5 Advertising trends in gaming

Gamescom, Europe’s largest trade fair for digital gaming culture, took place last week in Cologne. With over 370,000 attending this year, its increase in attendance since its first event in 2009, has mirrored the rise of gaming in the media and entertainment world. Gaming has always been big, from its infancy as arcade games to consoles, mobile gaming and more recently the new world of online gaming and streaming. But it’s getting even bigger. Its audiences are huge, and the time spent with games is still on the rise. So what are the opportunities for advertisers?

Never play alone
Some call gaming ‘the new social media’ because increasingly it’s something that people do with friends, and almost all games now include multiplayer elements and ways of messaging other players. Take Fortnite, which does just this. Whilst it’s primarily a ‘battle royale’ game, it’s also a platform for people to hang out, as though in the same living room, creating a community feel. Anthem also does this, with its emphasis being on connected game play. With a community comes conversation and if your brands are visible, there’s an opportunity for discussion.

Gaming is dominating live video
While we may think of live video as people watching each other go live on Facebook, StreamElements states that Twitch actually accounts for 70% of live streaming and had over 2.7bn hours watched in just three months. What’s more, Twitch and other streaming channels enables people to watch one another play games. The most popular streamers are now famous to millions and earn significant sums of money from this success. Ninja, one of the most popular Fortnite players on Twitch was reported to have been paid to ‘transfer’ to Microsoft’s Mixer streaming service to stream exclusively on there. These ‘celebrity’ gamers are not only in high demand with the streaming platforms, but brands too.

The sponsorship opportunities are tempting
Sponsors and advertisers are keen to get involved with the growing success of the gaming world. This is unsurprising, given the attractive audiences that come with it; according to a recent FT article the median age of golf fans is 64, EPL is 43, and eSports is 25, meaning that it’s an obvious medium for categories like sportswear and snack foods to get onboard with. In 2018 Ninja partnered with Red Bull and from this success, in 2019, they stepped the partnership up a level by launching a Ninja Red Bull can.

The rise of the female gamer
Whilst gaming has notoriously been a male-dominated category, female influencers are on the rise according to traackr’s research. Although male gamers might have a higher reach, their research found the female gamers had a higher engagement rate overall. This gaming group offers a different opportunity for brands, with research showing that discussions around beauty and fashion account for a large proportion of the topics. There have even been paid partnerships with the likes of Forever 21, Puma and Olay. More recently, the dating app Bumble sponsored an all-female Fortnite team, with the objective of encouraging even more females to participate in e-sports.

In-game advertising
In-game advertising was tried in the mid-2000s by companies like Massive and Double Fusion, but despite large valuations for these companies, the system did not work very well, as most players did not play online. This meant brands had to be built into the games and it was hard to track exposure and effectiveness. Now, however, there are signs that formats are being created that will allow messages into console games, and that these formats could become a more accepted part of gaming.

Fortnite, which as we know is one of the most ‘social’ games, has done campaigns with very high profile brands including Nike (your character could wear Nike-branded clothing and footwear) and even the latest Avengers and John Wick movies have created special elements within the game. Samsung paid for Fortnite to let them create a special outfit that was only available to people who played on the Galaxy S10 series of phones. This is partly driven by Fortnite’s commercial team, but also, by a new generation of marketers who grew up playing games and understand how best to connect with the gamers. Amazon’s Twitch is also starting to offer advertising opportunities.

The future is cloud-based
And finally, Google, Apple and others are planning new services where gamers can play based on subscriptions, instead of buying the games. As we know with the likes of Spotify and Amazon Prime, this subscription-based model has proven successful.

According to Limelight Networks nearly 20% of gamers around the world say that they spend more than 12 hours a week playing games. With most of the processing and technology existing in the cloud, rather than on the players’ hardware, it would be fair to assume that there would inevitably be more game play and with more game play, comes more opportunities for your advertising to be seen.

Now that gaming is largely online (and new cloud gaming launches like Google Stadia will accelerate this) it’s easier to see how in-game advertising could work in a similar way to other online advertising, including programmatic targeting and delivery. Two companies in this space are Bidstack and Anzu, who are both able to insert ads into defined spaces within games so that the players are exposed.


With the continued rise in popularity of gaming, the more opportunities there will be for brands. I think these will be accepted, but only providing they feel appropriate both for the brands and in terms of placement. They need to feel natural to the game, the action, or the stream in which they appear.

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