With respect to gaming and advertising crossovers, the joining of the two worlds are not always the most successful. In recent years, a trend has emerged: do a brand collaboration on Fortnite, recruit a big Twitch streamer, and boom - surely gamers will love the campaign! Suffice to say, it doesn’t always work like that. Gamers are not a single demographic. A person who plays ‘Overwatch 2’ at a semi professional level is not the same as the person who logs in for a few quick ‘FIFA 23’ matches against the computer, after a long day of work. Sure, they both play video games, but the ways a brand might approach them, one would think, ought to be completely different.
As such, this raises an interesting question. When has gaming and advertising actually made a successful crossover? And perhaps more importantly, what can be taken away from these instances, across all mediums of gaming? While the answers are rarely simple, and never singular, it’s an important area to consider, and one which both gamers and those in the industry need to consider, if both are to continue working toward a symbiotic relationship down the line - dissuading the notion that advertising immediately means parasitic pop-ups in every game played.
LBB’s Josh Neufeldt sat down with Prism’s head of gaming Grant Paterson, M&C Saatchi UAE managing director Natalie Cooke, BETC Paris copywriter Matthieu Bouilhot, FCB Toronto VP, creative innovation Eli Ferrara, MONO creative director Tim Blevins, and We Are Social Gaming head copywriter Peter Mazloumian to learn more about advertising in gaming done right, and, as a whole, want to expect from advertising in gaming in 2023.
2023 is gearing up to be a seismic year for the gaming industry – one fuelled by the increasing cross-pollination of intellectual property (IP) within the film, TV and music worlds; sustained mobile gaming growth in rapidly-growing tiger economies in Asia and the Middle East; continued multi-platform, mega-budget content investment from established PC and console companies and long overdue commercial diversification in the esports industry.
Xbox, Sony and Nintendo will all be looking to consolidate their respective market shares with acquisitions, subscription growth or content diversification. Meanwhile, big tech competitors Apple, Google, Amazon and Netflix may need to decide once and for all whether gaming is a passing fancy – such as Google Stadia – or a serious strategic growth driver, like Apple Arcade. Major game publishers will also need to address whether they are serious about adopting emerging production and personalisation technologies like blockchain, AI and machine learning, or commit to doubling down on mobile gaming.
For brands, 2023 should be the year they fully commit to gaming as a key pillar in their marketing plans, as the industry finally matures as a safe, exciting, transformative space for brand building.
Hyper-aggressive in-game monetisation models are gradually becoming unstuck in the face of greater governmental scrutiny of the wider tech industry. Take, for example, Fortnite, Instagram and TikTok, which are all facing the wrath of regulators for exploitative data and marketing practices. This is pushing game developers to adopt hybrid monetisation models that combine less aggressive in-game transactions (hopefully fewer loot boxes) with more ad-funded and bundled subscription content. Expect to see PC and console platforms start to experiment with advertising, and mobile publishers lean into multi-game subscription products. This will create more areas for brands to advertise and generate value for players.
As part of this hybrid monetisation strategy, publishers will seek to leverage technology to help create a more personalised game experience for players. Zero code platforms, generative AI, machine learning, distributed computing and centralised 3D asset libraries will all be utilised to create personalised in-game offers, journeys, promotions, user experiences and bundling that feel more individualised. Brands have a potent role to play here – facilitating the creation of these experiences or enhancing them with added value and benefits. Just don’t expect it to be with NFTs.
Managing director at M&C Saatchi UAE
This year is a critical one for the gaming industry, tech giants and brands to all drive forward. However, there’s a lot to be excited about, especially when you realise that 45% of all video gaming revenue comes from mobile.
The most obvious but useful tech advancement that has been made possible by using your device has to be AR gaming. No headsets required - marry the GPS of your smartphone, gyroscope and 2x cameras - and you have the most immersive world right there in the palm of your hand. We saw this in the success of ‘Pokemon Go’, but with advancements in camera specs and the hardware of our devices, this looks set to be huge this year.
