Advertising in Games: Only the Beginning

It is both interesting, yet not surprising that advertising within games has become so prevalent. I have been a gamer all of my life – ever since Nintendo (regular, not super). I couldn’t help but chuckle when World of Warcraft was mentioned in a recent lecture that I attended, because I have also played – not only as a “player”, but also as a “guild master” who has “led” dozens of players into “battle”. My wife, Kelly,  also a gamer and aspiring PHD student, also encountered a situation similar to yours at a conference at which she presented (every person in her Panel played WoW). Take these situations together with the pervasiveness and ease of access of (popular) games on devices such iPhones, Blackberrys and other highly used electronics (Angry Birds anyone?), one can finally say that gaming is no longer confined a cult-like following, but is now rather mainstream.

As gaming becomes more a part of the norm, it just plain makes sense that advertising would make its way into the fold. I believe, however, that the most difficult task that lies ahead for marketers is proving that ads within games are impactful. Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy to track as web-advertising is. Advertisers will need to pay close attention to 1) the demographic they are targeting (this is important, as one would expect many WoW players, for example, to be teens, not in their mid 30s) and 2) the increase or decrease of sales from the campaign (in addition to all of the other campaigns going on). Sounds easy, but I am sure it is incredibly difficult, and a task for those much more intelligent than me.

There are still plenty of ripe opportunities to replace the ACME moving vans with “SEARS” or “WAL-MART”. The great thing about having these brands in games is it just “seems natural”. Therefore, players, in my opinion, won’t be overly against gaming companies selling the rights to the “scenery”. Also, popular mobile gaming “apps” have yet to get it right – in my humble opinion. Sure Apple has made “iAd” available to iOS (Android has something similar), but the ads that are displayed are still annoying popups (that I would assume have a very low clickrate). Integrating the ads into the overall user experience (as in the previous point) would go a long way. For one, it would be less annoying. Two, they still work “offline”.

Advertisers will sooner or later need to stop playing catchup and start anticipating the next form of communication.  The world is changing very quickly due to the abundance of educated innovators. Technology, in my opinion, lowers barriers and unless advertisers are dedicating time and resources to ensuring the future is secure, all it could take is a bunch of guys from college to turn the entire industry upside down (examples: Google, Microsoft, Apple) .


Posted in Legacy.


  1. I don’t mind ads in games, as long as they’re not breaking my immersion. If I’m running through New York in, say, Prototype, and Times Square is plastered with blinking ads everywhere, I have no problem with that. If I’m in a tavern in a fantasy RPG such as Witcher 2, and suddenly there’s a blinking ad over the bar for Coca Cola? That would be a problem for me.

    Ads in loading screens, I’m not sure. Probably not as much of a deal, but I might still be annoyed, it depends.

    I realize that that makes it hard for advertising agencies to target games by limiting them to those taking place in a “modernish” setting. But if ads would actively work against the suspension of disbelief, I would probably not buy such a game. That’s just me, though.

  2. That is interesting. Considering the popularity of fantasy-based games, how do companies integrate their ads? Like you said, it doesn’t really make sense for Coke to be advertised in a tavern. Modern games are easier because the brands just make sense. Sci-Fi games also suffer the same problem as fantasy-based games.

    Also agree with your last statement. But a question – would you buy a game if it were free or much less costly due to more advertisements? The best example I can think of is Angry Birds, which is now available for free (with advertisements). I feel that it makes pressing the “install” button much easier.

  3. It most certainly does. I guess it might have to do with a sense of entitlement. If you bought a game at full price, you’re more likely to feel that you should get a solid xyz hours of entertainment out of it without anything interrupting that. It’s a bit like cinemas and television, I guess.
    When you’re sitting in a cinema, your movie may be playing after some ads, but it is not interrupted by it. After all, you have paid the full price for two hours or so of this particular entertainment. Television programmes are interrupted by ads, but strictly speaking, you haven’t directly paid for that particular channel, unless it’s pay TV, which usually is NOT interrupted.
    The point I’m trying to make is that video gamers pay directly for a certain product and therefore expect to receive only this product and nothing accompanying it and distracting them. If there were, similar to television, an online playing “channel” you could subscribe to, and the decision which games were “streamed” lay with a board of executives, and the game would be interrupted by ads, it might be different.
    I guess a reduced price, or even a free game also serves to lessen this sense of entitlement, because you’re less likely to feel that you’re not getting your money’s worth.

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