Rules of the game: Five facts in-game advertisers need to know

Posted on Monday 22 November 2021 | Elizabeth Lane - Head of Research, IAB UK

Contextual, seamless advertising experiences are necessary to balance the delicate relationship between gamers and brands, writes Elizabeth Lane, our Head of Research & Measurement, drawing on Real Living findings. This piece was first published by WARC in June 2021

With gaming attracting more attention than ever – from players and brands alike – it’s vital that advertisers know how to play it right in the in-game space.

According to a new study by IAB UK, the majority of UK gamers are in favour of advertising if it allows them to access content for free, challenging previous reports that the gaming audience are advertising sceptics and high users of ad blockers.

With the majority of gamers open to ads, what do brands need to know to make sure their gaming ads are well received? Our survey of 1,000 UK adults reveals five key insights that will help brands execute successful in-game campaigns and effectively engage gaming audiences.

1. Over a third of all UK adults game on mobile every day

Just think about that for a minute: 38% of the UK adult population is gaming on a smartphone every day, while 25% are gaming on PCs/consoles daily. This is a hugely broad and diverse audience that far extends beyond the ‘gamer’ stereotype of yesteryear.

What’s more, growth in gaming over the past year has been mostly fuelled by women, people aged between 35-44 and those that consider themselves less tech-savvy. Gaming is fast-diversifying and marketers need to ensure they’re considering the full breadth of the gaming audience.

2. 63% of gamers accept the advertising value exchange

Significantly, over three in five gamers accept the value exchange between being shown ads and accessing content for free. This is great news for advertisers looking to reach the highly engaged gaming audience, but the key to success lies in respecting gameplay and serving contextually relevant or useful ads.

In-game ads for gaming accessories or products are most accepted, followed by in-game purchases for the game being played. Least accepted forms of advertising are ads that feature products that don’t relate to gaming. Ads on smartphones are marginally more accepted by gamers than ads on PCs/consoles.

3. 42% game to relax

Whether you’re racing cars or solving puzzles, gaming is an active medium – yet ‘to relax’ is the most popular benefit of gaming to players, and by a long way.

While this is a highly engaged audience, advertisers need to be aware that they are entering gamers’ ‘down time’ when they appear in the gaming space. That means considering the wider context of the game, how advertising fits without interrupting gameplay, and what value the brand is adding for the player experience. That could be as simple as adding realism to a street scene via blended in-game ads or, at the other end of the spectrum, creating a branded avatar to creatively immerse within a game.

4. Gamers are highly-engaged media consumers

People that play games are more likely to consume more media in general, over-indexing across the board for media consumption. Both mobile and PC/console gamers are more likely to watch short form videos online and make online purchases than the average adult. Mobile gamers are much more likely to use social media and engage with digital news brands, while PC/console gamers are over twice as likely as the average person to be podcast listeners.

For advertisers, this presents the opportunity to effectively engage with gaming audiences across touchpoints.

5. Older players are on the rise post-COVID

Across both smartphones and PC/consoles, older people have been turning to gaming more since the first lockdown. Four-in-ten (42%) of 45-54-year-olds have been playing smartphone games more often (vs a 26% average for all adults), while 37% of the same age group have upped their PC/console gaming (vs a 22% average for all adults).

While this feeds into the point about diverse gaming audiences, it also indicates a shift as a result of the pandemic, with older age groups potentially turning to gaming to stay fit, entertained and mentally sharp. It will be interesting to see whether this growth among older groups is maintained now that lockdown is easing again, but one thing is for sure – gaming is definitely not just for Gen Z.

Without a doubt, gaming is a powerful advertising platform, with numerous ways to drive impactful, memorable messaging. Players have proven to be an engaged audience with an open mind to the trade-off between free content and digital ads.

Brands keen to take advantage of this medium should no longer think they are restricted by demographic or mindset – as our research shows, players now encompass all ages, backgrounds and genders.

What is crucial, however, is that advertisers approach their gaming ad strategy wisely. Contextual, seamless advertising is a must if we are to balance the delicate relationship between consumer and marketer.

Written by

Elizabeth Lane

Head of Research, IAB UK


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