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Snap believes interactive AR lenses are games - what do you think?

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By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

May 23, 2022 | 10 min read

When does gamification of an experience constitute a fully-fledged game? As part of its Gaming Advertising Deep Dive, The Drum quizzes Snap on whether it considers itself a certified gaming platform on account of the interactivity of its augmented reality lenses.

Anyone who follows the ups and downs of social media will have heard the words ’interactivity’ and ’experiences’ regularly. Not quite as commonly used is ’gaming’, but across social platforms users are increasingly interacting with entertainment, fashion and beauty brands through special in-camera lenses (augmented reality) and these filters are often flexing into what one may call a game.

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For brands, there’s a big opportunity – while advergames have been much maligned in the past, brands are now exited by the prospect of creating fun items that boost their bottom line and entertain users, and they may well just be games. Just don’t call them ads...

Tarika Soni is head of EU gaming at Snap. A gamer herself, she believes the opportunity for Snapchat in gaming lies in its ability to create new experiences on the boundary of social sharing and new tech.

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She says: ”The [Snapchat] community by nature doesn’t need to be taught how to use the camera; it’s actually an extension of themselves. It’s the Snapchat generation of players – they know how to use AR in a different way because their communication style is through snaps versus chat.”

As a result, AR games are becoming a more integral part of the overall experience on Snapchat. The ways in which its users interact with the app in general means they are primed for gaming experiences to appear as part of their feeds. That has a significant uplift on the engagement between player and brand.

Soni says: “When the camera’s telling you to blink your eyes, or any of these body tracking technologies that we end up using that tends to be a very active engagement, it’s not passive – which is one side of how we use Snapchat. But the active engagement side of a game tends to be absorbed in a different fashion because you’re kind of the brand ambassador for the 15-30 seconds that you’re in the ad.”

Combined with the social sharing aspect of Snap, Soni says that any gaming experience shared with friends receives a multiplicative amount of shares as a result. She notes that Snapchat is also experimenting with voice tech that will further enhance the immersion of gaming experiences on the platform, which will further reduce the hassle gap for players who are currently made to tap the camera screen in order to launch or engage.

She says that the majority of Snapchat’s users already play games on the same mobile devices they use to launch and engage with the social app, so while not every user of Snapchat is necessarily a ’gamer’ by the strictest definition, its users are predominantly familiar with mobile gaming in general.

And the reinvented approach to branded games is indeed most evident on social platforms. Lens Studio from Snapchat already did much of the legwork when it came to allowing brands and individuals the ability to create custom lenses; small wonder that branded gaming experiences would follow.

Soni states that branded games are so integral to Snap (due in no small part to its years of investment in AR tech) that the experiences are created and sold in auction in much the same way as any other ad on the platform: “We are at the stage where we’ve been working on augmented reality for so many years. We have over 250 million daily active users that come into augmented reality every single day and use the lens. That itself is a punchy number.

“The barriers to entry for augmented reality now are probably the lowest they’ve ever been. We’ve got third parties that build augmented realities and experiences for us. We have templatized a lot of it where even a UI manager or a creative manager on their side can actually go in and create an app.”

It all speaks to a wider investment from Snap Inc into the gaming landscape. 300 million Snapchatters have played Snap Games, with some third-party games like Ready Chef Go having tens of millions of players.

What sets Snap apart from the other entrants in the social gaming space is the scalability of those experiences. Between the shareability of the games themselves and the relatively low barrier to entry to AR, Snap’s offering is tangibly different from the other platforms investing in gaming as a marketing opportunity. Soni cites the different KPIs which come to the fore with AR gaming, such as a radically uplifted purchase intent, as something which is attracting brands to the platform.

But rather than rest on its laurels, Soni says Snap is still looking at the future of the AR gaming space. Noting that some of the most transformational gaming experiences of the past few years have been powered by AR tech, she states that the wave of AR investment is yet to crest. She cites city-based AR experiences which radically transform the landscape around the user in real-time as an example of an application of AR tech that is yet to come to full fruition.

“We just showed off Custom Landmarkers [the city-based AR creation tool] and I'm really excited to see where that goes. The first thing that came to my head when I was looking at this announcement was: can you imagine having the entire London City to play with? I think that was literally the first thought that came to me when I looked at the rollout of the city architect. I’ve always wanted this to happen.”

She adds: ”It’s actually turning cities into gameplay, which is a different level, so that’s really fun.”

Brands have always followed audiences. For Snap, the question isn’t if they will follow users into AR, but when. The opportunities for branded games are rapidly expanding and it’s now up to brands to demonstrate they can stand out in a rapidly maturing and exciting gaming space.

For more on all the different ways brands can advertise in gaming, from virtual billboards to product placements, social lenses and even games of their own, check out The Drum’s Gaming Advertising Deep Dive.

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