Game-on: What potential does the gaming industry hold for advertisers?

With over 250 million gamers in India, the scale & scope of the gaming industry are growing and experts say it’s time for advertisers to pay more attention to the medium

e4m by Shikha Paliwal
Published: Feb 4, 2020 8:09 AM  | 8 min read
Mobile Gaming

Gaming has come a long way, from the days of the arcade to becoming part of every device we own. Gone are days of gaming being limited to consoles, the industry has evolved, matured, made technological leaps and is drawing the attention of consumers like never before. Brands like to be where the consumer is and in the online world, a majority are clearly seen gaming. What advertising potential then does gaming hold for brands?  

According to the report ‘The Power of Mobile Gaming in India’ released by the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) and Kantar IMRB in association with POKKT, the mobile gaming industry in India is projected to reach $934 million in 2022 and the number of gamers is expected to increase to 368 million by 2022. These findings signify that gaming in India means serious business and therefore holds promise for advertisers.   

“Gaming as a platform today provides vast potential to brands. It’s amongst the most brand-safe platforms (because of no UGC), where you get an engaged user who is typically opting in to watch an ad. Gaming was never a default that marketers wanted to focus on, but a lot has changed in the last 12 months. There has been a lot of inward interest from brands who want to embrace gaming.” Explains Vaibhav Odhekar, Co-Founder and COO of POKKT, a mobile video advertising platform with a strong focus on rewarded video ads within mobile games.

While consoles and PC games remain popular, it is the mobile phone that is taking the lion’s share of gaming spends. According to the App Annie global report “The State of Mobile 2020”, Mobile gaming is on track to surpass $100 billion across all mobile app stores in 2020 globally. Mobile games saw 25% more spend than in all other gaming combined in 2019. Furthermore, mobile gaming was the leader in consumer spends, 2.4x that of PC/Mac gaming and 2.9x to home game consoles in 2019.

The report also states that companies have started spending more on branding ad campaigns in mobile gaming and the one major factor that makes gaming inventory effective for brands is that it offers engaging formats like full-screen video. The report also gives a sense of what India is playing on their smartphones- the Breakout games of 2019 in terms of downloads were Carrom Pool, Free Fire, PUBG Mobile, Fun Race 3D and Sand Balls, the Breakthrough games in 2019 that took highest consumer spends were PUBG Mobile, Free Fire, Coin Master, Rise of Kingdoms, and Last Shelter: Survival.

India’s obsession with online games is also peppered with local flavours like card games based on Teen Patti and Rummy and the immensely popular fantasy sports games like Dream11, MPL etc which even have popular cricketing stars as brand ambassadors.

As the size, scope and variety of gaming in India take wing so do opportunities for brands. However, brands still need to go beyond the tried and tested, believes Ishtaarth Dalmia, Associate Director- Strategy, Dentsu Webchutney. He says, “Gaming and branding have had a conspicuous relationship in India so far. Brands haven’t experimented beyond universal campaigns which deliver in-app ads — because masses of Indian gamers preferred free games. With in-app collectables and new genres of games coming out, more opportunities exist for brands to create a new gaming business model versus using it as a media channel. Google Pay has layered casual gaming with instant rewards to unprecedented success. They’re an example more brands can follow.”

The common refrain for advertising on gaming is that the target audience may not be the fit for a brands marketing strategy but experts insist that gaming is no longer a domain of just the kids and stereotypes. Gaming, especially on mobile phones is cutting across age groups, demography, cultures and more.

Today, everyone is a gamer, says Arvind Nair, Regional Director, Mirum India, “Not just a young audience but people from all age groups and demographics play games on their mobile. Gamers are passionate and each game addresses a passion and an environment that they like. Be it programmatic or in the ad experience it’s a good place for brands to be visible and create an impact”

Shares Vaibhav that they see a healthy mix when it comes to gender ratio, around 45 - 47% of the users are females and in terms of the age split also, most of the audiences are in the 18 - 40 age bracket. He goes on to explain that, “Over 40% of the gamers spend more than an hour per day playing mobile games. While the average time spent in a day across ‘Over-the-top’ video platforms (like HotStar, Voot, Prime Video etc.) is around 45 minutes. The time spent and the level of engagement has a clear implication for marketers looking to influence consumers on the mobile medium. A gaming user is also in a positive frame of mind and shows much better engagement rates than any other format.  Gaming offers a vast reach spanning across gender and age groups. With over 250 million gamers in India, it allows a brand to use one medium to target every TG possible. Plus, video ads have the ability to be absorbed better in the minds of consumers, and with the rise of spending on in-app gaming ads, this is set to become a large investment area for brands in the coming time.”

Typically, video ads during a game are played to earn points or earn some currency. This format is referred to as a rewarded video. Consumer engagement with such ads is usually very high. There are several other ways that brands can make their presence felt provided they are not an annoyance in the gaming experience of the consumer.

Shares Dalmia, “Cobranding is turning out to be effective. Disney has done this internationally and now recently in India with BYJU’s. It’s not a game, but it gamifies learning. Another format is creating specific packs and in-app collectables around a launch/new campaign — as did Samsung with sticker packs for Fortnite before launch. These work at the branding level, but might not result in sales. Some other formats include dropping new products online with a checkout experience, so the path to purchase for high-involvement products is easier. 

 He further adds, “Hotstar’s Watch n’ Play is fantastic for certain categories and is present at the moment of truth — more brands should explore this. All other standard programmatic inventory still stands, but video, text, and display ads in-game are now the easiest to deploy and therefore least effective.”

Sharing his experience of gaming advertising Vaibhav elaborates, “Two standard formats the advertisers use are video and rich media interstitials. Another interesting format which is now being explored is In-Game advertising. Here the product or brand is placed inside the gaming environment. It gives users the most immersive form of advertising. Also, they completely correlate with real-life experiences. For example, in a cricket game, the stadium, boundaries, pitch etc can all be branded to give an environment like a real stadium. Or in a car race game, we can brand the car or put billboards on the road, so that the user has exposure to advertising in the most real life-like situation.”

The recent collaboration between Fortnite and Star Wars, according to Nair, was a great example of how brands can leverage the audience in an immersive gaming experience and not be intrusive. He says, “It's important to understand the game, the audience then look at the brand fit and then look at something that is adding value to the gamer. Like the ability to use light sabres in-game in the above case.

And as is the case for any advertising medium, gaming also comes with its set of challenges.

Says Vaibhav, “The primary challenge is the premium rates that the larger game publishers request for using their inventory. Rates in India have been historically low and a lot of publishers who are based in countries where rates are significantly higher are unable to come to terms with the lower rates in India. Consequently, brands have a tough time understanding why gaming requires a higher rate than other more popular mediums such as YouTube/Facebook. This is because gaming guarantees a brand-safe environment engaged user and a non-intrusive environment for the viewing experience.”

Brands have a hard time measuring game engagement and how that reflects on the brand can be challenging says Dalmia. He adds, “On the flip side, game developers don’t necessarily understand the world of brands and advertisers, and are reluctant on ruining the game experience for “takeovers” and allied media terms. The biggest challenge is having a shared vocabulary for what each partner can do for each other. It’s like the early days of digital and social media marketing all over again, where effectiveness has to be proved before brand opportunities. And just like digital & social, gaming is about to become inevitable in the marketing mix.”

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