Thriving and finding success on the internet as a game studio or creator is really a complex numbers game. The goal is to reach and engage more viewers than your competition. While that’s often accomplished through natural or organic search results, it’s entirely common for outlets like yours to turn to video game ads.
Through native advertising, such as inline ads and boosted listings, or sponsored content, like promotional blogs and videos, it can be easier to reach your target audience. But, when faced with those two options, which is best for your needs?
In this glimpse into both choices, we’ll provide insight on their functions so you can better understand:
- How gaming publications and blogs can help promote your product or event
- How traditional paid ads and sponsored content differ in the gaming industry
- What promotional content looks like when implemented
- Which gaming media outlets to consider for sponsored content
- The pros and cons of native video game advertising and sponsored content
The importance of video game ads when marketing your game
You’ve worked tirelessly on your project, sinking hundreds of hours into perfecting gameplay mechanics and building a solid story. The video game industry is a multi-billion-dollar industry, driven by AAA leaders and small indie studios. That means you’re up against a bevy of competition. Without the proper video game PR, your beloved project is going to get lost in the sea of new releases.
By marketing your game, you increase exposure. You can’t rely solely on your Steam store page to drive traffic, especially since you could be combatting nearly 1,000 other new releases. Through native advertising or sponsored content, you improve your ability to be seen by players and drive sales.
Marketing is crucial to a successful launch, and not just to indie developers. In 2020, companies like Square and Bethesda amassed over $7 million in advertising spending to market games like Doom Eternal and Final Fantasy VII: Remake. These may be well-known AAA titles, but emphasizing their releases through advertising creates a larger number of knowledgeable potential buyers, which can increase your turnover rate.
How native video game advertising and sponsored content differ
Knowing you need to advertise your game or upcoming event is only a fraction of the struggle. Video game brands must consider which method is best for their product or message — native advertising or sponsored content.
The two serve the same purpose — to generate sales and increase brand awareness — but they tend to be implemented in very different ways.
What is native video game advertising?
Have you ever been reading through an editorial and noticed an image cut into the piece depicting a product that seems relevant to what you’re reading? It may be small with minimal text, but it’s very clearly trying to draw your attention. That’s a native ad.
These often un-intrusive ads can blend into the content, making them seem like a “native” part of the page — or at least not very obviously selling a product or service. Using cookies, native ads are often catered to your likes and previous search history to increase the chances that you’ll click. Their format is more subtle than traditional display ads so as to not scare away potential clicks.
When you opt for native advertising, your focus is increasing your brand awareness, boosting social engagement, and converting views into sales.
Native advertising includes:
- A “You May Also Like…” sidebar widget on Kotaku.com directing traffic to an external site
- A banner ad above IGN.com content for a new CBS series
- An affiliate link to Walmart.com on a Gamespot.com article
What is sponsored content?
On the other hand, sponsored content is less about the quick appeal of a vibrant, eye-catching ad. Typically, sponsored content is a long-form piece on a site known for video game journalism or a video focusing on a new video game or upcoming esports event. It doesn’t look or feel out of place because it was created specifically for the website(s) it’s living on.
With sponsored content, you’re typically looking to improve your search engine rankings and increase your conversions.
Examples of sponsored content may be:
- This AirConsole sponsored video with the Stumpt YouTube channel
- This post for TELUS, a Canadian utility provider, on a “mom’s blog”
- Netflix’s partnership with The Wall Street Journal for “Cocainenomics” to advertise Narcos
Where you should be promoting your video game
There’s no shortage of video game websites and YouTube channels that you can use to promote your new release or upcoming event, so your focus should be on video game brands that geographically serve your needs.
For instance, if you’re pushing an upcoming esports event in California and want to reach a global audience, you’ll want to consider a partnership with a company like IGN.
It’s also crucially important to consider viewership*. Again, IGN is a notable digital publication with an audience of 85 million people in the United States alone.
Other sites you should consider for promoting your new game release or esports event are:
- Gamespot (~89.3 million visits)
- GamesRadar.com (~50.4 million visits)
- PCGamer.com (~47.7 million visits)
- Eurogamer.net (~27.6 million visits)
- Kotaku (~13.4 million visits)
- VG247.com (~10.9 million visits)
- Twinfinite.net (~6.5 million visits)
- Destructoid.com (~3.1 million visits)
*All figures are based on SimilarWeb.com “December 2020 Overview”
What to consider when choosing a marketing format to use
One of the most difficult tasks associated with video game advertising is finally deciding whether you want to implement native ads or work toward sponsored content. We’ll get into the pros and cons of both shortly, but there are key elements you need to keep in mind when deciding on a method and platform.
- Budget – Always approach advertising with a budget in mind to not overextend your resources.
- Audience – The method and platform you use should have the potential to reach your target audience.
- Your Goal – Why are you creating this ad? Are you announcing a new release or promoting an event?
But even knowing these three items, it’s still possible that one advertising method is simply better for your needs.
Pros and Cons of native advertising for video game ads
There’s a ton of potential with native advertising, from driving site traffic to growing your follower base. However, there are a few things that may sway your decision against.
- Native ads are typically attractive and less jarring to the viewer than traditional display ads
- There is a greater potential for higher click-through rates and conversions
- Sharethrough reported an 18% greater success than banner ads
- Native ads reach a relevant audience to maximize spending
- They can go viral and grow exponentially without needed additional effort or money
- Perfecting ads and maximizing efficiency can require A/B testing
- A site’s credibility can be hindered with native ads
- Ads can deceive users since they don’t look like ads
- They can cost more for a similar ROI as sponsored content
Pros and Cons of sponsored content for video game ads
Sponsored content is a unique and engaging means of pushing your new game or advertising your esports event. As effective as it can be, though, there are also a few downfalls you should consider.
- Content provides you more for your money and a better ROI
- According to a Reuters survey, 75% of consumers interact with content that interests them regardless of if it’s sponsored
- There is a greater opportunity for rich and engaging content for captivating the intended audience
- Content is perceived as more trustworthy and desired among younger generations
- A Time, Inc. study found that 93% of the Generation Z respondents wanted to see more sponsored content
- Sponsored content allows more information to be shared to create more knowledgeable customers
- Content creation can be a long and complicated process and require 3rd-party contractors
- It can be difficult to measure performance and specifically link conversions to content
- There is an ethical concern about mixing sponsored content in with editorials and news
- Some readers might find sponsored content to be deceiving
Finding the right ad format for promoting your game or event
Whether you’re prepping for the launch of your new title or putting together an advertising campaign for an esports event, marketing is going to be an integral part of the process.