Within the circles of dynamic in-game advertising, whether it’s via public relation (PR) companies, social media, or sales presentations, there is still somewhat of an echo chamber. We seem to only be shown the good and the excitement of how great in-game advertising is and can be.
Whilst we are advocates of the new style of dynamic in-game advertising (DIGA), we also want to ensure that the gamer, developer, and advertiser are all respected and represented.
Within this article, we take a look at examples of in-game advertising implementations, that demonstrate our opinion that this is an industry in danger if some changes aren’t made. Bad examples can paint a bad picture to the outside world and could damage this new industry before it has had a chance to fully launch.
Before we get into some of the implementation examples that we consider to be bad, we do want to highlight that there are games that demonstrate extremely high-quality outputs as well as games that are capable of this, but improvements could be made by restricting the levels of programmatic content that raises the types of questions we are asking.
We don’t want to tar all games or implementations with the same brush, so let’s start with…
Examples of In-Game Advertising Done Well.
There are some great examples out there that show just how effective dynamic in-game advertising can be.
We ultimately look for positive qualities such as:
- Creatives that fit the designed space
- Creatives that don’t distract or disrupt the gamer and gameplay
- Creatives that are contextually relevant to the game and the target gamer
- Creatives that add something to the game rather than take it away
Here are a bunch of creatives, that really stand out and showcase these.
Let’s move on to highlight examples that demonstrate the need for some rapid improvement.
Web Content that is being Auto-Clicked
The findings below shocked us. We played two games from one developer, known for their implementation of in-game advertising technology.
First, we saw an advert for TikTok which clearly disappeared and was replaced by this error. If you google zhiliaoapp.musically you will see that it is trying to load a TikTok website.
We then experienced the same thing, but for an ad by RSA. This time we managed to capture both the original ad and the error that followed.
We finally realised what appeared to be occurring. Just after the ads were being displayed, they were actually being clicked through by the game itself acting as a mini Android browser. This happened with absolutely no player interaction causing it, other than looking at the screen. We wonder if the advertisers below are happy to pay for these conversions?
We are truly shocked to see these behaviours which have possibly led to a large number of click-through ad charges for the advertiser. As you will see from the below, RSA, Mr D Food, eTORO and Disney + brands have been seen in other games.
“Auto-click seems based on gazetracking, which is a bad design for both player and advertiser, and can be detected as fraud. Ads should be opened explicitely, in a real fullscreen browser. This is the only way to connect premium brands with the industry and our belief at Gadsme”Luc Vauvillier – COO and Co-Founder of Gadsme
Just how long these have been implemented and why no ad-fraud detection has occurred, we are not sure.
Creatives that are too small for the space:
Next up is an ad that we spotted being ran across multiple games.
Within the first game image below, the creative displays well and the brand stands out. You can even move your game character closer to it to take a look.
However, within the second set of game examples, whilst the same creative was loaded it failed to fill the allotted space. The brand name can be read, but due to the height and size of the placement, none of the other text could be..
So who is impacted by this?
Gamer: The ad is non-intrusive so it doesn’t interrupt gameplay, however, the ad stands out as not being quite right which could impact the players perception on the quality of the overall game. Which in turn could result in lost players.
Advertiser: Assuming this counted as a valid impression, we’re not sure the advertiser would be happy with paying for this format representing their brand.
Cropped Creatives due to poor sizing
We provide a number of examples below where creatives were loaded into spaces that were clearly unsuitable for the designed space. Whilst the ad boards themselves look perfect for in-game advertising, the gamer would have a hard time figuring out, just what was being advertised.
According to an article published, Hypemasters experienced a 22% rocket of ad revenue after their in-game advertising implementation.
Immediately after the publication, we have followed the game across multiple locations, but in actuality, have seen very few examples where creatives were loaded in a legible manner. We just hope that the examples we have reviewed weren’t counted as valid impressions and the advertisers were not charged.
Without a bit of googling, we would have no idea that one of these ads was highlighting how RSA was named a Leader in the 2020 Gartner Magic Quadrant for IT Vendor Risk Management Tools (but we’re also not sure that the gamer would really care).
Here’s a specific example where you can see just how the creative should have looked and how it actually displayed across two different games.
Watch the Small Print
We spotted a campaign over in the US by Draft Kings within the Turborilla game, Mad Skills BMX2. At first glance, the creative looks to be well placed, however, this is a campaign that is promoting gambling within a game that could be accessed by children.
The original campaign clearly has some additional small print warning of the dangers of gambling as well as conditions of the offer and how to redeem it. We imagine that this creative was not actually designed for gaming, and elsewhere, the user would have been able to click on the call to action. Our advice would be to keep any creatives focused on gambling and that require small print, out of a gaming environment.
We saw a similar example over in Spain with a creative from eToro. Quite simply, creatives that have text and small print are going to distract the gamer and are unlikely to be legible within this type of environment.
Skewing the Creative to Fit
Simply skewing the original creative to fit in a box should be a big no-no, however we saw a few examples where exactly this happened.
