The brands in India have begun to tap the pulse of the modern millennials and Gen Zs through gaming, and in-game advertising in India is a relatively new but rapidly growing industry.
Advertisers have begun exploring several partnerships and ad formats to reach out to gaming enthusiasts. But the in-game advertising in terms of brand messaging integrated into the gaming content hasn’t picked up heat in India, unlike the global scenario.
While most popular international games do have in-game integrations for ad spaces which are picked up by multiple big brands, the gaming landscape in India is limited to interstitials, video ads, banners, etc.
Dheeraj Kummar, Chief Creative Officer, Motivator (GroupM), stated that there are two main things that any platform must tick for the marketers to have interest in seeking ad spots or spaces- one is the critical mass that the platform is reaching out to and second is the efficacy that the respective platform brings for its advertisers.
“Because online gaming is a very intense sport, brands generally tend to look at it from a more long-term relationship-building perspective rather than just having a brand logo integrated to the game as a forced fit,” he added.
Furthermore, Kummar also went on to clarify that there are certain brands that also resort to short-term associations with gaming companies either for their campaigns or for rolling out promotional offers.
As per Bharat Patel, Chairman and Director, Yudiz Solutions, “Collectively speaking, we utilise all the fundamental ad formats such as pop-up, in-game, video-based, expandable, dynamic, etc. and keep on introducing modern tools and research-based innovations too in that field of interest to keep progressing efficiently." “Through integrating data analysing practices and newer technologies such as AI/ML, blockchain, Web 3.0 etc, Indian game development companies have the capabilities to explore various monetising strategies. In fact, looking at the digital transformation progress during and after the Covid period, the gaming industry started to scale and reach a wider audience with diverse taste, which created a good opportunity to do the same,” he added.
In his opinion, India is slowly but gradually ascending towards modern phases of technology, it will take time for sure, but exploring those different monetising methods is not impossible.
“The decisions will take time due to balancing both following the regulations and compliances introduced by central authorities as well as evaluating the ability of advertising features to not disrupt user experience,” he added.
In the views of Madhura Ranade, Vice-President, Business and Branded Content, dentsu Creative, the advertising opportunities in the gaming segment have gained an added boost from the booming of the overall gaming landscape in the country, unlike the earlier times when it was limited to specific categories.
“Today brands from various categories like BFSI, FMCG, consumer durables, etc. are exploring the gaming arena because they don't want to lose out on this very engaged audience. The gaming space in the country, today, has evolved as a new source of entertainment- be it in terms of actually playing the game, watching hours of gameplay streaming or even exploring reality shows featuring gaming stars on OTT platforms,” she said.
It was in the backdrop of these developments that Ranade emphasised that the gaming landscape in India has become more mainstream over time and has emerged as a not-to-be-ignored avenue for brands to reach out to their target audience.
Rishabh Bhansali, Co-founder, FanClash, also said, “In-game integration will have a snowball effect, an opportunity for advertisers to grab the attention of gamers in their native format, subtly integrating their brands, and spurring more investments.”
“In fact, many Indian brands are now open to experience in this space and it is only a matter of time before everyone will realise the importance of putting their brands in front of millennials and GenZ audiences through a more organic and native gaming experience,” he added.
Commenting as to whether the brands are not open to in-game ad integrations or there is a technology barrier in doing so, unlike the global scenario where brands have resorted for in-game property integrations, Motivator’s Kummar stated that anything that happens outside India, on an average takes nearly five years to pick heat in the country and that this time duration has only been reducing with the Internet of Things.
“Online gaming platforms are very niche and bank on their huge audience base, thus when looked at as a platform for advertising, it seems to be a similitude to the blue ocean for brands who want to pick up on gaming advertising. But at the same time, gaming companies also need to take cognisance of how brands are today looking at gaming in terms of marketing and advertising,” he added.
In Ranade’s opinion as well, apart from a few traditional slots in the form of banner ads, there are numerous opportunities that exist for brands in order to be visible on gaming platforms and have a substantial audience splash owing to the engagement with such content.
“For brands that really want to create a meaningful experience for gaming audiences, one can look beyond banners and interstitials and explore game play streams, in game integrations, gaming influencer collaborations - these are not necessarily all opportunities within the game, but help reach the same audience,” she added.
Furthermore, Sayed also went on to emphasise that the gaming industry is ripe with options not only in terms of ad formats but the level of customisation and personalisation it can offer.
“Technology is no more a limitation as most of the big players in the industry are present at the global scale as well. It is the marketers in India who need to come on board and experiment with in-game advertising to see the desired results,” he said.
Sayed also went on to point out that a large chunk of marketers are still pegged to the traditional KPIs and metrics, which they expect in-game advertising should match. “But, one needs to look beyond these numbers and evaluate based on consumer attention rather than the number of impressions,” he added.
Additionally, dentsu Creative’s Ranade also went on to state that because gamers have a very loyal fan and follower base, collaborating with gamers that reach the right target demographic for the brand with organic brand integrations can further help the brand be seen in the right light within the gaming community.
In Kummar’s views as well, while the gaming industry in the country is reaching higher avenues, brands are still not able to decide as to what is the right corner to be on in the absence of the right kind of data available on the experience of gaming platforms in the country.
“Either they’ll have to be early adopters or will have to take an experimental approach for leveraging gaming platforms for their advertising initiatives and wait for the right technology,” he added.
Expressing hope on the future of gaming advertising in India, Bhansali said, “The majority of Gen-Z audiences nowadays spend more time on gaming platforms as compared to any other mode of entertainment. This makes it essential for the brands to be present on popular gaming platforms.”
“This landscape will further skew in the near future as the younger generation is adapted to gaming,” he added.
Similarly, Yudiz’s Patel also said, “Games are one of the best ways to engage audiences of every age group, the diversity in the audience is one of the main reasons. Also, users have shown one of highest engagement quality while they are playing the game as they are highly-focused.”
“Games are stated to have an average like-to-view engagement ratio of 5.47%, but music videos even though they have a higher view count only have an average viewership of 2.28%. Brands can merge their marketing tactics with technologies such as metaverse and gaming to expand their brand awareness and build a positive brand perception,” he pointed out.
Additionally, he went on to state that brands are likely to invest their advertising strategies into fields with higher engaging quality.
“They can customise their ads, in game we are working with interactive ads that can let users interact with the media that is presented. For example- One can play certain levels on a hyper casual game in the ad itself and reward the user with free coupons, offers, discounts etc.,” he added.
Carat’s Sayed also went on to point out that because the beauty of gaming advertising lies in the customisation and personalisation that brands can do with their communication, there are no particular ad spots they are looking for.
“However, in-game brand integration certainly has a huge headroom to grow in India, as the brands are still experimenting with standard and conventional ad formats which in itself is not fully saturated. With time, few bold brands are going to break the paradigm and the rest will follow the suit once efficacy is established,” he added.
On a concluding note, Kummar stated that brands in the modern India scenario are still keen on exploring newer ways for advertising on gaming platforms in a way that it becomes a mainline medium for ads in future.