March 2020 was one of the biggest months for video game spend by US consumers on record, with $1.6 billion spent on everything from hardware to software to game accessories. As Mat Piscatella, a games industry analyst for The NPD Group notes, “Whether together on the couch playing locally, or playing online, gaming has generated increased engagement, which has resulted in corresponding increases in consumer spend.” However, as the amount of time spent gaming has increased, so too has advertisers’ desire to use the medium to reach engaged and valuable audiences. 

While advertising within video games is not a new concept (see: the 1992 game Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension), recent technological advances have made it easier for game developers to incorporate ads. For instance, early editions of FIFA featured static billboards where brands could see their logos displayed, much like they would in a real-life soccer match. Other brands have paid to have their products incorporated as part of the game itself, either as key components of the narrative or as items available to purchase.

But by far the easiest – and perhaps most affordable – way for brands to get into video game advertising is through mobile gaming. For one thing, brands can control where their ads are shown, thus sidestepping issues of brand safety that might arise on other digital advertising platforms, and ensuring that their content is only seen next to properties that reinforce their brand ethos. Mobile gaming also offers advertisers the opportunity to target specific demographics and behaviors, although at the moment relatively few brands are taking advantage of this opportunity. 

Currently, the most popular form of in-game advertising comes in the guise of rewarded video – that is, ads that, if watched, will give the player some sort of reward that can be used in the game. Not only does this encourage individuals to watch as many ads as possible, it also ensures brands a guaranteed audience for their content. Moreover, research has indicated that players of mobile games were more than twice as likely to pay attention to ads in their games as compared to internet, magazine, or billboard ads. 

Given how little opportunity many of us currently have to see billboard ads, it would be sensible for brands to consider shifting their spend, even temporarily, to in-game advertising. At the very least, it would keep them top-of-mind with consumers; or it could end up helping them build a new generation of loyal customers.