Advanced or Ad Nauseum? In-Game Advertising and You
When you’re gaming, there’s nothing more frustrating than having your leisure time interrupted by in-game ads. One moment, you’re slaying zombies and quick-scoping enemies, the next you’re watching an ad for nachos.
However, public opinion on in-game advertisements appears to be changing. The rise of free-to-play games means that only 26% of mobile gamers say that ads negatively impact their gaming experience. Surprisingly, most PC and console gamers also say that they don’t mind in-game ads, either.
Gamers’ tolerance of in-game advertising doesn’t mean that marketers have free reign to push whichever campaigns they like. Instead, marketers have to get creative and produce a range of ads designed to engage users without undermining their brand image.
Today’s most popular titles are online multiplayer games like Minecraft, Fortnite, and League of Legends. These games are free-to-play and generate revenue via in-game purchases. Players buy battle passes, skins, sticker packs, and other forms of downloadable content (DLC) from the game’s store to customize their characters and earn rewards.
Developers aren’t shy about advertising their in-game store. Multiplayer first-person shooters (FPS) like the Call of Duty franchise are constantly redirecting users to the battle pass and, when players enter the game for the first time, they’re met with a “Store Update” that breaks down recent releases and available items.
Rather than causing frustration, many gamers are enticed into making an in-game purchase at some point. Being able to wear your favorite skin while gaming with your friends can be a source of great pride and can be easily justified if the player didn’t have to pay for the game.
However, developers should steer well clear of “pay-to-win” (P2W) in-game advertisements and offers. P2W ads draw the ire of gamers around the globe for good reason. They undermine the gaming experience and intentionally exploit gamers who are invested in the game. In-game ads that utilize P2W tank brand reputation and turn gamers away, too. This is something that developers at Activision: Blizzard found out the hard way, as the developer has been rebuked by its player base for releasing P2W skins in its Warzone series.
In-game ads generate a massive amount of revenue for game studios. However, game developers can bring in even more money by hosting display ads for external businesses and brands.
Mobile games like Plants vs Zombies are infamous for display advertising. Display advertising occurs when developers push banners, videos, images, or audio to players. Usually, this occurs between rounds when players have “died” or are waiting for the next level to load.
Game devs use interstitial ads to supercharge the effectiveness of display advertising, and offer things like “extra coins” to entice players into watching the full advertisement without skipping. This form of advertising is highly targeted and typically uses consumer data to match gamers with the brands and products that they are most likely to buy from.
Display advertising is particularly effective on mobile games, where gamers are already using a device that connects to the web and can be used to make purchases. The rise of mobile gaming means that current estimates predict the value of in-game advertising will reach $13,989.6 million by 2028.
Display ads passively push promotional content to users. They’re great for increasing brand exposure but can be easily skipped or ignored by players who are uninterested in their content.
Developers are improving engagement with their ads by promoting more interactive, integrated ads across mobile games. For example, big brands like Prada have recently partnered with Candy Crush to increase their brand awareness. This resulted in an impressive 1,813% increase in web traffic due to a 6.6% click-through rate.
Clearly, the data behind interactive ads shows that they are effective to connect with potential consumers. However, early signs suggest that gamers enjoy interactive ads, too.
Interactive campaigns like Pringles’ collaboration with King Games had a 97.3% completion rate. Pringles’ Senior Market Activation Manager, Andreas Bilker, doubled down on these statistics, saying, “The fun gaming environment” left their consumers with “positive and rewarding emotions” that improved “top of mind awareness” and brand visibility.
Product placement has been a cornerstone of in-game marketing for over a decade. President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign was featured across titles like Madden NFL 09, Burnout Paradise, and Need For Speed Carbon. The campaign was clearly popular amongst gamers, and the President decided to repeat the strategy four years later in 2012.
Product placement in video games blends the best of traditional and digital marketing. Mock banners and billboards that appear in virtual spaces can clearly target a specific demographic within a larger open-world universe. These in-game traditional ads can leverage data analysis to better understand user behavior and preferences, too.
In-game product placements can be a particularly effective way to connect with Gen-Z users. Gen-Z gamers are natural users of the web and want to wear Jordans while building in Fortnite and competing against other players.
The recent rise of free-to-play games has changed the public perception of in-game advertising. Today, major developers can use in-game ads to push their own content and promote sponsored materials. As the value of in-game ads rises, developers are pursuing increasingly creative, interactive ads designed to improve brand awareness and increase engagement amongst gamers.