven franchises like Eve Online and Fortnite. The gaming industry is worth $150bn globally – bigger than the entire music and film industries combined. Yet who among us understands how this industry and its reach are going to affect how we operate in the built environment industry, let alone every other business? Perhaps we are not curious enough?

Like all developing businesses, the gaming industry has developed a sophisticated ecosystem that needs places to live. From education to development, sales, public entertainment and the vast number of supply businesses that grow up around new, fast-growing industries, every part of this industry has some implication for our built environment business.

The newest hotel concept from the US? Atari Hotels: gaming-themed hotels with restaurants, bars and leisure spaces all designed for gaming enthusiasts.

E-sports is the fastest-growing off-shoot of the gaming industry, valued at over £1bn last year and growing at double-digit rates. I first heard the term a while ago as a suggestion from an agent for a difficult-to-let deep, dark, window-less space in a building a little off the obvious beaten track. E-sports arenas are theatres, sometimes huge ones, where gaming fans gather to watch professional gamers play. Asking more about this opens up a world of opportunity that made this over-50-year-old a little wide-eyed. How about the fact that sophisticated fashion and entertainment brands are queuing up to get involved in selling digital versions of their products for in-game use. Digital concerts from established performers as half-time shows and digital clothing for sale for the game’s characters from some of the world’s leading fashion brands.

Wrap your head around the opportunity for in-journey gaming entertainment when we are all travelling in autonomous vehicles or the chance to “gamify” issues that our industry grapples with. Apps that use competitive gaming technology so that occupiers and developers can compete building-to-building on environmental performance scoring?

The skills and social interaction that characterise the gaming world are increasingly recognised as skills that are important in the workplace so, as we try to make our office environments more human-scale and inspiring, should we be looking to the gaming world for inspiration? Should we be spending much more time asking the young people in our businesses about their leisure lives outside the office and asking how we can use what we learn to improve the places we design?

We have always known that to stay ahead of the game we have to have our heads up and our eyes open all the time, constantly looking for what’s new. The only difference now is that the scale and speed of change that technology is driving is greater than ever. It’s terrifying to think that as soon as you get to grips with something, it’s old and there’s something else taking its place. Or is it hugely exciting? Stay curious and you can choose.