No sector has generated quite the excitement as video games, among consumers and advertisers alike.
86% of internet users globally said they play games on at least one device, while the gaming market last year hit $152bn, a 9.6% year-over-year increase, according to a report from Facebook.
Meanwhile, more investors, including advertising companies, are getting in the game. Last summer, WPP, Bitkraft Esports Ventures and Axel Springer invested in an Israeli startup called Anzu specializing in integrated video game ads. As The Drum reported, Anzu has developed technology capable of putting ad formats including images, banners and video within a virtual environment without distracting players or interfering with the core gameplay.
A wave of new entrants — including Google’s YouTube and Stadia, Apple’s Arcade, Snap’s Games, Amazon’s Twitch, Microsoft’s Mixer and Xbox, Facebook Watch and Facebook Games, ESPN and Venn.tv — means there’s even more action in the category. Helping drive the market is a growing interest in esports — essentially video games with a large degree of competitive multiplayer interaction. Esports has attracted 201 million players globally and is projected to reach $1.6bn in revenue by 2021, Wavemaker said in a report.
With the current scale and continued growth of time spent in gaming and esports, it is no surprise that monetization opportunities are growing as well. That said, gaming and esports adjacencies have ushered in some unique considerations regarding brand safety given a series of factors — among them, the fragmentation of the experience, the lack of measurement standards, the challenge of actively monitoring in-app activity versus web, and the popularity of livestreaming and live chat, which are challenging to monitor effectively in real-time.
Following is a breakdown of leading monetized opportunities in the video game market and some recommendations for marketers looking to hook into a desirable, highly engaged community while keeping their brands safe:
Media companies have arranged for ad insertion catered to a range of brand opportunities, including individual gameplay, streamed esports content, reports on the world of esports, branded platforms for recorded game play distribution, and sponsored broadcast events. Common types of brand integrations with media properties include rewarded video, interstitials, and banners.
Advertisers should use open web standards regarding contextual brand safety, ad fraud and viewability where applicable. Also, wherever possible, they should leverage whitelists or, at minimum, exclusionary lists for themes deemed unsuitable for a brand.
Publishers and game titles
Publishers own the IP for game titles and control most, if not all, of the Esports and gameplay ecosystem for each title. Examples include Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Riot Games, Sony, Tencent, King, and Ubisoft. A collection of popular games from these publishers includes Minecraft, Fortnight, World of Warcraft, Madden, Grand Theft Auto and League of Legends.
Identify the genre style that best mirrors your brand values and brand suitability. While real-time competitive action games have the most projected time spent increases and are the basis of many esports leagues, many titles simulate violence, sometimes graphically, whereas sports, puzzle and trivia games can be more family-friendly.
Teams and players
Professional teams play competitively in various esports leagues and events and streamed live or recorded gameplay. Notable teams include Cloud 9, Team Liquid, FunPlusPhoenix, and Fnatic, while some of the most famous gaming personalities include Ninja, Myth, Tfue, Dr DisRespect, f0rest, FalleN, Xizt, Faker, Uzi and TheShy. Brand integration with and sponsorship of teams, as well as influencer marketing deals with players, are popular among marketers.
Like influencer marketing in the social media space, in gaming, there are important considerations for brands that include the public image of players, whether or not the players are a fit with the brand and proof of performance, as well as cost basis and category exclusivity. Much like other professional sports leagues, teams are comprised of players who can get attention for the wrong reasons. In regard to brand suitability, understanding the game in which the teams/players participate is crucial.
Leagues and tournaments
Esports leagues, events and championships feature top teams competing and are operated by publishers directly or third-party event operators including ESL Gaming Network, Overwatch League, League of Legends, Eleague (aka EL) and Intel Extreme Masters. Brand integration/sponsorships with teams and influencer marketing deals with leagues and tournaments are popular among marketers.
As with teams/players and social media influencers, important considerations include the public image of players and whether or not players are a fit with the brand. Questionable content such as language is not as great a factor here, as gameplay boasts high production values and professional commentators. Brands should watch the gameplay to understand whether it is a safe environment for them.
By developing an understanding of the opportunities — as well as the risks — of the gaming culture, brand marketers stand to win and win big.
Kieley Taylor is the global head of social for MPlatform (part of GroupM)