Technology Adtech Brand Strategy

How the IAB is getting gaming ad standards on ‘par with the rest of digital media’


By Chris Sutcliffe | Senior reporter

September 12, 2022 | 10 min read

Brands are hungry to reach the world’s one in three people who game – which has traditionally been an ad-free space. In order to supercharge gaming advertising, IAB UK has launched new measurement guidelines for in-game ads.

An ad for Vodafone appearing in the racing game Trackmania

An ad for Vodafone appearing in the racing game Trackmania

In-game advertising has long been the primary source of revenue for mobile games, but tech has progressed to the point that in-game ads on console games can be bought and sold programmatically as well. That’s a new revenue source for games, and one that console manufacturers are taking seriously. Both Microsoft and Sony have confirmed they’re investing in adtech and tools to create in-game advertising solutions for brand partners.

However, measuring the effectiveness of those in-game ads is much more difficult than on mobile titles – which could potentially harm the ability to attract brands to spend on ads in games.

Connie Hawker is member services manager for IAB UK, and heads up its UK gaming group. She explains: “The development of the updated intrinsic in-game measurement standards is a key step in the evolution of gaming as a mainstream ad channel. While it’s impossible to categorically say that the standards alone will attract more advertisers to gaming, they have been created because more and more advertisers are choosing to spend in this space.

“Having these shared standards is hugely beneficial to advertisers – addressing ad viewability, measurement, inactivity and fraud within intrinsic in-game ads in order to bring them up to par with the rest of digital media.”

To that end the IAB Tech Lab and the Media Rating Council have collaborated on the latest iteration of its Intrinsic In-Game (IIG) measurement guidelines, to establish updated measurement guidelines for ads that appear within gameplay. The first iteration of the measurements appeared in 2009, and since then the sophistication of in-game advertising tech has evolved significantly. Those measures include, among other analytics:

  • Incorporating new advertising formats beyond two-dimensional and video, particularly as it relates to viewability within in-game environments

  • Defining in-game measurement terms (impressions, reach/frequency and engagement) to align with broader cross-channel measurement efforts

That last point is important, as it provides parity with the other mediums in which advertisers choose to buy ad slots. The IAB also hopes to begin including gaming ad spend data in its forecast reports, in order to provide a more holistic look at how gaming fits into the landscape.

Sarah Stringer, executive vice-president of US media partnerships at Dentsu, agrees that parity and an easily-understood selection of measurements are vital: “It’s great that the IAB is developing in-game standards to ensure quality and a fair representation of the opportunities in the growing space of gaming. Gaming as a media continues to mature, and this will help agencies and brands navigate the opportunities to determine the most impactful placements and formats to achieve business results.”

Console considerations

Gamers are – slowly – being more accepting of in-game ads. That’s in part due to exposure to free-to-play titles that have always been monetized through ads. It’s also partly due to the sophistication of games increasing to the point that ads can be inserted into games more naturally than the obvious sponsored partnerships of the past.

Anzu is an in-game advertising platform, which has been working on the measurement system in collaboration with the IAB. Its executive vice-president of marketing and strategy Natalia Vasilyeva said: “According to Anzu’s proprietary research launched earlier this year, 70% of UK gamers and 75% of US gamers are positive or neutral towards in-game advertising, with two-thirds of respondents saying they would welcome more in-game advertising in games, recognizing its importance for game developers as a reliable revenue source.

She went on to claim: “When shown, the participants often stated that Anzu’s intrinsic in-game ads enhanced the gameplay experience, with realistic billboards, signage and other branded objects featured in games such as Ubisoft’s TrackMania and Axis Games’ Axis Football. Many gamers in the surveys also offered one crucial lesson for brands and game publishers – in-game advertising content must be as relevant as possible to the game environment.”

Meanwhile, IAB’s Hawker notes: “The highly-realistic graphics that we see in gaming today have been a key consideration in the development of the updated standards. For example, when it comes to viewability, we now need to consider factors such as how the glare of the sun reflects off a digitial out-of-home (DOOH) graphic during gameplay. Or, if you’re driving down a road past billboards, at what angle does an ad become legible?”

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That sort of in-game advertising works for, say, sports games, which carry over the tradition of pitch-side advertising hoardings from real life. But for other types of game, where there is no such skeuomorphism (where items represented resemble their real-world counterparts), the challenge is much greater.

While Anzu’s testimonials demonstrate gamers are amenable to billboards in racing and sports titles, the majority of games do not replicate the real world so exactly. It is extremely unlikely, for instance, that gamers would be so accepting of ads showing up in a fantasy environment like that of God of War.

As more consumers flock to gaming – both mobile and console – the desire to reach that lucrative audience is increasing commensurately. While standardized ad measurements will certainly help attract wary brands to the medium, there are countless other considerations that go into where and when those in-game ads should be deployed.

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