Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

In-game marketing works, but remains a challenge for brands

By Jayson Fittipaldi, Co-Founder/Chief Innovation Officer, NOBOX

In many ways, gaming today is a modern marketing conundrum. It’s a shared online experience with millions of mostly young men playing against each other, or watching others play, whether via their Xbox or Playstation devices or streaming services like Twitch or Roblox, yet largely walled off from marketing messages, or the ability to act on them without leaving the game environment.

According to data from the DFC Intelligence Report, in 2020 there were more than 3 billion people in the world who play video games. This data represents 40 percent of the world’s population, pushing brands to focus on in-game marketing. Post-pandemic, many brands have invested more in this segment in part to the renewed interest in video games after spending more time at home.

There is one challenge: how to make a big enough impact as a brand within the gaming experience, hopefully leading to purchase.

If you look around at the brands that are having the most success with in-game marketing it becomes clear that there are no hard-and-fast rules about what tactic works best, it’s more the creative idea and the execution. Here are some examples:

  • NBA’s 2k22 Newbalance sponsorship leans into the increased demand for customization, where players can design their own new balance shoes to wear on the court.
  • EA Games partnered with Jeremy Scott and Moschino to develop in-game item packs featuring virtual Moschino clothes and fashion-themed career paths.
  • Fortnite’s partnership with the Jordan brand where players may compete for the Air Jordan XI Cool Gray and find MVP areas. When players unlock MVP rooms they find a museum dedicated to past Air Jordan releases, a basketball court, and an immersive video showcasing the Air Jordan XI “Cool Grey.
  • Marketers have also started blurring the borders between the games themselves and streaming platforms like Twitch, with interactive playthroughs like Porsche’s latest, in which spectators controlled the in-game actions of two drivers in real life to unveil the team’s next electric car, the Porsche 99X.

The takeaway from that list of disparate brands and tactics is that the brands that are making in-game marketing work are the ones that can take ownership of the relationship with gamers, create authentic experiences within and beyond the video game, and implement creative based on the knowledge of the audience.

Additionally, gaming sessions are a new way of socializing between young and not-so-young profiles. These are meeting places where gamers share shopping recommendations creating the next level of ‘social gaming commerce’ that offers the possibility of buying during and through gameplay a gamechanger for brands, allowing them to new ways to connect with audiences via engaging experiences that add to the gaming experience. Spaces like Discord are where people unite over fandom and revel in the simple magic of “letting fans be fans together.”

So, how can you do this for your brand?

  1. Non-invasive In-Game Marketing Tactics: In-game marketing should not demand anything from the player. It should contribute to the game’s story, make the setting more immersive, and improve the gameplay in some way. the most important part of the activations, or whatever you are doing inside the platform, it’s about the way we make the viewers feel
  1. Recognizing Video Game Consumer Loyalty: Gamers tend to be extremely passionate consumers, who will be loyal to their favorite video games, expecting a great experience in return. This loyalty can present more of a challenge for marketers: they must have a clear understanding of the specific needs of this particular game’s audience if they are to be successful.
  1. Understanding Social Gaming Commerce: Gamers place almost as much importance on looking good as their avatar in a video game as they do on how they do in real life. Brands that allow players to purchase or win branded virtual clothing and accessories that they can use to personalize their avatars and make a good impression on their friends in their respective virtual circles are a step ahead. Last year, more than 3 billion players spent $175.8 billion on purchases within a video game to access premium content, a figure that is estimated to exceed 200 billion dollars next year.
  2. Authenticity is Essential: No matter what it is you’re doing within the platform, how it makes the viewers feel is the most crucial component of any activation. It may be somewhat intangible, but the more honest, approachable and organic the idea feels, the more likely it is to get the attention of the audience. It is crucial when collaborating with streamers that they are not asked to do or read anything that feels inauthentic, as their audience is highly critical of these ‘fake’ situations.

In-game marketing is no longer ‘child’s play,’ but rather represents a significant segment of consumers – particularly young men – you are ready to be marketed to but only in creatively engaging ways that respect the gaming world. Big opportunities exist for the brands that know their audience, know gaming, and are ready to think boldly,