Gaming has of course been a significant market for a few decades now, but the emergence of metaverse-type platforms, in-game currencies and the rise of online creators has seen brands flock to the space and attempt to understand how they can reach customers in an organic way.
But what can the industry offer to new brands that are yet to enter the space?
There are an incredible 3.2 billion gamers worldwide. This ranges from committed console and PC players to those who play word games or puzzles on their mobile devices.
The average gamer spends 8 hours 27 minutes a week playing games – and when you consider that the vast majority of gamers are not multi-screening – looking at their phones whilst also watching TV – you can get a sense of an opportunity for brands if they can engage with this incredible audience.
Within the gaming space we have the esports audience, which stands at 474 million competitive gaming fans as of 2021. Three times the amount of viewers watched the League of Legends Worlds that year (360 million) than the Super Bowl (111 million).
The average age of an esports viewer in the US is 29 and have a willingness to spend, with 43% having a household income of $90,000 or higher, with live in-person tournaments continually breaking records for attendance and fans frequently donating to their favourite streamers on Twitch.
So, how can brands appear in front of the audience without being intrusive? Well, there’s a multitude of ways.
Sponsorships in esports provide plenty of opportunities, with the option to sponsor esports tournaments or esports organisations.
Of course, the more organic your placements the better, with KitKat smartly sponsoring the “breaks” during matches at the League of Legends EMEA Championship (LEC) in 2020. This gave KitKat a foot in the door in the esports and gaming world, and the Nestle brand has gone from strength to strength, becoming incredibly recognisable in the space.
Through some digital campaigns and activities, KitKat then became the official main partner of the LEC Finals in 2021, with its own commercial. KitKat is now the most popular chocolate brand amongst the esports demographic and is the second most recognisable brand out of current LEC sponsors, after Red Bull.
If brands want to reach an ever wider audience and a community with 100% focus on the activity at hand – in-game advertising can be incredibly rewarding.
Of course there is a tremendous range in this, starting from pop-up ads on mobile games, to full in-game integrations in open world titles such as Fortnite and Roblox.
The most effective brand placements see users engage with sponsored items, such as in-game cosmetics or challenges to unlock content. The size and number of brands that have done activations within Fortnite – ranging from Marvel to NFL to Air Jordan – show the power and value of the platform, with the majority of collaborative brands sharing an audience with Fortnite.
A 10-minute in-game concert from Marshmello was attended by 10.7 million players, the first of such event in Fortnite. This has seen been followed by Ariana Grande and Travis Scott, as well as film events for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Tenet.
In-game advertising doesn’t have to happen solely in online game, with Ubisoft’s Far Cry 6 showing the power of single player campaign titles. One particular mission seeing players attempt to unlock the Hamilton watch Khaki Field Titanium Automatic.
The brand received 15 million hours of on-screen time in the first month of release, with an 71% of players equipping the watch. Hamilton also released the limited-edition item in real life, worth £1,000.
Offline activations and co-marketing
Another level of sponsorship involves teaming up with game publishers and offering products to consumers in real life. This can be in the drinks market where players can find codes on drinks bottles to download items in-game – driving up both sales of the drink and playtime in the game. These type of campaings can often be done without a fee, with everyone involved getting increased awareness.
Lucozade executed this in 2023 with a collaboration with Microsoft owned Xbox and Bethedsa for the game Starfield in the UK and Ireland. The campaign ran from late April until the end of June, despite Starfield not arriving until September.
This enabled potential players to build up brand loyalty for the upcoming game, which was exclusive to Xbox and PC platforms. One-month membership to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate – which contains other Bethesda titles such as Doom Eternal – came with every single bottle, with other prizes available, such as winning an Xbox Series S.
As for offline activations, this would be simple free giveaways or competitions at gaming or esports events such as Gamescom or the League of Legends EMEA Championship (LEC). This provides a guarantee for an engaged audience, less of a barrier of entry and even add those signing up to be added to their mailing list.
Perhaps the most popular form of advertising these days is via influener marketing, and it’s no different in the gaming industry.
With streamers nowadays almost exclusively streaming on Twitch, a free-to-watch platform for viewers, it presents a great opportunity for brands to reach audiences in an organic way.
This can be done by product placement, with the streamer showing off a particular product during the stream, whether that is a gaming chair, real life collectible or even food. Streamers are even often paid by game publishers to play their games on stream to hype up interest.
Similarly, co-streaming has become incredibly value for esports events, which allows streamers and creators to also stream their tournaments. This amplifies their reach and opens up their tournaments to a wider audience, and often can be more exiciting with their favourite streamers supplying their own commentary.