As brands increasingly look to reach gamers in their natural habitat, stakeholders in the gaming advertising world are coalescing into two camps: those porting programmatic adtech into games via intrinsic in-game ads, and those integrating brands into more immersive gaming experiences. As these two sides increasingly compete for marketers’ gaming budgets, the tension between them is mounting.
Last month, Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney caused a stir by coming down hard on in-game ads in a Q&A with Digiday. But for many executives and observers in the space, Sweeney’s comments disparaging in-game billboards came as no surprise; it’s a drum he has been beating for years. But despite Sweeney’s statements that he “hates advertising in games,” Fortnite is arguably chock-full of ads in the form of brand integrations, the equivalent of Hollywood product placement for gaming.
That isn’t to say that Sweeney’s comments didn’t come across as good sense to many marketers in the space.
“I agree with Tim wholeheartedly; I am almost 99 percent aligned with what he said,” said Brent Koning, the global gaming lead at Dentsu. “When you look at in-game advertising, just generally as an industry, there are some challenges. Candidly, we have just RFP’ed all of the major in-game advertising partners, and a lot of those platforms are saying very, very similar things.”
Still, while Sweeney’s points are fair, it’s hard to deny that they favor the work his company is doing over other companies’ efforts to integrate brands into games. The argument that Fortnite’s brand integrations are more seamless than other forms of in-game advertising ignores the higher barrier to entry of this format. Compared to intrinsic in-game ads, which can be placed programmatically inside game environments, bespoke branded game worlds and in-game items require more pre-development and consistent updates to be effective. And