Advertising professionals, wake up! Sink or swim, but bring your smartphone.

Games as a medium for advertising, social interaction, and branding have been around for over a decade now, yet they haven’t had much consistent impact so far.  I’d dare say they’re still considered a novelty or a nice cAampaign add-on by too many advertising professionals.

However, the disruptive events in the online world over the last four years, have drastically altered the landscape. Suddenly (but not unexpectedly) gaming has exploded, and can no longer be seen as secondary field of interest by innovative advertisers and digital agencies.

Consumers now spend more time on mobile apps than they do in the browser, even if desktop and mobile browser usage is combined. Furthermore, the largest chunk of app use is is spent on game apps. Consumers spend 32% of their device time playing games, 17% on Facebook, and only 14% using their mobile browser*.  As Forbes stated earlier this year, “The mobile browser is dead, long live the app.”

Gauging the trend, it suggests that it won’t be long before the consumer starts spending more time in mobile games than they do in the browser on any platform. Period. In an app marketplace where 79% of Apple’s revenue from the appstore is driven by games **, as a game developer I would add: “the browser is dead, all your consumers are belong to us”.

We’re not talking about some distant future either… right now games are the biggest piece of the mobile cake.

The advertising industry is taking note, and in-game advertising is on the rise.  However, with the projected global ad spending on “mobile internet” reaching only a meager 6.2% in 2016 ***, we’re still talking baby steps.

It’s astounding that so few digital agencies and innovative advertisers have caught on. It’s not that mobile is just happily adding new market share, it’s also cannibalising the desktop. This should be evident from your own online campaign analytics, compared to those of a few years ago.

Anyone considering a transition to mobile should also understand that Apple and Google have changed the playing field. Yesterday’s free and untamed internet is slowly being replaced with manicured and carefully maintained walled gardens. Apple, for example, controls the hardware, the software, the user’s permissions and most importantly the payment system, and through this combination of factors: access to the users.

This garden will soon contain the most cherished and valuable consumers, if not the majority of the digital consumer market. Apple, Google, Amazon, and all those others who are scrambling to create their own walled gardens, have no interest in breaking down their walls. If you want to enter, you play by their rules, and pay 30% of your revenues.

Harvesting from the garden therefore, will come at a tremendous price. Not only in adapting to the new paradigm, but also in physical investment, and the toll payable to the platform holders.

Please realise that every important buzzword of the last years – internet of things, location based, mobile wallet, health tracking, iBeacons and many more – are all locked behind the wall. Even if they still have a desktop use, they cannot function outside the garden.

That means if you wish to participate in the future, you need to learn to play the mobile game. Abandon web and browser as a primary medium for advertising and engagement. Prepare to labour for those valuable permission screens. Learn to create app real estate that will reach out and touch consumers, getting their feet on the pavement and your brand on their minds.

In a digital world where users critically manage their home screens, gaming is currently the ultimate if not the only trojan horse.

The mobile gaming industry has proven to be the most successful at engaging consumers within the walled gardens, generating over 23 billion USD of revenue from mobile consumers ****.

It does this chiefly by triggering in app purchases. The players’ loyalty is staggering and triggers not only engagement of incredible longevity but also a tremendous amount of purchases. And yet the advertising industry seems to be stuck to banners and lead-in video’s, which teach the consumer nothing other than to click away.

The psychological hooks in gaming allow the gaming industry to create audiences that will stick to games month after month, year after year, and to retain spending and other behaviours*****.  King,  the company behind Candy Crush Saga and others, is only 600 persons strong, and spends less than 6% of its revenue on actual development. However, it still manages to attract a whopping 124 million players a day, and nearly 408 million people returning monthly to play and pay.

What can we learn from this? One way we’re starting to use these same hooks for brands, is to combine social/brand loyalty with gamification. Rather than focusing on campaign based interactions with consumers, we are creating long lasting digital showcases of consumer loyalty and the rewards that go with it. However, the trend of gamification is also a dangerous one, as it has a risk of obscuring the most important thing about games: that they should be fun!!

Gaming is about play. It’s not a medium or a channel, it’s not a spreadsheet filled with loyalty versus reward ratios. It’s a basic human activity that is natural to every single human on the planet (and their pets). Gaming is fun because it is our natural method for learning, and learning is rewarding because it makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s not just about the dopamine winning gives you. The ultimate reward is personal growth, learning, achievement, triumph, and the knowledge that you have had to earn it.

Human beings can learn nearly anything and feel that joy of playing. Music, sports, news and other thematic ties to a brand have to be carefully nurtured to work, but playing will work with nearly any brand or story.

It’s something we as game designers have built our industry upon. We’re not providing a means to an end; when we succeed, we provide instant happiness, instant satisfaction, and instant personal growth. Even if it’s just you getting better at navigating a flappy bird around a level.

If we were to draw any conclusions from the current market, it is that it’s baffling how in this huge success story of mobile games, branded content and advertising has only played a bit-part role.

Now that the initial gold rush of mobile gaming has come and gone, gaming has taken its seat at the head of table that is digital content. The gaming industry has accepted change and disruption like no other, and has made it a point to be the first at the party. The advertising industry can no longer afford to be a late comer.

Consider this carefully when discussing loyalty and digital engagement. The advertising industry doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel here… it exists already and you’re probably already hooked.






About the author:

Tomas Sala is Creative Director and co-founder of Little Chicken Game Company. Through his Amsterdam based studio, he has been designing and creating award winning applied games since 2001.

After 15 years in the industry, Tomas has come to realise that in fact, he doesn’t have all the answers but that’s okay, because neither does anyone else. The trick is to find them together.

Tomas believes the two best things in the world are his dog, and telling stories through great games. He regularly sets out on independent  design quests, leading to the creation of the popular Skyrim mod series “Moonpath to Elsweyr” and the (hopefully) upcoming Indie game “Oberon’s Court”.


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