Jonas Soderqvist, CEO, Adverty, summarises the basics of mobile-based in-game advertising and urges brands to take the long view all the way to the metaverse
None of us will be surprised to hear that, on a global level, engagement with mobile is at an all-time high. And during the Covid years, one of the most conspicuous beneficiaries has been mobile gaming studios.
Between 2018 and 2021, consumer spend on mobile games rose from $73.8bn to $116bn - an increase of 60% [source: data.ai]. In the same period, downloads rose from 63.7bn to 82.98bn - up 30%. Many countries, including Germany, Brazil and the US, doubled their gaming revenues in three years, and the global market grew by $15.5bn in 2021 alone, with more than $220,00 spent every minute.
The engine of much of that growth was ‘hyper-casual’ games - particularly action, puzzle, simulation and .io games, mostly free to play and funded by ads. Games in these four categories were downloaded 13bn times last year, according to data.ai.
Their audiences are not only huge but stereotype-challengingly diverse - female mobile gamers outnumber men by most estimates, just as parents are more likely to play mobile games than their children - indicating both a prosperous consumer audience and a need for strong mobile-friendly advertising models.
So now would seem to be a good time to talk about the basics of advertising in mobile gaming environments.
Respect the space, add value, don’t get in the way
These are well-established principles by now. Gamers respect the fact that developers need to monetise free games and are broadly comfortable with the presence of advertisers, but that doesn’t mean they are on board with a disrupted game experience. In other words, ads that spoil the fun, break up the gameplay or pop up at annoying moments are out. However, ads that enhance the realism of a game are generally seen as a plus, and when brands aim to add genuine value, that’s better still. In-game rewards for watching ads, such as hints and power-ups, work well and dovetail nicely with in-game purchases.
Nail the branding opportunity
There are two sides to in-game mobile advertising: branding and performance. The former is the kind that plants ads within games - a virtual version of Out of Home, using billboards, bus stops, bus-sides and other highly visible media inside the game’s setting. Like the physical ads on which they are modelled, these are branding ads, and they are proven to be highly memorable while not disrupting play. Adverty’s own In-Play ads, for example, are displayed in a native, organic way, ensuring that the player experience is optimised.
Use the performance play
The other key option is performance advertising that allows players to click into contextually relevant display banner ads on menu screens between turns. Again, it doesn’t take consumers out of the game they are in, but the dynamic allows advertisers to deliver brand messages, including direct paths to purchase. Adverty’s In-Menu is such a format, and games such as Lucky Kat’s Magic Finger 3D, which has racked up more than 20 million downloads, demonstrate both approaches in action: billboards within the game and interactive ads in the menu, creating a powerful multiplier effect between the two.
Ask and learn
Brands that are new to gaming often lack in-house expertise and even general background knowledge. As with social media, gaming ultimately needs dedicated experts on the client side if it is to be done right, but those that aren’t yet at that stage of investment should demand that agencies, publishers and ad tech providers explain the protocols, the opportunities and the rules of thumb in clear and accessible terms.
Look to the future
Critical aspects of the in-game advertising proposition are evolving fast, including the development of sought-after industry-wide viewability standards. Our BrainImpression™ technology uses ad size, position, rotation, viewing angles, lighting conditions, scene materials and interfering objects to determine viewability. These methods are moving towards broad industry acceptance, with third-party ad verification specialists on board and the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) working hard in the same cause. And given the impending virtual worlds of the metaverse, lessons learnt by brands about in-game advertising today are sure to remain highly relevant going forward.
By Jonas Soderqvist