Unfazed by the slowdown in gaming, marketers are waiting for more robust tools

Gaming was one of the big winners of the pandemic, seeing an increase in players and viewers willing to tune in to live streams on platforms like Twitch. Like many other digital categories once boosted by COVID-19 shutdowns, the story has quickly changed. Video game growth has bounced back to Earth in recent months, in line with an overall less certain economic picture. There is also a concept of high profile releases after blockbusters earlier this year, such as ‘Elden Ring’.

Still, flattening doesn’t discourage gaming marketers. During a virtual roundtable held Monday by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), representatives from brands, agencies, platforms and developers remained highly optimistic about the category, seeing it as an important channel for targeting a young audience — and also as a channel benefiting significantly from more robust tools to match its anchoring in the cultural mainstream.

“It was a bit unreasonable to expect that we won’t see some sort of decline from that massive amount of engagement,” said Paul Mascali, PepsiCo’s head of gaming and esports, during a Q&A portion of the media-only event. “I still think it’s an important focus for us. I don’t think we’re necessarily shocked by the declines in overall game sales.”

Recent marketing moves support the argument that the industry is not shying away from a cooling off period. Esports deals are more common, with companies targeting diverse partners in the professional gaming arena. Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes just reinvented its mascot Tony the Tiger as a virtual Twitch streamer, or VTuber, who plans to compete in battle royale games with popular creators. And on the agency side of the business, specialty stores are gaining traction. The Omnicom Advertising Collective unveiled a custom solution for a range of gaming tactics for customers earlier this week.

“We need to move away from siloing gaming as this niche activity. It’s mass entertainment,” said Zoe Soon, vice president of the IAB’s Experience Center. “We’re not saying, ‘Is my brand right for TV viewers?'”

Up for an upgrade

Even now that gaming is ubiquitous, the marketing infrastructure surrounding it is less well-rounded compared to other channels. The IAB has made a concerted effort this year to close the gap. In the spring, it held the inaugural Playfronts, an event dedicated to buying media in games, which attracted hundreds of attendees, some of whom returned Monday for the roundtable discussion.

The trading group is also updating the in-game ad measurement guidelines it first introduced in 2009. The playbook previously relied too much on the existing digital ad model, according to Soon, and didn’t do enough to address the specific issues. features of messaging in 3D worlds. While greater industry standardization is long overdue, rethinking the topic has revealed issues specific to in-game ads that can be difficult to fix.

“If a branded object like a shoe is in view, but the Nike swoosh isn’t in view — it’s not rotated to where the player can see it — does that count as a rendering? We’re going through all those little edge cases,” said soon.

Better metrics may be needed to assure marketers that in-game ads are worthwhile. Mascali said PepsiCo focuses on two types of game advertising: dynamic in-game advertising and what he described as a “hard-coded” approach, infusing the product into the experience from the get-go. The latter tactic relies on close collaborations with the developer, which can be labor intensive, but provide clear integration. The former has been generating more traction lately, but faces its own set of challenges.

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