How web3 will rewrite the rules of gaming advertising
20something's senior strategist Asa Nowers advises brands on how they can level up and prepare for web3’s impact on gaming advertising.
What is the future of gaming advertising? / 20something
Games built on blockchain technology are about to blow up. According to the DappRadar x BGA Games Report – Q1 2022, blockchain gaming activity saw a 2000% growth in 2022, compared to 2021. The same report reveals that “VCs and other investors keep pouring capital into blockchain games and metaverse projects, surpassing $2.5bn in investments.”
Based on the decentralized nature of blockchain technology, web3 games will offer their players experiences that are more inclusive of their ideas and, with the advent of play-to-earn, will be more valuable than ever before. This will create new standards from gamers, and that ‘level up’ in expectation will apply pressure on those marketing non-blockchain games. To prepare for this inevitable shift, gaming advertisers should consider the following reframes.
Broadcast advertising doesn’t build communities
Brands must show up effectively in engaged spaces in ways that are conducive to community growth. In the face of a web3 game explosion, broadcast campaigns just aren’t sufficient when advertising their non-blockchain counterparts. Rather than fostering a sense of community - which is the central offering of games built on the blockchain - broadcast campaigns create a divide between developers and players. This divide can lead to negative associations with the game with gamers feeling like they're being sold a product rather than being invited into a world.
A great example of a standard-setting web3 campaign is the launch of The Creepz universe by Overlord; an NFT project with a game at its core, whose collection raised over 32,000eth (>$50m) on OpenSea alone in just over 12 months.
The Creepz co-founders Dominic Smith and Joe Carnel have a thesis that is all about community and growing and building the experience together. This thesis has led to a subversion of traditional broadcast media and a focus on communicating in high engagement platforms like Discord; theirs now feels like a ‘mini-city,’ created by the constant buzz of conversations between founders, collaborators and fans.
Gamers don’t want the finished product
With community ownership at its core, games built on blockchain technology are pioneering a new standard of creator/gamer relationship; one in which the line between the groups is blurred, and anyone part of the project can help build it.
Take Axie Infinity, a blockchain-based game with around half a million daily users that allows players to collect, breed, and battle creatures called ‘Axies’. One of the project’s biggest strengths is its emphasis on community involvement and open dialogue. The team frequently, and actively engages with the community to gather feedback and ideas, meaning that players are encouraged to contribute directly to the development of the game.
This isn’t an entirely new dynamic brought by web3. Oliver Hindle, community manager at the company responsible for Fall Guys – one of the biggest games of 2020 – weighed in on this when asked to consider the key reasons for the game’s immense success, saying:
“Players love seeing [developers] talk candidly about why things were difficult, how things work, and sharing things that aren't finished or perfect [...] It makes game development seem more personal and relatable. I wanted the community to feel super close to the development process.”
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Not only does this reframe steal potency from any criticism the game may get for bugs, but the principle of inviting players in to build your game better also facilitates the growth of an engaged community around the game; setting the game up for success beyond its launch.
An example of a non-web3 game getting this right is Skate 4. While the game’s launch hasn’t yet been announced, to keep their audience excited and involved, EA dropped a ‘We’re Working On It’ trailer.
By being upfront about the game being a work in progress and showing behind the curtain, the developers of Skate 4 were able to build excitement and anticipation for the game while also managing player expectations about its launch.
If non-web3 games are to motivate gamers whose standards will be set by the new games built on blockchain technology, advertisers must never frame them as complete off-the-shelf products and consider ways they can genuinely invite gamers to be a part of the creation process.
Experience trumps features
Gamers know the game we’re advertising more intimately than us; especially when it comes to sequels or spinoffs. While we ought to know the strategy, the plot, the brand world, the hero characters and the different game modes - the players are intimately familiar with all the bits in between, all the texture experienced in hours of gameplay.
The speed at which the characters rotate on the loading screen. The sound that’s made by the menu buttons as they flick to their team. How long it feels like it takes to walk from one side of the map to the other. The way their friends and family feel about and talk about the game. The prominence of its franchise in popular culture.
The result is gamers no longer just 'play' games. They live (in) and breathe them. The games themselves are bigger than the box they came in, bigger than the consoles and networks they live on. They aren’t products, they’re experiences that are entwined with their experiencers’ personal lives.
While this isn’t isolated to web3 games, players of games built on blockchain tech will have an even more intimate relationship with their games as they will have complete ownership and control over the assets they create in the game space. They will become play-to-earn.
Web3 game Decentraland is a virtual world that allows users to create, experience, and monetize their own content. A clear result of this is that players of Decentraland will have a strong sense of personal ownership and intimacy with the game.
Successful game advertising will carefully make reference to the game’s texture and nuance, in a way that sincerely validates gamers’ experiences, recognizes their observations and plays with their ideas.
We applied this reframe to our recent spot for Fifa 23, which celebrated the 14th birthday of the title’s most-played game mode - Ultimate Team – in which players build their own football team, stadium and all, and compete with it against others. We built a construct – a fictional top-secret division of EA that is dedicated to celebrating the birthday of Ultimate Team for which we made a fake, leaked onboarding film - that created a space we could fill with easter eggs, niche references and inside jokes (the more of this we could squeeze in the better.)
With all of these reframes, we can give our audiences a stronger, more motivating sense of emotional connection, ownership, and of immersion into the world of the games we’re selling.
Time to level up.