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Everything advertisers need to know about IAB & MRC's update to in-game ad standards
March 27, 2023
Today, over 3 billion people worldwide play video games — 277 million of which are based in the US. With such a huge audience, advertisers have an exciting opportunity to seize the attention of billions of engaged players within this growing medium.
To provide advertisers with the confidence to jump into in-game as an ad channel, however, the advertising industry knew that they would need to work together to agree on a unified set of guidelines for measuring in-game success.
As a result, the arrival of the updated Intrinsic In-Game Advertising Measurement Guidelines from IAB and MRC turned this on its head, providing more unified criteria and confidence for advertisers to explore gaming for their marketing efforts.
Six months on, what impact has this had on the world of advertising in games? To answer this, Anzu — the world’s most advanced in-game advertising solution for mobile, PC, console, and the metaverse — hosted a webinar, bringing together Ben Fenster (co-founder & CPO, Anzu), Zoe Soon (VP experience center, IAB), and Kavon Kavoussi (senior product manager, Emerging Mediums, IAS), and Michael Reidy (SVP advertising sales, NBCUniversal).
The following discussion was taken from the Anzu webinar, ‘What Impact Have The Updated In-Game Ad Standards Had?’. Watch the discussion in full here.
How the new guidelines impact in-game advertising
When the panel was asked what impact the new guidelines were having on in-game ads since its update six months before, Zoe Soon was the first to speak up. “Gaming was held to a different standard, it wasn’t apples-to-apples. So this is really about bringing gaming up to par with the rest of digital media.”
Zoe continued that the IAB had noticed a continuous shift towards gaming in recent years, but with the help of the updated in-game measurement guidelines, the tipping point for advertising is coming soon: “We don’t know when the shift will happen, but it will tip over.” Zoe emphasized the scalability of in-game ads to such a huge gaming audience, adding that US gamers spend an average of 13 hours a week gaming, that 45% of gamers are female, and 90% of Gen Z game. “We’re laying the groundwork to do more work to prepare ourselves and the industry for this shift to more interactive immersive experiences.”
Kavon Kavoussi added that the updated guidelines have given IAS the opportunity to expand its existing verification capabilities into gaming. He also expressed how these new standards help advertisers determine their benchmarks and set the bar for other KPIs.
Ben Fenster agreed, adding that the updated standards have made it easier than ever for advertisers to buy and measure in-game ads, giving marketers trust in new ad formats. “The main thing is the ability to actually analyze the performance apples-to-apples, to have the trust that it’s measured properly, and of course having the ability to do it at scale. It’s all standard, it’s as easy as buying an ad everywhere for the first time!”
In-game ads: A question of creative
When it came to leveraging gaming as an advertising platform, one thing resonated with all the panelists — the new challenges and opportunities of running ads in a 3D environment.
“Gaming is still a very new space, particularly for larger brands,” said Kavon, “and most are still trying to figure out how to use the channel and how it works, and trying to understand what kind of creative resonates best, what game types drive the most attention for them. So having new guidance on how to leverage this channel is critical for figuring all of that out.”
“It’s great to have the measurement, but we really can’t forget the creative and the experience and why you’re doing something.” Zoe agreed. “You can’t just slap a mobile ad into a gaming environment, just like you couldn’t slap a desktop ad into mobile. It’s a different mindset, different context, and different creative environment.”
She continued that as publishers have historically been cautious about integrating ads into their games to preserve the gameplay experience for players, the advertising industry needs to “get creative”, designing for the platform and their audience with authentic messaging. “The gaming platform is probably the least forgiving of missteps in terms of brand voice and why you’re there, so I can’t stress enough the creative aspect and knowing your audience.”
Ben approached the question from a brand safety angle, saying that there are still many misconceptions around gaming content and brand safety among advertisers. “The level of checks native content goes through is much higher than web content, even if it’s in an app. News and social apps get their content updated constantly without getting approval. But each time you update a game [with a major change], it must go through a re-approval — not only to the game itself to see whether it’s compatible, but also with the content describing the game.”
What’s next for in-game advertising in 2023?
To conclude the webinar, Michael asked the panel what advertisers could expect from the gaming industry, particularly in-game advertising, over the remaining course of the year.
Ben answered first, predicting that the industry will start to see more in-game standards and standardization of measurement metrics in line with the existing ad ecosystem — from viewability and attention to invalid traffic (IVT) and brand safety. “I believe what’s going to change is that we’re going to see a big shift towards premium from console and PC HD titles that understand this is a much better model than selling discs bringing a wave of premium, high-quality inventory that is going to be very exciting to see in the market.”
Zoe concluded that with advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and green screen technology for streaming, dynamic creative will boom in years to come. “Gaming, once the red-headed stepchild of advertising, will have the chance to lead because we have these standards and environments where we have dynamic ads inserted.”
“I think we’re going to see a lot more advertisers, particularly larger enterprise advertiser interest this year,” Kavon added. “It’s going to be experimental at first, trying different things in different areas to see what works, but we think that this will all lead to a point where gaming becomes more of a larger pillar of our clients’ broader marketing strategy.”
Michael concluded the webinar with his own prediction surrounding in-game ads and its widening accessibility to advertisers. “[There’s a] lower threshold to just get involved and get testing it as a medium, and potentially growing to those larger figures.”