The rise of gaming and in-game advertising

As we have now been in and out of lockdown for over a year, it’s no surprise that the UK has seen a massive increase in its gaming population. According to Opinium there was a staggering 63% increase in gamers during lockdown, with 18% of them picking up the controller or keyboard for the first time. The gaming industry has seen record-breaking sales in recent months as more people look for alternative ways to stay entertained and keep in touch with friends and family.

If the gaming market is experiencing such a significant rise in popularity, why aren’t we seeing the same level of product placement in high profile games in comparison to what is seen in movies and on television?

Video games and in-game advertising do have some history – one of the most famous examples being Obama’s 2008 campaign featuring in arcade racer Burnout Paradise, targeted exclusively to the US market with the express aim of persuading the younger generation to vote during the election.

To give you an idea of just how popular some games are, Fortnite (which was released in March 2017) currently has over 200 million accounts worldwide and has managed to successfully include advertising in a way that also benefits consumers. A live in-game concert was performed by Marshmello and was attended by over 10 million people. In addition to the concert, they also released a ‘player skin’ which lets players dress their character up as Marshmello, allowing players to become walking advertisements for the musician in-game.

Since Marshmello, Fortnite have also hosted another in-game concert for Travis Scott which currently has around 133 million views on YouTube – View here

These examples show how advertising in video games can be achieved in a way that is tolerable, inclusive, and beneficial to the overall gameplay experience.

It is possible that advertising within video games will become more frequent, but advertisers do have to keep in mind that it could backfire if it interferes with the user’s experience and gameplay. For example, Electronic Arts started including pop-up ads in their popular title UFC 4 which appeared during the instant replays in the fights. This received a lot of criticism and backlash from players who felt they were being exploited while playing the game. EA responded to the criticism by pulling the ads and promised that they would refrain from bringing them back in the future.

Advertising is perceived by many as a necessary nuisance and a part of daily life, but if you can enhance the experience – which video games do uniquely allow – it could be a great opportunity to see more creative and smarter implementation of advertising and product placement, rather than having the consumer sit passively through a 20 second video.

If the last year has taught marketers anything, it’s how vital it is to reach consumers across different touchpoints in innovative and creative ways. Indeed, this is integral to remaining front of mind with consumers. Using gaming as a method of advertising is a unique and potentially highly successful way to get in front of engaged consumers and it will be incredibly interesting to see how this platform develops and performs as the world begins to normalise.