Do you remember what made the summer of 2016 special? In London, you couldn’t walk past a monument without bumping into (sometimes literally) a group of teenagers immersed in their phones, trying to capture a Bulbasaur. Pokémon Go was the mobile game that took the world by storm, leading to $1 billion in-game upgrades within the first 200 days of its launch. The game’s success might have slipped since its heady opening days, but with a steady install-base and reliable revenue streams, Pokémon Go is still arguably the most successful mobile game ever. Most notably, it pushed the potential for Augmented Reality in gaming to new heights and set the bar extremely high for competitors.
The beauty of Pokémon Go was its unprecedented ability to merge the virtual and real worlds. Players raced to virtual Pokémon placed in strategic locations, from the Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square to Waterloo Bridge, encouraging them to leave the house and interact with other people. Technology has allowed games to immerse their audiences in more surprising and realistic experiences than ever before, and brands are waking up to the possibility of tapping into them.
Over the next couple of days, the GamesCom convention will be held in Cologne, Germany, and the discussion will surely turn to the industry developments set to make in-game advertising even more interesting for brands. For example, the imminent rollout of 5G will reduce latency in technologies like Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR), leading to more engaging, realistic, and uninterrupted experiences. PlayStation and Xbox are already investigating opportunities in AR, and Apple has acquired a startup that produces holographic lenses, demonstrating its own enthusiasm for the possibilities opening up in this space. 5G will also make game streaming more reliable, providing a boost to an already healthily proliferating industry of game streaming platforms, including Twitch, Google Arcadia, and Apple Games.
Technology companies see the evolving opportunities of gaming, and marketers are starting to as well. For one thing, the rise in online and mobile gaming has helped to make in-game advertising more targeted. And the rise of VR and AR is creating in-game advertising opportunities in completely new formats, like the option to sponsor a Pokéstop in Pokémon Go. In-game advertising is an opportunity to connect with consumers while they are highly engaged, emotionally charged and open-minded to new possibilities. And the technological developments that are rippling through the industry promise to make these experiences even more realistic and uninterrupted.
For brands wishing to capitalise on in-game advertising, the secret is getting as integrated as possible with the narrative of the game. Opportunities are much more sophisticated compared to the early days of “badging” a billboard, or placing a product in the latest zombie apocalypse game. Nowadays, brands have the opportunity to embed themselves in a game, especially through technologies like AR, which make it possible to fuse a game’s narrative with the outside world. In Pokémon Go, for example, gamers are engaging with a tantalising overlay of real and virtual worlds. So in sponsoring a Pokéstop, brands are able to embed themselves in the aspirational fantasy of the game at the same time as remaining tied to the real world, making the call to action much more direct and tangible.
Brands should also ensure that their presence in a game is constructive rather than disruptive. Players turn to games to immerse themselves in a different world, and branded content needs to drive them forward, not hold them back. If there is an action they need to take that interrupts their experience, they will perceive this negatively. That’s why many mobile games have learned to offer optional video advertisements in exchange for tokens that help gamers level up, providing them with an incentive to engage with the content.
In-game advertising offers possibilities for brands to engage with consumers in ways that are both unprecedented and exceptionally powerful. For brands willing to find the right way of inserting themselves into games, the opportunities are more valuable than ever. As with any new format, brands simply need to spend the time strategising the outcomes they desire from their investment, rather than jumping on the bandwagon for the sake of it. And they need to spend the time developing a connection that is relevant and actionable, but also seamless and contextual.