2ingameThere are essentially three major trends in mobile gaming right now: interactive real-time 3D games, massive multi-player games and social networking games, revealing a trend towards more complex and more sophisticated, richer game play. On the other side, there are the so-called casual games that are very simple and easy to play. In fact, most mobile games today are such casual games and this will probably stay this way for quite a while to come.

However, brands are increasingly delivering promotional messages within mobile games or sponsoring entire games to drive consumer engagement, known as mobile advergaming or ad-funded mobile games. While still in its infancy, in-game advertising is expected to grow in the future, as it offers marketers a compelling route to distinct target audiences with real time ad placement and consumer engagement.

According to the entertainment software association, the in-game advertising market could grow to $1 billion globally next year, especially since advances in technology now allow in-game advertising to be more interesting and entertaining.

Does in-game advertising really work?

If in-game ads get the undivided attention of the player remains still a bit questionable. In fact, studies over the years have been inconclusive as to whether in-game advertising really works. In 2006, Microsoft bought in-game ad company Massive for a reported $200 million to generate ads for its Xbox games, but just four years later closed the business venture.

Today, however, many in-game ad campaigns use dynamic advertising which, unlike static advertising, can be altered remotely. Firms can tailor these ads to geographical location or time of day, allowing more flexibility for time-critical campaigns, such as a movie or product launches. Because dynamic ads do not have to be hard-coded into the game by programmers, advertisers no longer need to formulate and insert their messages months in advance. Besides that, dynamic advertising also allows ad companies to track and receive information from a player, such as time spent looking at the advertisements, the most-viewed advertisements and viewing angles, to determine the most successful ads and providing valuable insights for future campaigns.

In 2010, for instance, the Nielsen Company worked with Electronic Arts to examine how Gatorade’s in-game advertising impacted sales and came to the conclusion that these advertisements increased sales of Gatorade by 24%.

Or take a look at advergaming, the practice of using a video game to advertise a product prominently. According to Jupiter Media Metrix Research, 50% of recipients who receive an advergame will play it for an average of 25 minutes. Thus, film production companies may use these games to promote their films, such as Sony Pictures’ release of a nine-week episodic online game to stir audience interest in “Salt” before it hit cinemas in July 2010. Or hairstyling products company Redken sponsored a video game for Nintendo’s Wii and DS platforms that teaches players hairstyling techniques while exposing them to Redken’s products. Other companies incorporate game-like elements into their broader marketing campaigns, such as Ford, when it allowed potential customers to navigate a test track outfitted with electronic markers, and receive scores based on the accuracy of their driving. Drivers even heard the sounds of a crowd cheering when they precisely hit a target.

When ads invade games

Research proved that gamers are receptive to brand messages and that adverts do not spoil or interrupt enjoyment of playing games - provided they are placed sensitively within the game environment.

A brand can even be integrated into the plotline or the game’s hero can physically interact with a brand. Important is only that a hard-coded placement needs to be considered in the early development stages, sometimes as early as when writing the storyline, to be incorporated well into the gameplay.

One third of the gamers say, according to studies, that adverts add realism to a game and that they felt positively towards the brand while a quarter neither consider interacting with a brand while playing nor perceiving brand names that are shown in games as advertising. Interestingly, the majority doesn’t have a negative opinion of in-game ads provided that the placements are realistic, contextual to the game and non-interruptive to game-play. Gamers would actually even welcome an increase in advertising if it meant a reduction in the purchase price of a game.

The basics that apply to advertising in general is just as applicable to in-game advertising, such as identifying the right audience, delivering a compelling message, identifying the returns of the campaign and managing processes efficiently etc. If ads are tailored to the gaming audience, it can be assured that they make for richer experiences and bring realism to any game. The times when ads were intrusive, popping up in the middle of a game and distracting players are long gone. Nowadays, the ads are more contextually relevant, hence, get more attention.

By Daniela La Marca