In-Game Advertising Went Mainstream in 2020 as Pandemic Powered Innovation and Maturity of 2.7-Billion-Strong Global Gaming Market

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A new report from Bidstack explains how innovation led to programmatic solutions, security and third-party verification of in-game ads, as brands like Coca-Cola, Samsung and McDonald’s piled into the fast-growing market.

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“The pace of innovation in gaming and in-game advertising is moving at astonishing speed. Brands that partner with the leading innovators in the space are finding wide-open opportunity and powerful tools that unlock scale while guaranteeing safety andefficacy."

In a new report from Bidstack, the leading gaming monetization and advertising platform, the London-based company explains how the impact of the pandemic led to a breakthrough year for in-game advertising in 2020. While national lockdowns disrupted out-of-home, sport sponsorship and in-venue advertising, video game consumption soared, and brands chased eyeballs into the virtual world.

As global agencies and Fortune 500 companies jumped headfirst into the fast-growing and immersive medium that now counts 2.7 billion loyal participants in its growing audience, in-game advertising technology enabled programmatic buying, third-party ad verification and enhanced security. Combined, these breakthroughs unlocked a powerful, global market that is growing and innovating rapidly. Here is a look back at the year in-game advertising emerged as a mainstream advertising channel:

Nothing proves a new advertising model’s arrival more convincingly than the world’s largest agencies and brands piling into the medium. Major advertisers grew increasingly confident in gaming as a new channel in 2020, as safety, verification and standardization of in-game ads pushed the industry further than ever before.

  • In 2020, some of the world’s largest agency holding groups established gaming divisions or products, including Omnicom, Dentsu, GroupM and Publicis.
  • The global advertising agencies’ interest in the gaming audience was a direct response to increasing Fortune 500 spend on in-game ads. Some of the world’s largest brands already pursuing in-game advertising strategies include Coca-Cola, Samsung, McDonald’s, Vodafone and Volkswagen.
  • The IAB made significant progress in making in-game advertising a fully recognized and on-plan advertising category.
  • Moat by Oracle, ComScore, Nielsen and other independent media measurement vendors provided a level of brand safety and viewability, proving in-game advertising’s effectiveness through third-party verification.
  • Advertisers pushed for Demand-Side Platform (DSP) integrations with game monetization technologies to allow for campaign budgets to be planned locally and via programmatic channels.

“While we are in the early stages of realizing the immense market opportunity of in-game advertising, the technology and industry standards reached a tipping point in 2020. Programmatic in-game ads can now be delivered safely and securely to millions of gamers with industry-leading targeting, tracking and quality. This sets the stage for the rapid growth of in-game advertising as a mainstream advertising channel with unique, immersive advantages not seen in other advertising channels,” said James Draper, CEO of Bidstack.

Increasing Scale
The gaming audience is an enormous and largely untapped opportunity. But even as technology unlocks this advertising audience, the medium continues to grow and evolve. The pandemic caused an astounding surge in gaming, with Newzoo reporting that Verizon registered a 75% increase in gaming traffic during the pandemic, Comcast reported a 50% increase in game downloads and Twitch reported a 195% surge in first-time game viewers during lockdown.

Now, that audience can be reached programmatically, with technology that powers precise, targeted ad placements at scale while generating new revenue models for game developers. In 2020 the industry saw the emergence of trends that will spur long-term growth in gaming and in-game advertising.

  • Mobile represents nearly 50% of the global gaming revenues and is the fastest-growing gaming device. Mediation platforms and ad networks have provided mobile game developers tools to monetize their titles and grow their Daily Active Users through offering free-to-play models. With over 5.2 billion smartphone users globally, mobile gaming will continue to grow exponentially, a trend that will be reinforced by the roll-out of 5G networks. This bodes well for in-game advertising.
  • The emergence of free-to-play and games-as-a-service monetization models for publishers marks a shift in revenue generation from title prices to subscription models, advertising, in-game purchases and micro transactions. The transition is reflective of favorable industry factors such as cloud gaming, demand for more content and competition for reach.
  • In 2020, the popularity of live streaming platforms was represented by the 27.89 billion hours of gaming content that was consumed across Twitch, YouTube and Facebook which is up 79% year-on-year.

