Gaming has been a major form of entertainment for decades. The Entertainment Software Association estimates that over 216 million Americans game on a weekly basis, and globally that number surpassed 3 billion this year. In addition, gamers spend an average of 16.5 hours per week gaming and, contrary to outdated stereotypes about gamers, 46% of gamers are female and almost two-thirds of female gamers are moms.
With over 80% of Gen Z considering themselves gamers, it’s a format that is on the march towards cultural ubiquity. It will become as odd to describe consumers as ‘Gamers’ as it is to call consumers ‘Video-watchers.’ We’re also seeing that the gaming consumption habits of Gen Z are more steady-state throughout the day compared to the consumption peaks and troughs seen in older generations. With these ‘always-on’ consumption habits, gaming is permeating everyday life, and becoming an interaction language that facilitates the connection between physical and digital worlds.
Despite this reach and depth of engagement, marketers have been slow to tap into this attention oasis. Advertising in games accounts for less than 6% of total digital ad spend. This is shifting. Just as we could no longer ignore consumer time and attention going to mobile, it’s becoming hard to ignore gaming as a way to reach and connect with the next generation of household decision-makers.
Why Gaming Matters More Than Ever
During the pandemic, consumers turned to gaming to fill the void left by other forms of entertainment and as a way to connect socially with others. Gaming also provided a way to digitize and scale shared cultural moments when the physical world was in lockdown. With artists like Ariana Grande, Travis Scott and Marshmallow hosting concerts in gaming environments and major brands like Balenciaga, Gucci and North Face all collaborating with gaming publishers, gaming is increasingly being seen as mainstream, ditching outdated stereotypes.
Alongside shifts in cultural perceptions of gaming, technological advances in the way ads can be inserted more seamlessly into games is helping erode some of the publisher and consumer resistance to ads in games. With additional excitement around the metaverse and what it means for the evolution of brand interactions with consumers, it has become increasingly important to lay the groundwork of consistent and clear measurement guidelines to support the growth of advertising in gaming.
Intrinsic in-game (IIG) ads refers to native in-game or in-play ads that are placed “in the game” to become a seamless part of the gameplay environment. When we first released in-game ad measurement standards in 2009, video games and advertising technology were in a vastly different stage of development and the concept of ad viewability had not been developed.
To address this, the IAB, the IAB Experience Center, IAB Tech Lab and the Media Rating Council (MRC) worked with members of IAB UK and a task force of prominent in-game ad companies, brands, and agencies to update the 2009 intrinsic in-game guidelines. The Gaming and Esports Advertising Framework brings measurement up to par with the rest of digital media by addressing ad viewability, measurement, inactivity, and fraud with respect to intrinsic in-game ads.
Since these updated standards were released, Roblox has announced that they will be debuting their own in-game advertising product in 2023 to supplement revenue from in-app purchases. Whether the timing of this announcement is related or just serendipitous, we hope these updated standards will bolster publisher and developer confidence in in-game advertising and encourage the growth of ad inventory and brand demand.
A word on how intrinsic in-game advertising impacts the consumer experience. Although gamers are known to be one of the most ad-resistant audiences, research has shown that, when done correctly, in-game ads can actually enhance the experience by adding to the realism of the game. For example, ads on billboards or around racing tracks are a sort of virtual analogue to digital out of home ads. They mimic what a player would see in the real-world version of these environments.
Another way to ensure the ads are non-intrusive to gameplay is to make them an integrated part of gameplay, for example by allowing players to customize their character with branded clothing. Per the research, ads that are congruent and interactive (self-initiated) can enhance players' intention to purchase the advertised brand.
Gamers are extremely passionate and vocal. This means that as an industry, it is critical that we get the ad experience right. If we don’t, we risk damaging consumer trust and jeopardize gaming publisher subscription revenues. However, if we get it right, we can benefit from this high level of consumer engagement and investment. The potential upside is directly proportionate to the potential risk. As such the IAB will be working on defining creative best practices and guidelines for intrinsic in-game ads in 2023.
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