Date: 09.03.2012

Posted by: Kirsty

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Brand advertising and games have had an ongoing relationship for many years, from product placement in console games, to virtual items in social games, through to branded promotional online mini games. That relationship has developed to the point that games and gaming now form an increasingly central role in the digital strategy of many brands.

In part, this is because gaming as a medium has moved to the mainstream. But it’s also because new technologies, social networks and smart phones have enabled audience reach on a massive scale, making the potential exposure for a brand hugely attractive.

However, while the use of games in advertising may have increased, the quality hasn’t. Early examples of ‘brand-funded’ mini games, or ‘advergames’, were derivative experiences for players when compared to the games they were playing on PC or console. Today, despite recent leaps in casual game design, advergames remain generally poorly executed, developed by agencies with a background in advertising rather than game development, who swing into pitches armed with seductive buzzwords like ‘gamification’ and ‘transmedia’. The games that result have a tendency to follow trends rather than form them, mapping game mechanics loosely to brands without necessarily understanding how they can work together most effectively.

From a brand perspective these games can be useful exercises in data collection, but given their quality, do they really engage players in the stories the brands are trying to communicate? And do they deliver the dwell time necessary to reinforce the values of the brand?

For games to work effectively for a brand, they need to do two things. First, they need to be well designed. They need to be great games that focus on fun, building up player skills, setting in-game goals and then rewarding them for reaching those goals. Second, the use of a brand in a game needs to be additive to the experience, otherwise it’s little more than a bolt on, which is ultimately disengaging for players.

Games are also about letting players make choices in a context, and showing them the consequences of those choices. Context makes a big difference to the way we feel about what we’re doing, and if that sits authentically with a brand, players are far more likely to engage with that brand.

One of the tools game designers can use to create context is narrative. It follows that seamlessly weaving brands into a narrative allows them to communicate their key messages, at the same time as delivering an authentic user experience. If that experience is actually enriched by the brands presence, it becomes a very powerful way of creating strong brand ambassadors.

Games and brand advertising can complement each other both creatively and commercially, and it’s time for brands to understand how they can push the boundaries of that relationship, taking it a level up from the traditional expectations of advergames.

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