Industry Insights is an ongoing blog series featuring Frameplay’s leadership, offering their perspective on important topics in the gaming, advertising, and adtech worlds.
As an advertising channel, gaming has continued to level up. Gaming audiences have been steadily increasing for years, with an estimated 3.2 billion global players last year spending nearly $200 billion altogether, and they’re spending 12 hours a week on video game platforms. While it’s easier for some to think of it as the niche hobby or occasional entertainment event that it was in the early console–or even arcade–days, it’s ubiquitous among millennials and gen Z, and most adult audiences too. Gaming has always been there for younger audiences, so there’s no surprise that these numbers continue to grow. So why haven’t we seen marketers embrace this booming advertising channel like they did with social media platforms (or more recently, CTV) years ago?
Why is gaming underutilized by marketers?
Advertising in gaming is often remembered as big, expensive stunt-driven marketing that isn’t easily scalable or measurable. In the beginning, in-game advertising was often hard coded into the game, requiring lots of lead time and typically making it a one-and-done effort. The headlines about in-game advertising you hear today still follow this stunt marketing mold: Travis Scott and Ariana Grande performing concerts in Fortnite; a Kevin Durant skin in Call of Duty; brands building custom levels in Roblox. During the rise of mobile and free-to-play games, in-game advertising relied on web-based tactics like popups, interstitials or other intrusive formats.
While these formats offer marketing benefits for direct response or earn great press, they’re not the only options for brands today. There’s a highly integrated way to advertise in-game, providing scale & measurability—and it's finally earning its place in affecting game strategies.
Advertising a brand campaign intrinsically across a network of games, like Frameplay does all the time, have proven to help global brands win over gaming communities. Despite these successes, some advertisers still haven’t embraced this approach to in-game advertising. It could be because they’re unfamiliar with this newer method of reaching gaming communities as they actively play, despite not being far off from channels and tactics they utilize regularly.
Gaming has Some Familiar Comforts
Perhaps marketers aren’t considering gaming as an advertising channel because they haven’t had it framed in a way that’s familiar to them—like other ad channels they regularly use.
Gaming offers some of the features of digital out of home (DOOH), and is easier to measure. They’re creatively similar to what you’d find in DOOH creative—prominent logo, memorable imagery, concise copy—but with more brand safety protocols because it appears in a controlled ecosystem of games. One could think of it as Virtual OOH (VOOH) that captures more attention because players are actively controlling the narrative.
Intrinsic in-game advertising naturally integrates into the game, enhancing the player’s experience as they pass by the ad during their playtime. It’s native advertising in a virtual world, but more effective because we can measure how long a player has seen the ad and we don’t count it as an impression unless they’ve seen it. Intrinsic in-game ads can also be targeted using multiple parameters such as geo, genre, device, demographics, and behavioural attributes.
There are more comparisons to other channels that aren’t often mentioned: the KPIs can be similar to what marketers look for in a CTV campaign (branding and awareness); gaming is bought and sold programmatically like TV ads; much like streaming services, gaming is accessible on the user’s platform of choice, honoring consumer behavior over media tactics. Players aren’t locked into one location or device.
Games is its own distinct channel with unique user behavior, which provides us with the opportunity to learn and integrate into the game, adding realism.
Learn the Nuances of Gaming as an Ad Channel
While gaming is excellent for a cross-channel marketing campaign, a one-size-fits-all approach to the creative and KPIs doesn’t work. Considering players typically can’t (and probably won’t) click out to a landing page or sign up for something mid-game, in-game advertising works best as an upper funnel strategy. Even if your cross channel campaign is designed with multiple formats in mind, creative designed specifically for the game has a chance to truly wow the player. Plan early with your creative team and adapt your campaign to gaming environments; the consideration can create some truly awesome moments for players—it tells them the advertiser or brand cares about their experience.
Unlike almost any other media channel, gaming is an engaged, lean-in activity. Gamers are actively playing and controlling the narrative of their experience versus a more passive experience, like watching TV or scrolling social media; there is no second screen usage when people are playing games. Even if a game is paused, focus instantly goes back to the game when the player returns. Your ad and the creative aren’t fighting for attention here—it can intrinsically be a part of the environment.
Creative is Key!
In-game advertising might be the most similar to DOOH, but it’s certainly not the same. Frameplay has an extensive catalogue of premium sports games, which naturally lend themselves to intrinsic ads because stadiums and arenas are typically filled with advertisements. Advertising can make sports games feel richer and more lifelike because it’s true to the real world counterpart. Gaming communities appreciate this attention to detail because it immerses them into the experience more. Brands that pay attention to the genre(s) and game(s) they advertise in, and tailor their creative messaging to this virtual space, can create fun, memorable moments for players that can build a positive association.
For that reason, Frameplay curates which games enter our network. We look for environments that enable ads to succeed and enhance the experience for the player. It just won’t work if we’re not making it a desirable experience for players, studios, and brands.
It’s Time to 1up your In-Game Advertising
At Frameplay, we are committed to creating massive potential for developers and brands. Intrinsic in-game advertising can be bought and measured easily and effectively, with innovation and new creative opportunities for brands. Gaming has earned its place as an advertising channel alongside TV, display, or OOH. As someone who has worked within the game industry for more than 20 years, it’s exciting to see studios evolve from simply publishing and selling games to becoming media companies in their own right. I can’t wait to see where it goes next.