The accessibility and rate of development of mobile games has also been accelerated, and personally, I am interested to see where Netflix heads this year. Having launched its own exclusive games for iOS and Android in 2022, it has also started to make some interesting acquisitions in this area, having acquired Spry Fox, the indie gaming studio in the US. It is unlocking a huge new audience and revenue stream for the entertainment giant, and there are plans to release some of the biggest games of 2023 on the platform, including the likes of ‘Vikings: Valhalla’ in the first quarter alone.
Last but not least, putting my marketing hat back on, measuring spending still needs to be solved for in 2023. Although in-game ad tech has improved rapidly, the measurement of mobile gaming as spend is still a conundrum. The IAB has launched new in-game measurement guidelines, but sadly, there are few savvy tech and media players fully operating in this space, which for me, signals a huge opportunity in the ad-tech space this year.
Copywriter at BETC Paris
The major trend, for me, is the rise and the success of campaigns that find their target, because they no longer think of gaming as an endpoint, but as a starting point.
Thankfully, we are slowly getting rid of operations in the likes of ‘we saw that people were playing on ‘Fortnite’/’Roblox’/’Minecraft’, so we decided to enter the space for Brand X’, which always end up with poorly thought-out product placement or brands trying to replicate the Travis Scott moment and get massively ignored by gamers because they smell of desperation and opportunism and don’t really understand what gamers actually enjoy in video games.
Slowly, we are getting into a world where brands are getting tired of gaming experiments and losing their interest in basic operations, and are branching into a new world of gaming campaigns; ones that are not created for gamers but are thought of with gamers in mind. This seems like an actual shift when brands are considering gamers not just as a target, but as creators of the operation.
In fact, gamers can be useful as co-creators, because of their extensive knowledge of the industry and their ability to immediately grasp the insights on which the campaigns were conceived.
Whether you start from a behaviour people have when playing (‘Hidden Spots’ - Heinz), the frustration they get in some situations (‘HeetchInGame’ - Heetch), the slackening in other instances (‘Mystery Sniper’ for Call of Duty Vanguard), or update possibilities (‘Long Live The Prince’ - The Kiyan Prince Foundation), and even modding opportunities (‘Adopt a Mod’ - SPA).
In a nutshell, going forward, the best campaigns will start with the games in mind. They will have their own specificities and unique experiences to offer - directly or indirectly - and will need to be conceived by real gamers. And, when you like video games, hearing that is actually really good news.
VP, creative innovation at FCB Toronto
I think we will see a shift from one-off gaming channel executions to gamer community building on channels like Twitch, Discord, and possibly even Steam. Moving forward, these channels should be treated just like any other social channel. You wouldn’t start a brand account on Twitter to only send one Tweet - it’s something that needs to be constantly nurtured. A great example of this is what BMO [a Canadian bank] has been doing on Twitch with its ‘NXT LVL
’ platform where they host weekly live streams playing games and talking finances. Media plans will need to adjust to consider these gaming spaces, and PR plans will need to adjust to adapt to the fast-growing gaming media landscape. The challenge for brands this year will be to turn these channels and audiences into long-term, addressable fans who are willing to share data in exchange for valuable gamer rewards.
Brands co-creating with gamers is a recent trend that I also think will continue to grow in 2023. Something unique about the gaming space is how easy co-creation can be, especially compared to traditional channels. Games and gaming platforms like Twitch are already designed for real-time engagement, so co-creation becomes a natural use case. A good example of this is what Lexus did with gamers. Lexus engineered a vehicle designed by, and for, the Twitch community as the ultimate gaming space. Twitch viewers voted on the theme of the exterior, interior, gaming hardware, and even which refreshment to fill the six-drink centre console cooler with. What better way to learn about and engage your target audience than asking them directly?
To this end, brands have just started to scratch the surface of what can be done with gaming. In 2023, I think we will see a much deeper dive into more specific and nuanced gaming audiences. You can’t really talk to ‘gamers’ - this is literally hundreds of millions of people, and too many advertising campaigns have painted this audience with a broad brush. Moving forward, brands will start tapping into various trendy gaming subcultures. For example, the speedrunning community has been around for a long time, but continues to grow and stay relevant, and a lot of their big events raise large amounts of money for great charitable causes. There are budding music fandoms, communities who focus their enthusiasm on wholesome games, fitness gamers, retro gamers, and many more. All these audiences have their own unique perspectives and emotional drivers.
