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Are You Game?

Nick Gregory
Nick cut his teeth running digital display campaigns for two years before entering the world of SEO. He is fanatical about wristwatches, rugby union, vintage Porsches (although he can’t afford one), and all things Art Deco. If you’re keen to hear about the benefits of SEO, or for a three hour discussion about the playing style of the Wallabies, then get in touch.

100,000,000 active users per month. 459,000 years’ worth of video viewed in 2015. 1h46m average time spent per user. These stats are in line with what you’d expect of a powerhouse search engine like YouTube.

 

But you’d be wrong.

These are actually the latest stats from online gaming community Twitch.tv – an online platform where users can stream videos and screencasts of other gamers playing their favourite titles. It’s no secret that we love to play videogames, but with over half of Twitch users spending 20+ hours per week on the platform, it’s safe to say that we really love videogames.

According to the Interactive Games & Entertainment Association, the gaming industry experienced a 15% growth in 2015, reaching $2.83bn in value, and reaching over two-thirds of the Australian population. Surprisingly, 47% of videogame players are female, and 39% of people aged 65 and over are regular gamers – so why do we think of videogames as being strictly for teenage boys?

While PCs, consoles, and their respective software still makes up a significant portion of the total industry value in Australia, the increasing popularity of mobile gaming (think Clash of Clans, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, Candy Crush, Sudoku, etc) has made the world of gaming far more accessible to those who might not fit the “traditional” gamer mould, and anyone who has looked around at a train station, food court, airport terminal, or waiting room of any kind will know that this isn’t exactly earth-shattering news.1So, what we have is a medium that is extremely immersive, highly targeted, frequently used, cross-device, and reaches over 65% of Australians at an average frequency of 3x daily – why exactly aren’t advertisers jumping at the opportunity to get on board?

Despite a lot of brands dabbling in the space, few go beyond the basic interstitial banner that annoyingly pops up at the end of your turn in Words with Friends. At the other end of the scale, some larger brands have gone too far in integrating their products into games, which gamers find equally as annoying and inappropriate as pop-up banners.

Using the extremely popular Uncharted series as an example – a game which has seemingly unwavering support (in terms of both volumes of fans and financial backing by Sony) – the game’s developers still thought it would be pertinent to partner with takeaway sandwich giant Subway to run a joint promotion, whereby users could unlock the game’s multiplayer mode a month earlier than the public release by purchasing branded products in store. The venture was mostly a success, and while fans didn’t have a problem with a few in-game product placements (a Subway-branded t-shirt and cap were available as an outfit, along with a bizarre virtual sandwich costume) in return for early access to the multiplayer functionality, they did seem to mind the cheesy TV spot featuring Nathan Drake (the game’s protagonist) in a series of high-stakes scenarios, Subway footlong in one hand, Subway soda cup in the other.

Similarly, in adventure game Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, users were quite surprised to stumble across cans of Pepsi and Mountain Dew, bags of Doritos, and Axe (Lynx in Australia) deodorant packages littered throughout the 1974 Costa-Rican setting.2They key to a successful in-game campaign (like anything in life, really) lies in the balance – brands need to be wary of how they fit into any potential gaming scenario, and need to enhance the experience rather than detract from it.

Perhaps the best example of a campaign with huge amounts of positive sentiment and award-winning recognition is the Nissan GT Academy. Created in 2008, the collaboration between Nissan, Sony, and game developer Polyphony Digital provides an alternative route for aspiring racing drivers to enter the real-world sport. Four phases allow for different stages of qualification, with the first stage relying solely on setting lap times on Sony’s PlayStation 3 flagship game, Gran Turismo 6. From here, successful entrants are trained on Nissan vehicles by Nissan’s Driver Development Programme on a variety of real-life racing circuits, and qualify for an International Racing Licence as well as being entered in an international endurance race.

According to MEC MediaLab’s “Playing with Brands” study, gamers are also accepting of advertising where the ads are seen to enhance the realism of the game. Commonplace examples include sports games where stadiums would look bare and unrecognizable without some sort of branded hoarding, and iconic uniforms would be deemed to be naked without a plethora of Nike “swoosh” logos. More inventive examples are dynamic billboards that appear trackside in a number of racing games, with regular patch updates allowing for different ads to run throughout the lifespan of the game – keeping both the ads and the game itself fresh.3

The future of in-game advertising will no doubt rely on the benefits of real-time programmatic technology, with mobile being the platform that is currently leading the charge… albeit rather unglamourously in the form of simple standard-size banners and ill-formatted videos. Console and PC-wise, it is simply a matter of time before online titles begin selling their in-game “inventory” to networks looking to buy up premium advertising space – imagine driving a car in an open-world game when you hear a 15sec spot on the car’s radio for your favourite local pizza chain, or controlling your character to walk past a TV set that silently plays a commercial for a Netflix series you’ve been recently watching in real life. With the ability to log in to the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live using a Facebook account, these platforms have basically all the data needed to produce effective, highly-targeted campaigns. Combined with the exponential increase in VR’s popularity and accessibility, the immersiveness of in-game advertising is about to reach extreme new heights in the very near future.