The below example shows an Audible creative that has been compressed, just to fit the available space. The latter example is an ad creative that we know is from 7-eleven, however, based on playing this precise game, the context of the advertiser would have been totally lost. Luckily, we had seen similar, well-displayed ads in other games for us to recognise what was being shown.
We don’t quite know what has happened here but the level of stretching on the ad, results in an extremely poor ad display. From what we can tell, there is a distorted call to action to open an app in the Google play store. However, the ad is not clickable within the in-game render.
Failure to Load
Some of the games that we have tested resulted in multiple instances of images that simply failed to load with no fallback creative being loaded in its place.
In one case we even saw an ad failing to load due to a requirement for the device to be in a different orientation. Something that the game didn’t allow and we question how the ad reached its way in.
It’s important for the reputation of the developer, that everything looks like it’s supposed to be there and functions correctly.
Within the below example, while the original Gillette creative appears to be cropped, we wonder if having an adjacent ad fail to load would cause a negative brand experience recollection from the gamer
Scroll Bars and Adapting the Area to Fit
We’ve also come across a number of examples where the ad placement sizing actually seems to generate dynamically based on the creative. In first sample below, we can see how the backlight of the placement drowned out the advert. If you look even closer, you’ll even spot the horizontal scrollbar. In the second example, we can see another banner ad, but regardless of how close we got to it, we couldn’t read the text.
These ads was clearly not intended to be shown in this game.
Lack of Brand Recognition
Clearly, if creatives are cropped, the gamer is unlikely to be able to identify the brand being advertised. Here are a few more examples of this. We loved the palm tree creative that was advertised from our hop over to Mexico, but unsure exactly who ended up paying for us to see it.
Calls to Action
We don’t think calls to action are a completely bad thing for in-game advertising. If you’re offering a discount code, and asking people to go shop a bit later (outside of the game), then that’s totally fine.
However, creatives that were intended for the web and have a clear call to action for ad-clicks to be measured, should not have found their way programmatically into games.
Over in Australia, we admired a real-world campaign that was produced by creative agency Thinkerbell. They cleverly created a range of interactive creatives to be used where customers could swipe or scan QR codes to reveal exclusive deals.
We were therefore a little puzzled to see similar creatives in the below game which ask the player to swipe up to uncensor. We even tried stopping at the boards just to swipe…but nothing happened.
It again raises questions as to whether this counted as a valid impression and should have been charged for. We also question how such a placement can be classed as being non-disruptive if the gamer needs to pause what they are doing to look at it and even try the action being asked of them.
Game Play Stutters due to Ad Sizes
Trying to incorporate multiple ad formats such as video and images at the same time, may cause gameplay to become interrupted. We witnessed examples of what appeared to be game stutter in the below two game scenerios.
Ads that Chase You
We’re on the fence about the next style of advertisement. On one hand, we really applaud the creativity of the game developer for putting ads in a location that follows the player. However, on the other hand, we feel that this may be crossing (or at least blurring) the line in terms of being non-intrusive.
Ad Stacking and Multiple IGA Providers
Game developers can easily be tempted to just implement as much in-game advertising as possible to maximise their revenues but this can hurt both their game, the IGA companies and outrage the gamer.
We’ve watched how one game, in particular, has made a series of changes within their live environment and we question the integrity of both the google and apple review process, given that some of the changes such as these were made without updates, and some with.
These examples include creatives that are being placed on top of other content, ads being hidden by other boards that appear in front of them, and even floating video ads that don’t actually play.
We even saw a TikTok ad promoting Halloween, displaying in December.
Practices like this may not be entirely down to the IGA tech-provider, although arguably, they should have better contracts in place to ensure that a game developer does not abuse their own game and jeopardise the clients that they are accountable to and overall brand safety.
From the game developers side, we’d like to see less testing being carried out in live environments, and real test environments being used instead.
How can this be improved
Firstly, we implore any game developers who are actively implementing in-game advertising to properly test the technology. Not only, test in your local region, but test in other regions via the use of a VPN app. You may find that locally, some great looking campaigns give the impression that the game is perfect, whereas a significant number of your gamers from other locations are receiving examples similar to those above.
We ask game developers to be conscious of their audience. Whilst the ads need to be clear, they don’t really need to be in your face or follow you around the screen in order to be effective.
We recommend that game developers ensure that any ad-technology being used has ad-fraud and brand safety protocols around it, with the ability for you to review and approve the content being distributed. After-all, it is not unheard of for claims of ad-fraud to result from advertisers being fooled into paying for something that is worthless to them, such as fake traffic, fake leads, or misrepresented and ineffective ad placement.
Finally, we ask IGA companies to really think about the number of programmatic sources you are using to generate impressions to games. If these are sources that were not designed with gaming in mind, then chances are, the quality of the implementations are going to suffer. If you are running your network with no ad-fraud detection methods, then we suggest that this changes fast.
Please let us know what you think in the comments and if you spot an example of any ad, we’d love to hear from you.