Mobile Gaming: How to Be Where Everyone Already Is

It feels like everyone is playing games on their mobile devices – 77.5 million is comScore’s most recent estimate. That’s nearly one-third of the nation’s mobile subscribers, and is beginning to close in on the number of people who watched the last Super Bowl. Gamers are moms and dads, homeowners and fast-food consumers, travelers and gym-goers. Games are the most popular app category – above the weather, which is second, and social networking, which is third. Moreover, eMarketer predicts that mobile gaming in the U.S. will rise 26.2 percent over the course of this year alone.

The question isn’t should you advertise in mobile games – it’s how should you. Yes, I understand, it’s yet another new marketing frontier to master. And, like anything else, strategizing an effective buy and designing a campaign that successfully engages users requires thoughtful decision making. But it’s worth it.

To help make your move into mobile gaming more efficient, I’ve outlined a decision-making path you can take when conceptualizing your campaign.

Start with: Which is a higher priority, deep engagement or scale?

The marketing environment for mobile gaming is largely split into two branches, in-game and around-game advertising. In-game offers more opportunities for deep engagement, while around-game is most effective at providing audiences at scale.

Mobile Game Marketing for Deep Engagement

Let’s say you answered “deep engagement,” and you’re interested in in-game advertising. One famous example of in-game advertising is when Dunkin’ Donuts participated in The Sims Social Facebook game from Electronic Arts. In this case, Dunkin’ Donuts embedded virtual branded products, like cups of coffee and beach chairs, as useful items in gameplay and positioned them as incentives for brand- and game-relevant social networking. With in-game advertising, it’s all about becoming seamlessly integrated into the game experience – when done right, gamers will pursue interactions with you because they want to win.

The next question to ask is: Do I have the time and flexibility to create a customized experience for the particular game?

By becoming part of the game, you will affect the game. Therefore you should be ready to design your effort to match the game itself. Often this means coming up with game-specific scenarios for your brand to provide players access to advantages like carefully selected, hard-to-get, valuable virtual items or tips. By aligning the brand with reward, you become a player’s ticket to gratification, and your brand becomes associated with the feeling of “Yes! I did it!” Becoming integrated into the game also means, however, that you face real limitations. Developers may – quite reasonably – say no to elements of your brand-building wish list in order to maintain the dynamics of gameplay. For example, you might not be able to replace a consistent in-game insignia such as hearts for life with your logo because this change could confuse players.

Mobile Game Marketing for Scale

If you answered scale to the original question, you’re interested in around-game advertising. This type of effort may be more familiar. It’s the mobile game version of display advertising: banners, videos, and rich-media display ads that are present during game play or as interstitials between stages of game play. Through ad networks you can purchase space across multiple games, and the metrics used for transactions and performance measurement tend to be comparable to that of other forms of display advertising.

Next question: What’s the right ad format for me?

A simple banner can get your brand out in front of the eyes of gamers. But the more vibrant and interactive the ad is, the more technological issues that can arise. Bandwidth limitations can produce slow-loading ads, and complexities concerning compatibility across devices and games can be hard to navigate. While innovations to ease these pain points are on the horizon (for example, the IAB Mobile Marketing Center of Excellence’s MRAID spec simplifies the creation of rich media ads), they still create day-to-day issues for in-app advertisers – and players. If an around-game ad takes a long time to load or detracts from game play for any other reason, you’re interrupting a deeply engaged user. It’s all about finding balance that’s right for you between efficiency, user experience, and engagement.

Mobile gamers play for the emotional highs of winning and the lows of striving to do better. Zynga says users tend to partake in mobile gaming as more of a long-form or “lean back” experience than other types of fleeting or snack-sized mobile activities. At the IAB Mobile Marketplace on July 16 in New York City, Zynga will share insights about how to engage users through immersive mobile-game advertising. Zynga’s view will surely be worth hearing. The stakes in mobile-game advertising are high. Distract a player, and you could be costing them a win. Work to improve their experience, and you become connected with the feeling of success. The question you must ask before moving forward with any mobile gaming campaign must be: “Am I serving my audience’s needs?” Not “How do I sell more of my product?”

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