Ad Efficacy
Meanwhile, in-game advertising has proven remarkably effective, as it offers an immersive, rather than interruptive, advertising solution. Bidstack’s emphasis on ad quality and the gaming experience led to impressive advertising results, with third-party analysis showing in-game ads perform better than some of the leading digital advertising channels in the market today, such as Facebook and display.

  • In a key Football Manager advertising study, 95% of gamers felt ads enhanced gameplay realism, while the game registered an over 140% increase in revenue. After seeing the ads, there was an uplift in purchase intent of 12%, clearly demonstrating that exposure to in-game advertising correlated with a positive influence on future purchase considerations.
  • In an independent study of TalkTalk’s Dirt Rally 2.0 in-game ad campaign, TalkTalk’s in-game ads were seen by up to 96% of the study participants, while 84% felt the ads were suitable for the in-game environment.
  • Bidstack ran 40 in-game advertising campaigns in 2020 and enlisted third-party eye-tracking company Lumen Research to study the results. Lumen Research found that the in-game ads were viewed on average 2.4 times more often than display ads.
  • The ads grabbed 20% more attention than Facebook ads, with 27.5 minutes/thousand impressions versus 23/thousand for Facebook ads.
  • In-game ads increased spontaneous recall by 2.3x compared to standard display ads.

“Just as in real-world football, Football Manager's pitch-side advertising is an integral part of the matchday experience. Our game would be less authentic without display advertising. One of the main benefits of Bidstack's technology is that it allows us to deliver advertising that is relevant within the context of the game,” said Dr. Tom Markham, Head of Strategic Business Development, Sports Interactive.

Technological Innovation
Technological innovation continues to power the in-game advertising industry forward. Programmatic advertising solutions, always-on advertising models and new forms of monetization and micro-transaction processing continue to empower and unlock the potential of the gaming industry’s powerful, engaged audience.

  • Growth of Game Platforms: Game engines and creation platforms such as Unity, Unreal, Roblox and Buildbox have democratized development, lowering the barriers to entry. The technology is accessible and allows for creation of 3D, 2D, virtual reality and augmented reality games. This will further empower independent game developers to launch titles where monetization will be a key consideration.
  • Ease of Purchase via Programmatic: The advertising market has changed dramatically over the last 10 years, mainly due to programmatic advertising automating the buying and selling process across digital channels including display, video, audio, connected TV and digital-out-of-home. That technology is now powering in-game advertising’s scale while giving advertisers a method of transaction and tracking that they trust.
  • Always-on Advertising: The next phase of development for in-game advertising is to launch an open exchange, creating a standardized way (ratified by the IAB) for advertisers to buy in-game ads without requiring any human interaction. This will generate a stable stream of recurring revenue and increase fill rates across non-core markets. At this point, always-on advertising will become a reality for this new ad category, and it will move into high scale growth. Planning tools, forecasting, audience targeting, optimization and reporting dashboards will help advertisers understand what they are buying, as well as expected pricing, volumes and outcomes. Providing advertisers with the self-serve controls to set up programmatic campaigns will be important to enable them to buy inventory with as little friction as possible.

“The pace of innovation in gaming and in-game advertising is moving at astonishing speed. Brands that partner with the leading innovators in the space are finding wide-open opportunity and powerful tools that unlock scale while guaranteeing safety and efficacy. This is one of those golden moments at the leading edge of a new industry, where each new technological breakthrough powers exciting and transformative new opportunities for brands, agencies and game developers,” said Francesco Petruzzelli, Chief Technology Officer & Co-Founder.

About Bidstack

Bidstack is creating the most trustworthy native in-game media channel. We bridge the gap between game developers and advertisers by enhancing the gaming experience with real-world ads.

We unlock gaming as a safe, effective media channel for brands and advertisers allowing them to reach a captive audience in a creative and engaging way. Game developers leverage our platform and expertise to create incremental revenue streams in a way that enhances the gamer experience and engagement. Learn more at

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Lauren Meckstroth
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