With video game revenues expected to break the $10 billion mark this year and garner over $300 million in advertising investment, the gaming industry represents a strong marketing opportunity.

Video gaming offers the opportunity to connect with traditionally difficult-to-reach consumers– young affluent males. It attains the fourth-highest reach (after TV, internet and radio) against teens and heavy gamers. Not only can in-game advertising efficiently reach key consumers, it can also reach them while they are actively engaged with the medium. 

  • Yankee Group expects the in-game advertising market to reach USD 732 mln by 2010 (in 2005, advertisers spent approximately USD 56 mln placing ads in video games, up from USD 34 mln in 2004).
  • More than 100 million people worldwide log on every month to play interactive computer games (source: NYT, December 2005).
  • In the USA, over 70 percent of males in the 18 to 34 demographic play video games, according to NPD Group. Young men play 12.5 hours of video games a week, while they watch television 9.8 hours, and three-quarters of households with a male member age 8 through 34 own a video game system, according to Nielsen Entertainment (source: MediaLife January 2006).
  • An average European gamer will play for 10.9 hours a week, 87% have played in the last week, and 72% play at least three times a week. To put this into perspective: gaming is, for gamers, the third-most-popular use of media entertainment in the last week, after watching TV (96%) and listening to music (94%) (source: Mediaedge:cia, December 2005).
  • Sixty percent of trendsetters and 33% of mainstream 14-34 year-olds have a social networking page (source: TrendCentral, May 2006).
  • Synthetic worlds are popular: currently, these new worlds have around 10 to 20 million inhabitants (source: Edward Catronova) and the total number of players is expected to reach 40 million by 2020 (source: Swansey University).
Here are some stats on the size of these markets:

Compare these to some of the other megasites:

  • MySpace: 68 million members
  • MSN Spaces: 30+ million members
  • Cyworld: 17 million members in Korea (= 33% of population). In China, Cyworld acquired 1.3 million subscribers in only eight months.
  • Lunarstorm: 1.2+ million members in Sweden (= 10% of population)
  • Hyves: 1.6 million members in NL (=10% of population); 400,000+ members in Latin America (mainly Peru!)
  • MSN Messenger: 100+ million users
  • Yahoo! Messenger: 63+ million users
  • QQ Messenger: 150+ million users in China
  • AOL Messenger: 43 million users in the USA
How can marketers get smarter by playing in this environment? 

In order to maximize the value of in-game communication, several studies have examined the role of brands within video games and players’ attitudes towards gaming and in-game communication. The goal has been to learn how best to use games to create meaningful relationships between brands and consumers. The results are a set of insights and guidelines that will help deliver more effective in-game communication. 

Ready to play?

A brand’s presence should enhance the gaming engagement
Gaming’s greatest benefit for brand communication is intense consumer involvement that can transfer over to a brand if the placement is executed in a relevant way. In fact, gamers are giving advertisers clear permission for brands to appear within a game– so long as the brands serve as conduits for gamers’ further immersion into the game, strengthen the game’s sense of escapism, and ultimately enhance the game’s alternate reality experience.

Brand and commercial content must be relevant to the game
As with all forms of communication, relevance of a brand to the game and its key target audience is essential. Hence, each in-game opportunity must be evaluated on its own merits. It’s not about "are video games right for my brand?" but rather "which one of the games would be the ideal choice for my brand?" In other words, to prevent avoidance, the communication/commercial content must fit into the type and mood of the game and connect with its players. The key is to understand both the consumer and the game itself.

To maximize the value of in-game communication, marketers and planners must consider a game’s purpose and plot, its genre and format, the profile of gamers, the specific brand placement within the game, how, when and where the game is played, as well as the particular culture around the game.

The closer the connection between the brand, the game and the player (i.e., a car in a racing game), the better the chances the game’s involvement will transfer onto the brand.

Brands should feel like a natural part of the game
When discussing the value of in-game advertising, we talk about capitalizing on the high emotional investment the average gamer brings into the game. The last thing the gamer will tolerate is a disruption of the game’s flow or delaying of the game’s rewards caused by the appearance of a brand or its ad totally out of context. To leverage the gamer’s genuine active engagement, a brand’s creative should reflect the gaming environment and be tailored to an exact position within a game, so that the in-game communication does not feel like an ad, but acts as a natural extension of the game.

Game developers and ad-serving networks should work closely with brand owners and their agencies to optimize a brand’s involvement within a game.

Customization can strengthen gamers’ engagement with a brand
Games provide an excellent opportunity for key consumers to experience some brands virtually, often under conditions not possible in the real world. Allowing players to personalize their own in-game experiences — such as selecting a racing car or a team’s logo uniform — involves them further with the game, moving them deeper into the game’s alternate reality. In many instances, this active involvement with in-game products and brands influences players’ real-world brand perception and buying behaviors.

In-game communication must be measurable
The opportunity to reach the target audience in a highly involved environment carries a hefty anticipation of getting bang for your buck. Hence, several factors — defining measurable performance metrics of in-game communication that will capture the degree of active involvement with a brand, improvement in the brand’s recognition, perception, anticipated purchase behavior, et cetera — are essential to the development of ROI metrics and, ultimately, the success of in-game communication.

As more of the above guidelines get incorporated into in-game communication efforts, the more likely it is that marketers will succeed at effectively connecting with a brand’s target consumers. 

On the other hand, avoiding the "bombs" below will improve the chances for more effective in-game placements. You can score extra points by never

  • Assuming video games will work with any brand
  • Interrupting, delaying or inappropriately altering game-play with in-game communication
  • Imposing on gamers’ attention with communication that doesn’t add to the game
  • Assuming real-world creative will work within a video game environment
  • Considering "advergames" as an inexpensive way of reaching a gaming audience.
Arming yourself with these guidelines of dos and don’ts when contemplating and executing in-game communication may just help you snatch the big winning score!