Creative director at MONO
As subscription services of all kinds stack up in our bank accounts faster than ‘Tetris’ bricks on level 99, we have to make the sometimes tough decision of prioritising our favourites. Netflix recently felt this squeeze, and added an advertising option to its pricing model. And now, new reports indicate Microsoft sent a survey to players asking about a less expensive Game Pass subscription tier subsidised by viewing ads. The gamer in me initially winces at the worst-case scenario of having a commercial pod between cutscenes and the next boss battle, but the frugal part of my brain is open to the idea if done right.
Naturally, however, finding a sweet spot that feels like a fair trade-off for players will take trial and error. Casual and hardcore gamers alike have experienced ads in mobile games that can be avoided by purchasing the premium version of the title. These interruptions often take the form of pop-up banners that can be X’d out of after a particular amount of time. I think that’s a pretty good example of intrusive advertising Microsoft should avoid, as console and PC gamers - myself included - are a fickle bunch and will fill all kinds of subreddits with complaints about such an approach. Finding the ‘Goldilocks system’ that a large swath of players will adopt won’t happen in one go, but if something does become palatable, it might just be that long ‘Tetris’ block our bank accounts need to clear out some financial breathing room. As an industry, it will be interesting to keep our eye on this, as it could provide innovative, creative opportunities for many brands.
What makes the gaming space so exciting is that we’ve only just begun to scrape the barrel of potential gaming opportunities for brands. As tends to be the case, once we see success in a particular creative approach, that recipe is often replicated by other brands in hope of driving similar results - as we’ve seen in the wealth of ‘Fortnite’-led campaigns that have formed in recent years, but there is so much more to be explored than what’s already been done. The gaming landscape is excitingly volatile; AAA games lose popularity overnight while unexpecting indie games skyrocket to unprecedented popularity by dawn. The reality is, our industry has barely scratched the surface of what can be achieved. New technologies are emerging. Old technologies are evolving. Trends are fast-moving. To truly stand out as an innovator and leader in this space, you need to be agile and ready to take risks, because while you’re waiting for approvals, that ship you desperately wanted to hop on is already setting sail.
An in-depth knowledge of gaming culture and gaming content is necessary to activate a brand through gaming. ‘Gamer Asylum
’, which proposes a solution to the restrictive Chinese gaming laws, and ‘ScratchBoards
’, which uses nostalgia for older games to promote the new Tony Hawk game, are excellent examples of this.
Gaming should not be considered as a basic media platform, but as a whole universe when it comes to advertising campaigns. Most of the campaigns are basically 3D billboards in a digital universe. Brands need to give a reason for consumers to experience what they’ve developed in the gaming universe. Except for a few, they don’t have enough appeal/pure fandoms to bring people into their digital worlds; they need to give them a reason, to be useful, and in this case, to bring something for the community like new ways of expressing one’s self, a safe place to discuss, or entertaining content.
It is now clear that gaming is no longer just a form of entertainment related to 'playing games', and that the boundaries between gaming and other forms of media, such as cinema, TV series, art, music, and sports, are becoming increasingly blurred. As a result, the audiences involved in gaming are becoming wider and more diverse. People are looking for more immersive and engaging experiences that offer a strong narrative structure.
The rise of streaming platforms such as Twitch and YouTube has also played a significant role in the evolution of gaming. These platforms allow gamers to share their experiences with others, and this has created a huge community of gamers who are passionate about their hobby. This has also led to the rise of ‘gamefluencers’, who are influential gamers with a large following on social media. They have the power to influence the gaming community and shape the future of gaming. As such, while the demand for more story-driven gaming experiences continues to grow, brands have an opportunity to tap into this trend by creating campaigns and collaborations with developers and ‘gamefluencers’ that align with this narrative. By leveraging the power of storytelling, brands can foster deeper connections with their audiences and create compelling marketing campaigns that resonate with gamers.