Gaming Upfronts 2023: What we learnt

Posted on Wednesday 18 October 2023 | IAB UK

Returning to The Steel Yard, Gaming Upfronts brought together Activision Blizzard Media, Anzu, Global, Twitch and Venatus for a future-facing look at what’s to come

“Gaming is no longer a test and learn addition at the bottom of the media plan”, declared James Chandler, IAB UK’s CMO, opening our fourth annual Gaming Upfronts. The event brought an audience of advertisers and agency planners up close to the latest insight, expertise and trends from the companies at the heart of the gaming sector. Here are our six key takeouts…

1. Gaming + audio is a powerful combination

69% of gamers like audio ads because they don’t interrupt play, explained Faye McDowall, Strategy Director at DAX at Global, in a session that explored why mobile gaming and audio advertising are so well-suited. As she put it “mobile gaming delivers little wins throughout the day”, with cognitive research showing that gaming helps to destress people and create a positive mindset. This creates a prime opportunity for “brands to enter the space and drive meaningful connections” via audio advertising that doesn’t interrupt gameplay, explained Odeeo’s Rohan Premnath. Meanwhile, Wavemaker’s Matt Hamilton highlighted how gaming audio ads offer “something unique in the media ecosystem”, which is leading to a wide range of different brands getting into the gaming space. 

Faye McDowall speaking at Gaming Upfronts 2023


2. The future of advertising is immersive 

Essentially, advertising is an opportunity to deliver a meaningful connection and premium gaming experiences do that in spades, according to Activision Blizzard Media’s Mat Harris and Melinda Spence. They gave delegates a rundown of what makes for a premium gaming experience and why the future of advertising is immersive. “Gaming experiences live and die on how games connect with players” explained Harris - who is VP Product Management - “and not all games are created equal”. Premium gaming experiences on mobile share a number of characteristics, including high-quality graphics, a non-intrusive environment and being free-to-play. A great example of a brand that has nailed the approach and created an immersive activation in-game? Prada for Candy Crush

Melinda Spence speaking at Gaming Upfronts 2023


3. Come to the party with something to add 

“What works and what doesn’t in the world of gaming?” asked Marketing Beat’s Jacqui Parr, opening Anzu’s session with Dentsu and Lumen. “Gaming is always an engagement media”, explained Denstu’s Ed Manning, “and [brands] need to come to the party with something to add. What can you do to enhance the players’ session in that time?” Creativity and context are both essential, with Anzu’s Michael Smith saying that ads need to be “contextually relevant for the audience, the demographic, but also for the game.” If advertisers can get it right, the rewards are big with gaming delivering a level of attention akin to cinema. As Lumen’s Erik Bogsnes put it: “The right format can supercharge ads, but it’s not going to save a bad ad.” 

Panel at Gaming Upfronts 2023


5. Cosy gaming is bringing people together 

There is a dominant assumption that gaming is all about players winning or losing, but the rise of ‘cosy gaming’ is diversifying the player experience. Nicola Clarke, Account Director at Twitch, took us through five key trends that are shaping the gaming sector - from the impact of AI to games as a service. Unpicking the popularity of cosy gaming, Clarke said: “It’s low stakes, it’s gentle, it’s quiet… it takes advantage of lulls in gameplay when people can get together and chat.” It’s that social interaction that made games like Animal Crossing so attractive during the pandemic. For brands, Clarke’s advice is “to assess where to hang your hat” and not just assume that advertising in-game means having to integrate into what is stereotypically seen as competitive space. 

Delegates in discussion


6. It’s not just about in-game ads 

Venatus rounded up Gaming Upfronts giving delegates an exclusive first look at new multi-market research into what drives people to game. Escapism ranks highly with 58% of gamers saying that gaming helps them to relax and relieve stress, while bonding with family is also a key driver - parents are playing an average of 1.5 hours a week with their kids. An essential finding for advertisers is that brands shouldn’t just think about how they resonate with audiences in-game. According to Laura Ballesteros, Head of Sales Strategy at Venatus, 42% of gamers consume gaming content outside of the game every week, whether that’s reading reviews or discussing tactics on forums. This rises to six in 10 for console gamers, with Charlie Staples, Senior Research Manager at GWI, highlighting the “hyper level of engagement” away from the game.

Gamer using AR headset


Find out more about Digital Upfronts 2023 here

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