People have been underestimating video games for as long as I can recall.
As a child, one of my fondest memories was unboxing my Sega Master System on Christmas morning 1991 and gaming is a hobby that has now carried me comfortably through 30 years. In those 30 years, I’ve witnessed a stunning revolution. Because, while the subtle charms of Alex Kidd still elicit pangs of nostalgic glee, I have to admit the games of today are a cut above. And then some.
Games can now be used to tell compelling narratives, teach children how to code, develop fundamental skills and connect with millions of people across the world. In short, we’ve come a long way. But one area in which games have yet to really reveal their potential is in advertising.
It’s in the game
Yes, I’m fully aware that in-game advertising is very much a thing in those depressing mobile games you play on the toilet. Indeed, the popularity of in-app advertising is expected to constitute roughly 56% of global digital ad spending by 2026. But I’m talking about utilising the potential of modern gaming as a delivery platform for more creative and immersive campaigns.
Consider this, for example. If the billboards in an F1 racing game displayed adverts for “Cocca Coola” rather than Coca-Cola, would you feel more or less like you were actually Lewis Hamilton?
The potential for native in-game advertising is quite exciting but it’s barely been utilised, at least widely. But one agency has taken the correlation between games and advertising one step further and have created a campaign that is essentially its very own game. And it’s definitely not the kind of throw-away, cobbled together in 3 days mobile tap-fest you’re used to seeing in these kinds of situations.
The battle inside
The game in question is a mod for the 2020 first-person splatter-fest Doom Eternal, a game so violent it made even a hardened gorehound like myself wince a few times. Called “The Battle Inside,” the mod is designed by Chiel Spain to put a very real and visceral face on the battle against leukaemia and build awareness and support for the independent non-profit CRIS Cancer Foundation.
Players of ‘The Battle Inside’ are asked to ‘fight cancer to beat cancer’ and gameplay is altered to take place inside the body where it imitates the struggle against leukaemia. The game mod introduces new characters to the game designed to bring to life the behaviour of the disease. Players are challenged to overcome the characterisation of leukaemia’s impossibly fast-replicating cells, blastocysts, carcinomas and viruses.
Several of Spain’s top video game influencers were the first to receive the mod, including cancer survivor XYS. Through this audience, CRIS hopes to engage a new generation of supporters by quite literally showing them how tough it is to fight leukaemia. Because the game itself is apparently almost impossible. I gave it a few college tries and got my arse handed to me but then I’m more of a strategy gamer than an action gamer.
A bright future for in-game advertising
In the past, in-game advertising ideas tended to be more functional than revolutionary. Back in 2012, for example, rapper Wiz Khalifa used geo-targeting to promote his upcoming tour on several Xbox titles. Even further back in 2008, Barack Obama’s election campaign appeared in every game from Guitar Hero to Madden NFL. In more recent years, meanwhile, the ever-popular Fortnite has played host to hundreds of branded activations, some more notable than others.
The Battle Inside is perhaps the only campaign I’ve come across in recent years that underlines exactly what is possible when marketers and developers work together to mine the true creative potential of in-game advertising. It’s far from the first such idea but it’s certainly the most creative.
Could this set a new high watermark for in-game advertising? Who knows, but l will certainly be paying close attention to whatever CRIS and Chiel Spain come up with next.