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What’s ‘premium’ gaming inventory - and should we care?
July 5, 2021
I’d like to think that, within these thousand or so words, I'll posit a definition of ‘premium’ gaming inventory that receives universal industry approval. The reality is that we've never truly reached a consensus of premium in any digital media, and I don’t expect gaming to be any different. So instead of agonising over how to define premium, I’ll limit my ambition to giving my view on the things that give gaming inventory value.
Until very recently, major brands, advertisers and agencies looking to spend in the gaming ecosystem have focused on bespoke creative activations within games such as Fortnite. What better entry point for budget-holders whose gaming knowledge is derived in no small part from the games their children play? In fact, to contradict myself, I’d undoubtedly call these activations premium.
Many have been fantastic, helping create a paradigm shift in how we socialise, play and interact with brands. But their role for advertisers should be as grandstand, once-a-year set pieces that build on a regular cadence of value-driven games advertising. So what are the features of gaming inventory that create this value and drive ROI?
We know that in some digital environments up to a third of ads aren’t viewable. Whether it’s a mobile interstitial or an In-Play VR billboard, look for proof of viewability that goes beyond the industry standard. Admix recently pioneered a partnership with Integral Ad Science (IAS) to measure the viewability of our In-Play ads. With this integration, IAS measures in-play 2D display ads based on MRC viewability standards. While there is not yet a viewability measurement specific to gaming environments, this represents a major step forward in third-party authentication of 2D ads in-game.
Inventory that grabs attention doesn’t need to detract from the gameplay experience - one of the ad industry’s legacy concerns with games advertising. Placements that occur in natural breaks in gameplay or, even better, within the gameplay itself, are drastically different propositions to those that take players out of the game they’re enjoying. Admix ran a study with publisher Neon Play earlier this year which showed In-Play ads had zero impact on player retention in one of their popular titles.
Games inventory is a tasting menu, not a prix-fixe. From full-screen interstitials which give your creative more room to work with, to playable minigame ads, there are plenty of courses to amuse your bouche. Admix’s rendering technology means any creative format can be displayed within games as virtual billboards, videos, or even as cosmetic items.
No advertiser wants to see their brilliant campaign featured alongside content that is nowhere near as good, or even potentially damaging to their brand. The alternative to manually purchasing inventory for evermore is to utilise trusted platforms that hold inventory in popular games. I’d also say let the players be your guide - if a popular game shows high player engagement, playtime and retention, it’s not not likely you’re being sold a lemon. Brand safety should be a given; ask instead how you can secure inventory that is brand suitable.
Of course, relevance matters too. In the broadest possible terms, it’s more likely that ads for a luxury fashion brand will suit Equestriad World Tour than Head Ball 2. However, games are a data-rich environment and such a simplistic targeting strategy is old hat. Admix, for example, leverages first-party and contextual user data to algorithmically serve ads that suit the player rather than just the game they’re playing. This means reaching the right user at the right time in the right game, so that players can receive different messages and offers based on their location or gameplay behaviour.
Sometimes context is more common sense. Take EA Sports’ UFC series, for example. It has successfully featured relevant brand logos in the octagon - these can even enrich player experience as they mirror reality. But when it recently ran in-game video ads in UFC4, it rather overestimated the appetite of its audience for additional advertising in a $60 console title.
Yes, sweaty teenage boys still play video games in their parents’ basements. With 2.7 billion gamers worldwide, it’s also more than likely that while they’re running Valorant on their gaming PC, mum or dad is upstairs answering the call of duty on their XBOX or crushing candy on their iPad. Women make up 45% of gamers in the United States, while nearly a quarter (23%) are aged over 50. It’s increasingly ludicrous to pigeon-hole a diverse form of entertainment which holds a similar share of our attention as social media does.
When I spoke at an industry event earlier this year, I heard from a lot of brands who didn’t know that gaming campaigns could be targeted, automated and measured at least as well as other digital campaigns. As such, they were running expensive one-offs, or failing to get off the ground at all. I touched on data-driven targeting above, but what many people don’t know is that gaming inventory is commonly, if not universally, available programmatically. Likewise, from brand uplift to attribution, there are various familiar options to measure ROI.
iOS 14.5 and growing consumer demands for privacy mean performance advertising can no longer rely on tracking users across digital properties. For parts of the digital ad world, this is cataclysmic. It isn’t for gaming. Firstly, games generate large amounts of valuable contextual data. Secondly, it’s simple to build in consent workflows to games, and by being up front about the purposes of data collection, games can make the most of their fans’ goodwill to monetise effectively - including via granular targeting and performance campaigns. Performance options are something Admix is exploring for our In-Play format, so I certainly continue to see a valuable role for them in the cookieless universe.
‘Premium’ is defined not by the salesy language around the form and function of a piece of inventory, but how it performs in specific campaigns. Ultimately, an easy-to-implement, well-received campaign which demonstrates strong ROI is extremely valuable - regardless of the inventory it utilises.
Of course, we’ll continue to use premium as a moniker that we use to ascribe value to placements. As such, two things are inevitable. Firstly, as the infrastructure of games advertising continues to grow and mature, the gaming world as a whole will increasingly be seen as a premium environment. Secondly, as understanding of the available formats across gaming platforms increases, advertisers will come to see custom activations in Fortnite and Animal Crossing: New Horizons as the cherry on top of a multi-layered premium gateau.
By Samuel Huber, CEO and Co-Founder of Admix
(Image credit: Ultimate Car Driving Simulator by Sir Studios)