Skyrise provides a real-world alternative to buying, planning, and measuring media. Powered by unrivalled insight and activated through buying programmatic media. Brands and agencies can take a wide view and see customers in their full lives.


This promoted content is produced by a publishing partner of Open Mic. A paid-for membership product for partners of The Drum to self-publish their news, opinions and insights on - Find out more

The in-game advertising landscape: It isn’t child’s play

November 7, 2022

By Josh Nurney

In-game advertising is letting marketers reach players when they’re at their most relaxed and receptive. It’s a fast-moving area, so here’s what you need to know about the state of play.

What do in-game ads look like in the 2020s?

Forget the old pop-up ads that you had to sit through before you could keep playing Candy Crush. In-game ads now integrate with the game world itself. You’re playing Football Manager and you see your brand’s ad appear at pitchside. Or maybe you’re busy building a virtual city where the billboards are all ads for real-world products.

That’s where we’re at now. In-game ads are bought in a similar way to other programmatic channels. Right now, this is mostly happening on mobile where most of the inventory is currently available. From what we’ve observed, PC and console are about to really come into their own.

There’s a lot of potential on the horizon, but in-game ads still aren’t going to be a magic bullet all by themselves. They need to be supported by sound data and a broader strategy. But if those things are in place, marketers can win their slice of an industry worth $6.8bn.

What’s the market for in-game ads like right now?

Games have moved on and so have gamers. In-game advertisers now have a deep, established market to play with, one that commands a great deal of spending power. Firstly, stats show that gaming is globally massive; 3.24 billion people play at least semi-regularly.

76% of those folks are over 18, with an average age of 35. The old gender disparity has disappeared, various sources claim 48-51% of gamers are now women. We have a far more mature consumer landscape, and that’s reflected in the changing way people interact with games.

Mobile is fast becoming the arena of choice for in-game ads. 62% of people install a game on their phone within a week of owning it. 21% of all Android and 25% of iOS apps downloaded are games, and in total they account for 43% of phone time. Interestingly, women are actually more likely to spend money in-game than men.

2022 data suggests gaming is embedded into our digital psyches. 79% of the online population games. The rise of in-game socializing and the budding metaverse is fostering deeper engagement with media. That’s good news for brands, gamers are 36% more receptive to marketing than non-players.

Smaller audiences still present big opportunities

With a landscape like that, plenty of mainstream-focused brands could be seeing in-game ads as a no-brainer. But even niche audiences can present compelling cases for the format.

The gaming industry is four times bigger than film and three times as big as music. That presents staggering levels of diversity. 71% of Gen X and 53% of Boomers game at least semi-regularly, it’s not only a Millennial and Gen Z thing.

The deeper an understanding you have of your target demographic, the better you can refine your marketing. There’s plenty of data out there about what games are favored by what groups:

  • Boomers love puzzles, board games and card games
  • Gen X enjoy puzzles, action-adventure, shooters and sports games
  • Vegans are almost twice as likely to play music and rhythm games
  • Entrepreneurs are over twice as likely to play fighting games
  • Higher earners are more likely to play strategy games

The knowledge you already have about your customers helps craft a natural, low-friction in-game ad experience for any audience.

Who’s doing in-game ads right?

There’s a lot of room for creative to shine through in this kind of marketing. Some brands have nailed their approach particularly early on.

New Balance, the sports footwear brand, spotted a natural fit in 2K Sports’ latest NBA game. Players can customise their own New Balance shoes to be worn by digital characters. Customizing visuals are a key part of this franchise, New Balance integrates seamlessly with the way players enjoy the game.

Everybody knows the Sims, where players guide the lives of in-game characters, from choosing their jobs and neighbors to their clothes. Moschino, the luxury Italian fashion house, partnered with EA Games to make their clothes wearable by Sims in-game. Sims can even embark on a career as a Moschino designer. Again, we see the brand become a natural part of the game’s existing flow.

Let’s also talk quickly about the importance of a game’s community. Battle royale shooter, Fortnite, has a highly engaged player base, many of whom create and stream their own video content. When Nike included their Jordan clothing for characters in game, the community loved it. A quick YouTube search throws up multiple videos with millions of views celebrating the move.

Fitting in-game ads into your marketing strategy

Weaving your brand into the game experience begins with understanding why people play games in the first place. Play is a relaxed mental state, we turn to games to escape from a world we can’t control but also can’t stop hearing about.

There are also the psychological mechanics of games to think about. It’s an activity geared towards achieving things so our brains will release dopamine. Anything that interrupts or disrupts that flow should be quickly booted out of your in-game ad strategy.

In short, tread carefully. Gamers are passionate advocates for what they like, but they’re also vocal about anything that messes with their positive play environment. Remember, this is also in your best interests as a marketer.

For as long as marketers treat it respectfully, gaming benefits from the halo effect. Anything associated with how players spend their precious downtime is seen in a more positive light, including ads. That’s a big source of comfort for marketing managers worried about their ads appearing in potentially violent game contexts. Players simply don’t mind.

With this baseline understanding established, it’s a case of letting creative lead. Include players from the earliest discussions and create something that enhances the existing experience. As more inventory becomes available over the next 12-18 months, we could see a boom not unlike that of digital out-of-home.

Before that happens, we can help your brand get ahead of the game.

Talk to us about in-game advertising


in-game ads
programmatic advertising
Gaming Advertising