As in-game ads grow, ad tech companies try to improve their services
As gaming grew in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, advertisers are moving more and more into games to reach gamers, and ad tech companies are rising to the challenge of this new audience.
These vendors want to rejuvenate their offerings with in-game advertisements that allow players to interact with both the games themselves and the real-world products they are promoting.
A long-standing model for integrating ads into gameplay is to allow players who have lost a game to resume their run after watching a short video. While this is an older form of in-game advertising, due to its predominance in mobile gaming, it’s still one of the most common where gamers are less likely to be distracted by another device while consuming an ad. It’s one of the main forms of in-game advertising used by mobile-focused advertising technology companies like Admazing. “87 percent of gamers worldwide prefer to watch the video rather than remove the ad,” said Edward Castillo, managing partner of Admazing.
The downside to this type of in-game advertising is that there is no guarantee that players will actually consume the ads in real time. “I have a 13-year-old, she’s playing – she can put her phone down and she’ll pick it up 29.8 seconds later,” said Mark Vange, CTO of technology solutions company NextPlay Technologies. “She just knows what 30 seconds [ad length] feels like.”
There is some evidence to contradict this anecdote: Jonathan Stringfield, Vice President of Global Business Marketing, Measurement and Insights at Activision Blizzard Media, cited a Blizzard study that used data from gamers’ gyros to determine that they were using their phones don’t file, and Castillo mentions that some gamers willingly consume ads to aid free-to-play title developers. Indeed, games are an inherently interactive media format, and brands are trying to capitalize on gamers’ eagerness to interact more directly with their in-game ads.
In contrast to social video ads, the success of which can be measured by means of views, shares and engagement, the return of investment (ROI) is the only metric that counts for in-game advertising. And in order to convince players to interact with products in real life, advertisers must first get them to try them out in-game. Last year, for example, Fortnite’s new Marvel Knockout game mode gave players the ability to interact with an external product – Marvel IP – through the familiar framework of Fortnite gameplay.
Aside from bespoke game modes, another option is to place ads in a virtual world that they would normally be in in the real world – a logical step on the way to the metaverse. “We don’t want to break this immersion,” says Fran Petruzzelli, CTO of the in-game advertising company Bidstack. “We don’t want to place ads that completely ruin the gameplay. It has to fit and feel intrinsically like it belongs there. ”Branded skins are another way that Bidstack incorporates advertising into games without splashing cold water on the players’ faces.
At NextPlay, Vange hopes to take this immersion a step further by allowing players to purchase coupons by interacting with in-game ads modeled on real-world products, which are then redeemed for a discounted version of the IRL merchandise can be. As an example, he took the idea of a power-up based on a Starbucks coffee cup. “Then if I walk off this thing with a Starbucks coupon, I can go back to the store and actually do something for them,” Vange said. “This is going to be a much more valuable transaction for the developer, isn’t it?” Such power-ups could be fungible: one player’s Starbucks trophy could be a Twix bar for another player or a Bud Light for a third.
Since the Atari days, brands and game developers have tried to replicate the widespread product placement from Hollywood and television. In the early 1990s, the Nintendo Entertainment System released branded titles such as the McDonald’s trademark “MC Kids” and the 7-Up-themed “Spot: The Video Game”; In 2006, outlets reported an increase in video game product placement as the games became more cinematic in size and style.
But in retrospect, it turned out that this type of flat brand integration doesn’t go nearly as well with modern gamers. With gaming audiences growing more suspicious of corporate influence, simply clapping a logo on an in-game card or inserting timed video between moments of gameplay is no longer enough. If “MC Kids” came out today, the players would reject it as a novelty at best – and as a blatant steal at worst.
Instead, developers and their brand partners are learning how to seamlessly integrate ads into today’s virtual worlds, using the comfort and familiarity of gamers with those worlds to get them to interact with the ads and increase ROI.
“A lot of the work we do behind the scenes is making sure these integrations don’t disrupt the gaming or viewing experience – and ideally work in that,” said Stringfield. “And then the highest level, although difficult to achieve, can potentially improve the gaming experience.”