The video game industry is big. Really big.
Global revenues for gaming are set to exceed $365 billion in 2023. That’s bigger than the music and movie industry combined. It’s also projected to soar to over three billion daily users by 2027.
That’s a lot of eyeballs.
Brands and advertisers are naturally looking for innovative and effective ways to reach audiences through this passion point. Ad spend in the sector is up 10% YoY.
But in-game advertising is, of course, nothing new. The first “ad” in a game came almost forty years ago - when Budweiser sponsored the arcade game Tapper. In 1999, Pepsi even made its own game in Pepsiman.
On Tony Hawk’s Ride in 2009 players would skate past dynamic ad billboards. On FIFA and Football Manager, contextually relevant ads spin around the advertising hoardings of digital stadiums.
A challenge for game publishers and advertisers in this era was balancing the in-game ad experience with the fact consumers were typically purchasing a game outright - meaning tolerance to invasive ads was low.
This changed with the rise of smartphones.
The smartphone era opened up the massive mobile in-game advertising market - with mobile games like Candy Crush becoming global phenomenons. It became one of the first ‘freemium’ games to generate over $1 billion in revenue.
In 2022, through in-game advertising and purchases, Candy Crush made Activision Blizzard around $633,000 every day. It also opened gaming to a broader demographic, attracting large numbers of younger female gamers
Gaming has changed a lot since Tapper and Pepsiman. It’s the biggest entertainment medium in the world. And it’s growing by the day.
Today, free-to-play games are opening the door further for brands. Fortnite has around 80 million monthly players. And with its creatively malleable sandbox universe, it allows brands to unobtrusively step into the world of gamers and make some really cool stuff.
It weaved Marvel into its in-game universe to promote Infinity War. Over ten million players attended a live in-game Marshmello concert. Players can sport brands like Balenciaga, Ferrari and Air Jordan.
There is huge value in this industry for brands and agencies. But they must remember that in gaming - it absolutely has to bring value to the audience. Nobody would buy a Pepsiman game in 2023. But they might buy a Pepsiman skin if the brand collaborated with Fortnite and it became an exclusive unlockable item for their characters.
It feels like we’re again at the cusp of a new era for video game advertising. We’re already seeing pizza brands integrating into in-game menus so you can order a pizza to be delivered without leaving the game itself, but it’s not just about featuring an ad or getting some product placement in the game - it’s about blending the universes to become an active, playable part of it.
Stella Artois recently introduced #PlayAuNaturel, its downloadable content for The Sims, over a Twitch stream. Players can add branded Stella items to their in-game homes along with a selection of naked characters that feature in an eye-catching TV ad.
Linking with a TV ad creates synergy across the universes for audiences - which is enhanced further through a partnership with Getir on Stella Unfiltered, one of the products featured in the mod.
Stuff like this works because it makes the brand part of the game - not just part of an ad in the game. People play games to be active, not passive. Brands can literally ‘play’ an active role in this experience.
But, like with Stella and the Sims, as well as fitting the industry it has to be a natural fit with the target title. Indeed, this activity feels like it belongs in the Sims.
And what’s more, to see an everyday consumer brand such as Stella jump into the in-game advertising world signals a real shift in consideration for the platform.
By Jake Hervin, Gaming Lead at Way To Blue