Getting in the game by going native

Casey Campbell, Managing Director, North America at Gameloft for brands, looks at the value of native advertising in-game.

Over the past couple of years, brands have begun to reassess their approach and attitude towards advertising within videogames. They have realised that the stereotypical image of a gamer – a youth with solely invested in videogames – is nothing like the reality. People of all demographics play videogames, and the typical gamer skews towards well educated and intelligent, and as brands have come to realise this, more of them are advertising in videogames.

According to a May 2020 report from Newzoo, there are 2.7bn gamers in the world, and the  global games market was forecast to generate revenues of $159.3bn (£124.6bn), of which just under half ($77.2bn) would come from mobile games.

Clearly, the ability to engage with hard-to-reach demographics is one reason for in-game advertising’s appeal, but another important one is the format of the advertising itself. Because more than any other medium, in-game offers the perfect opportunity to run native ad formats, where the ad closely matches the in-game environment and experience making it a more subtle, and more effective, way to advertise. In fact, a study by ad agency Sharethrough and IPG Media found that native ads are more compelling, registering an 18 per cent lift in purchase intent compared to banner ads. They are also more noticeable, with 25 per cent more consumers seeing in-stream native ad placements more than standard banner ads.

The study also found that consumers look at native ads 53 per cent more frequently than display ads, and that they drive a 9 per cent lift in brand affinity compared to banner ads. Another study, from Hub Entertainment Research, found that 46 per cent of all gamers had played games with sponsored content, and that 61 per cent who have played games with sponsored content said it made the game more fun.

So what does an in-game native ad look like? Well it can take many forms, not all of which you might instantly recognise as advertising. In this piece, we’ll take a look at some of the more common formats, and at some of the more unusual ones.

In-game items
With in-game ads, the ad unit can be incorporated thoughtfully into the game so that it looks like part of the gaming environment. In a racing game, for example, as the cars race around the streets, it’s easy, and perfectly natural, to incorporate a brand’s ad on an out of home billboard at the side of the course.

This is the approach mobile network Simple Mobile took when advertising in Gameloft’s Ashphalt 8: Airborne racing game, with the company’s branding appearing both on billboards by the side of the track, and on the cars themselves, which were reskinned with the company’s logo and branding.

In the same game, Michelin has also deployed a branded booster, enabling players to opt for Michelin-branded tyres on their car, which delivered more speed, faster acceleration and better controls.

Story modes
When a new game is released, most developers don’t close the book on the game and move on to the next one. Especially in games as a service (GAAS) titles, developers are constantly working to update the game with new levels, items, features and missions to keep players interested in the game, and keep them wanting to play it.

This creates a great opportunity for brands to get involved with these updates, maybe to tie in with a product launch or some other big moment in the brand’s life. At Gameloft, we regularly work with brands on bespoke integrations with our games, where the content is both subtle and engaging.

A good example of such an integration is a campaign we ran with the band, Fall Out Boy to promote the release of a new album, Mania. Working with the band’s record label, Universal Music Enterprises, we produced car skins, music integration, and a brand new story mode for Asphalt 8: Airborne, that aligns with the experiences of the players. The music integration saw three tracks from the album added to the game’s soundtrack, while the story mode enabled players to take on tasks for the band members with the goal of becoming their most trusted driver, and also, to race for the band at the FOB World Tour.

Going deeper
And earlier this month, we ran a bespoke integration with the second virtual edition of UK-based electronic music festival Junction 2. On Saturday, 9 January, over 20 of the world’s finest house and techno artists played across three visually unique digital stages, brought together as one global livestream event, Junction 2: Connections. Each stage was filmed on location and broadcast directly out of Berlin, Detroit and London, bringing the sounds of these cities direct to players’ homes.
In the run-up to the festival, gamers and music fans were invited to experience the music of Junction 2: Connections while participating in full throttle races across the iconic cities of London and New York, riding with the W Motors Lykan HyperSport luxury sportscar within Asphalt 8: Airborne and Asphalt 9: Legends.

The first gaming session ran for five days, starting on Wednesday 30 December, while the second started on Wednesday 6 January, overlapping with the festival broadcast on 9 January 9. On that day, exclusive DJ sets from the Junction 2: Connections broadcast were livestreamed directly into Asphalt 8 Airborne and Asphalt 9: Legends in-app, and replayed for the duration of the weekend. 
The partnership enabled Junction 2 organiser, LWE, to combine its highly-engaged audience with the millions of players of both Asphalt games in an engaging digital experience while physical festivals are still pending in most countries in the world, at the same time enabling brand partners to create meaningful engagement with these broad youth culture audiences. 

Of course, these deeper, richer integrations take longer to organise, and require more work on the part of the advertiser and the game developer than a simple branded billboard, but this effort is worth it for the deeper levels of engagement they deliver. And as more games go cross-platform, they offer an opportunity to reach players, irrespective of what device they happen to be playing on.

Measuring effectiveness
When it comes to measuring the effectiveness of native in-game ads, there are some important points to consider. The first is that native is more about effectively branding and engaging than conversions. It would be doing native a disservice to try and define its success purely by the number of people clicking on an ad. The most important benefit of native advertising in games is engagement. It gives the audience an opportunity to experience the brand’s message in an interactive way. The media world is completely flooded with advertising, and for a brand to cut through that clutter and make an impact, it needs to find a way to be meaningful to its audience, and to engage them to make an emotional connection. 

Our own metrics include engagement and time spent, but the most important KPI for many native activations is actually re-engagement. If our audience has interacted with a brand in a gaming environment, then enjoyed the experience and voluntarily re-engaged (sometimes over and over) then we know that the content was entertaining and meaningful, and that it resonated with that audience. That connection is worth more to a brand in the long term than a click.

That said, if an advertiser wants a native ad to deliver clicks, then we can offer a clickthrough Call To Action (CTA) at the end of the experience, via an end screen. For instance, when we run in-game tournaments such as Asphalt sponsored events there are branded cars, branded billboards and branded power-ups for that specific race, along with branding of the race itself, and at the end of the race there is an end screen with a CTA. In some cases, this end screen has also included a form that the user can fill out to win a prize in a draw. And if an advertiser wants to measure the brand uplift delivered by a native ad campaign, then we can work with the likes of Nielsen and Millward Brown to deliver this.

In summary then, native advertising presents a unique opportunity for brands and will grow in popularity in-line with cross-platform growth. Working directly with a trusted gaming partner brands can attain a deep understanding of the game’s players, and translate their brand objectives into a campaign that can live seamlessly in-game, effectively reaching players in a fun and non-disruptive way.

If you’d like to know more about Gameloft for brands’ approach to native, contact us today.