What Are Advergames?
The name “advergame” comes from joining the words “advert” and “game”. This is exactly what advergames do. They integrate brand advertising messages directly within video game content.
Advergames are premium content that is used as an engagement tool and usually come under the banner of content marketing.
The verb “advergaming” is often used to mean the act of using advergames as part of an ad campaign. This encompasses the full cycle of production and promotion of an advergame.
Advergames have been around in one form or another for decades. Early advergames were commercial games for personal computers and games consoles that included product placement and/or featured characters associated with a brand.
Now advergaming is more commonly associated with small scale video games directly commissioned by brands, usually to tie in with a specific ad campaign. These are usually published on the web or as mobile apps.
Confusion With In-Game Advertising
Advergames and in-game advertising are often confused or defined as the same thing. However, there is a definite distinction between the two.
Advergames integrate the advertising within the game itself. In fact the very best advergames don’t just include branding as an afterthought, they have a deep symbiotic relationship between the gameplay and advertising. This can be achieved by designing the gameplay around an aspect of the business, or a specific product or service, in line with the campaign goals.
By integrating campaign messages and branding directly within the game itself, this exposes players over the duration of the experience. It can also allow for more subtle and less annoying/intrusive advertising.
With advergames the game is usually created for the brand in question. So the business directly commissions the production of the whole game as a piece of content to use in their marketing.
In-game advertising, on the other hand, is not directly integrated with gameplay. This is where adverts are embedded within a game, which has no other connection with the brand.
In-game advertising usually takes the form of pre-roll video, or in game banner ads overlaid onto the game. Brands usually pay for ad space on a cost-per-click or cost per impression basis.
Advergames are most commonly produced as free casual games deployed as mobile apps or on the web.
Advergame development services are often offered by web developers, digital agencies or specialist companies.
Game development costs are literally sky’s the limit. However, web based development with HTML5 and widely available game engines, such as Unity have made it possible to streamline development and work within a wide range of budgets. This has made advergaming more affordable and opened it up to a much wider range of businesses.
Relatively simple, web based, casual time-waster (usually single level, with short play time) advergames can be produced for around the £5,000 mark. With more complex games costing much more.
Promotion of an advergame to drive traffic to it can also have a cost attached, particularly if paid ads (such as banners) are used to boost players.
Back when Flash was the most popular web based game development platform, advergames could be easily distributed (using free and/or paid placements) across numerous online gaming portals to essentially take the game to players.
Making an advergame freely available in this way often lead to many other websites picking up and posting the game, therefore increasing spread and ultimately play numbers. Because of this secondary spread, advergames distributed in this way became synonymous with viral marketing. This lead to the term “viral games” being used to describe them.
Since Flash has fallen out of favour on the web and is now due to be phased out, advergames are not generally distributed in this way any longer.
Current Promotion Methods
Promotion methods are changing due to the decline of Flash and website promotion becoming less about distributed content and more about having unique assets in only one place. For online advergames this can be a company website or microsite, or a dedicated domain for the game. For advergames delivered as mobile apps, this needs to be the appropriate app stores for the devices the game supports.
The business then needs to promote the game to drive players to the game, in the first instance, rather than the old method of taking the game to the players. Any viral spread of the game then comes from players sharing a link to the game. This can occur on social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, on personal blogs and websites.
Promotion can once again come via paid placements (advertising that links to the game) to drive traffic, or free/earned placements. Bigger brands also often integrate an advergame into their other advertising. For instance, featuring in TV or print advertising can be a great way to launch an advergame.
Free/earned placements (apart from player link shares) are usually gained through PR channels. As with most content promotion, it’s becoming increasingly necessary to integrate advergames into an overall business marketing plan. They can provide an excellent hook for a dedicated press release. This in turn can help get the business exposure in related media as well as drive traffic and engagement with the brand via the advergame. This can also provide great SEO benefits to ultimately drive further traffic to a company website via search engines.
Modern advergames often include social sharing buttons to facilitate sharing of the game between players. These allow quick and easy sharing of a game link with a single button click.
Deeper social media integration can be achieved through integration with social gaming platforms such as the Facebook Games platform. This allows features such as friend’s scoreboards, invites, achievements and timeline posting to be used to increase game visibility and drive traffic via social networks.
Although video games are often seen as child’s play, nothing could be further from the truth. The average gamer is 35 years old and women are just as likely to play as men.
This makes advergames suitable for targeting a huge range of demographics. As long as the game is designed to appeal to the particular target audience, there’s no reason why advergames can’t be used for all businesses.
Advergames have come under fire in recent years for their use to promote junk food to kids. This has largely been blown out of proportion by media. Advergames targeting children, although arguably ethically questionable in many cases, only make up a small percentage of uses.
Calls have been made for tougher restrictions on advergames that target children, despite them already being regulated by the Advertising Standards Agency in the UK.