In recent years, we have seen the perception of PC and console gaming pivot from an unsociable medium to an activity that is universally enjoyed. This shift was accelerated by the pandemic, when users were searching for new and more entertaining ways to connect. However, despite mobile gaming already establishing an effective marketing tool via in-game programmatic ads, PC and console gaming had been relatively under-utilized, especially considering users often play for two or more hours in one sitting. This is because it is more challenging to reach consumers in an environment in which they value their experiences greatly and do not wish to be interrupted. By understanding how consumers value video games and the experience they demand, marketers will be able to set a different path to optimizing engagement and campaign effectiveness – learning from past successes and failures while leveraging new and exciting technologies to endorse their brand.
A surge in popularity
In the spring of 2020, gaming emerged as one of the most popular activities during the outbreak of Covid-19; engagement and spend surged between February and April. Statista revealed that Gen Z and Millennials spent 23% and 21% more time respectively gaming as of March 2020.
What’s more, a wider demographic was exposed to gaming during the pandemic. There was a spread to non-traditional audiences and to a greater proportion of the younger generation. There was a 200% increase in over 60s searching for games, whilst 93% of under-18s admitted to gaming regularly. Gaming moved away from the stereotype that it is isolating and unsociable, instead being enjoyed by all ages, both alone and as a social activity. New groups emerged: ‘downtimers’ were parents or young professionals looking for a break, whilst ‘social gamers’ utilized gaming as a new way to connect with friends.
However, the industry saw a slight slowdown in 2022 as global inflation tightened purse strings, and chip shortages led to supply issues with gaming hardware that could not keep up with demand. Nevertheless, despite the 2022 slowdown, by the end of that year the gaming market was almost four times the size of what it had been in 2019. Following the brief contraction, many expect the industry to continue growing, and is set to be worth $321bn by 2026.
New and existing opportunities to advertise to gaming audiences
A unique opportunity has therefore been presented for advertisers to reach younger audiences in a non-traditional format. Gaming audiences skew younger: 74.2% of A18-24 play video games in the US, according to Insider Intelligence, while TV penetration is just 58.2% and falling. One media trends report showed that playing video games is the favorite entertainment activity among Gen Z respondents in five different countries (US, UK, Brazil, Germany and Japan). Gen Z spends a quarter of their leisure time gaming, more than on any other medium.
Traditionally, mobile gaming has been the most effective channel, and 45% of all video gaming ad revenue comes from mobile to this day. Programmatic in-game advertising is seen as the most sustainable ad business for most marketers, with technology capable of measuring and tracking ad performance. PC and console gaming is the most attention-rich and immersive environment, but has historically been under-utilized by brands to access a hard-to-reach audience.
Trailblazing the PC and console platforms was battle royale game Fortnite, which collaborated with brands to create interactive and immersive experiences for the consumer. Starting off relatively small in 2018, Fortnite introduced soccer skins and interactive pitches in celebration of the World Cup, as well as cosmetic tie-ins with the NFL. Marvel then teamed up with the game to create Fortnite x Avengers crossover events, where players could collect infinity stones and become Thanos. Since then, Fortnite has hosted game modes for franchises such as Star Wars, John Wick and Avengers: Endgame. Fortnite innovated to create branding that no longer felt like advertising; firstly, it was optional and secondly, had an immersive nature, bringing new and exciting elements to the game as players were seamlessly familiarized with the brand or product.
Such innovation demonstrated how branding can effectively reach the consumer within console and PC gaming. Players invest significant time and money into playing these games and do not want to be slowed down or have their experience hampered by repetitive on-screen ads as are too often seen on free-to-play mobile gaming and traditional linear media. Such ads led to criticism of NBA 2K19, where players were disappointed to find unskippable ads surfacing within the game. Conversely, Fortnite’s use of branding to complement the game added further value and engaged players in a positive way.
2023 and beyond: an exciting frontier for advertisers in gaming
The outlook for 2023 and beyond is positive for the gaming industry. The US economy is on the road to recovery, as falling inflation bolstered by support from the federal reserve indicates consumers may be more inclined to spend. In Asia and the Middle East, rapidly-growing economies are expected to see continued and sustained mobile gaming growth. PC and console gaming is to continue with multi-platform investment, along with further commercial diversification in the eSports industry.
In the console and PC space, game publishers will seek to further leverage technology to help create a more personalized gaming experience. Using new technology such as generative AI, machine learning and zero code platforms, storytelling through gaming will become increasingly bespoke. The role of brands – as we saw with Fortnite – will be most effective when facilitating the creation of such experiences, further enhancing them with added value and benefits.
It is clear that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that may have been effective across traditional media will not go down well in a landscape where gamers are unwilling to endure linear commercial activity that interrupts their game. Thoughtful, tailored approaches that enhance, rather than detract, from the user’s experience will be the most successful.
Marketers therefore need to begin by gaining a comprehensive understanding of the game, the experience it offers to the consumer, and the content and culture surrounding it. It is then about working out how the brand can create added value within the game, in a way that is engaging, interactive and memorable.
There is a growing body of experts and organizations who can guide advertisers as they navigate this new and exciting territory. The IAB recently released a report, ‘Finding Success with In-Game Advertising: Perceptions of Buyers and Sellers’, and its Experience Center focuses on emerging platforms and evolving consumer behaviors in fields such as gaming.
As advertisers adapt to challenging times, the opportunity to reach passionate, highly engaged audiences in a way that enhances their experience and familiarizes them with your brand is too good to pass up.
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