Game of Phones: Why brands should take note to the new breed of mobile gamers

Advertising in gaming is ramping up quickly and companies that get it right are set to reap handsome rewards in the future, says InMobi ANZ vice president and general manager, Richard O’Sullivan.

Back in the early 2000’s, the typical mobile gamer was young, male and their gateway into mobile gaming was likely to be Nokia’s Snake (there’s a great interview with the games developer Taneli Armanto for those who remember it). Snake was the first popular mobile game and from an almost zero mobile gaming market, kick started a huge industry.

Fast forward to today and it’s an industry that now generates over US$77.2 billion in revenue from over 2.5 billion mobile gamers worldwide who play anything from casual match-three puzzles like Candy Crush Saga through to intense 3D battle Royales like Fortnite. And with the COVID-19 pandemic keeping more people at home, the number of Australian’s downloading, playing, and spending on mobile games is increasing by the minute.

Our research tells us that while 23% of all gamers started playing for the first-time during lockdown last year, the growth has been sustained over the full year with 29% growth in unique users and 41% growth in usage into 2021. Moreover, behaviours around gaming are changing as there are now several peaks throughout the day, including an 11am mid-morning break and then a sustained high between 2pm and 8pm.

This has created a valuable audience for marketers seeking to find ways to stand out in an increasingly saturated digital advertising space, but whilst the mobile gaming industry has evolved, many of the perceptions around the typical gamer haven’t. This means that some brands automatically discount the audience as being a bad fit based on cliched and outdated profiles.

Let’s look at four of the most common misconceptions:

1. It’s a man’s game
Probably the most pervasive is that mobile gaming is dominated by young men, when the reality is women make up 58% of gamers in Australia. 88% of female mobile gamers play every single day, with 43% of them being above the age of 45, with over a third (37%) spending more than 30 minutes per session.

2. Gamers aren’t my core target audience
Unlikely. The typical gamer has a diverse set of interests and spends time on health and fitness, entertainment, sports, and weather apps outside of gaming. Mobile gamers also span the generations, with 30% of all gamers in Australia over the age of 45, 45% between 25-44 and 25% aged 18-24.

3. Gamers don’t engage with ads
In actual fact, gamers have an overwhelming preference (94% of them) to watch ads versus paying money when looking to progress in a game or in exchange for a benefit. Ad recall is also high, especially when it’s about a topic of interest, with over half (52%) being able to recall an advert when playing mobile games. Further, as most cited relaxation and entertainment as the number one for playing mobile games, gamers are more receptive to receiving mobile ads than in other more utilitarian environments.

4. Not safe for advertising
It can be hard for brand advertisers to find fully brand safe opportunities to reach their audience (at least at scale anyway) without hitting on some sensitive content. But when it comes to most mobile gaming apps, particularly casual gaming apps, you know precisely what is on the page as all ads are within the session and developers don’t allow for user-generated or third-party content.

It’s tricky to determine why these misconceptions continue to limit thinking, particularly at a time when brands are actively seeking new and cost-effective customer acquisition routes as CPA rates continue to rise. My best guess would be that the thinking within brands and agencies was shaped before mobile gaming become truly mass market – as well as falling into the historically neglected ‘mobile only’ advertising bucket.

But mass market it certainly is, so much so that PwC’s Entertainment and Media Outlook Report for 2021 cites gaming as one of the sectors with the highest rate of growth.

For brands wishing to dip their toe in mobile gaming advertising, the top three considerations should be:

A. Leverage Programmatic
Through programmatic, brands can identify the most relevant genres and games that their core target audience is engaging with. Once identified, they can activate, experiment, and evaluate campaigns in real-time, scaling across multiple gaming categories and apps, and ultimately optimising for key KPIs.

B. Get the orientation and placement right
Make sure the orientation and placement of ads should,follow the game that it is being displayed in. So, Candy Crush gamers should receive a vertical ad (vs. landscape ad) in between two levels to avoid users tilting their phones every time an ad is served or finding it intrusive.

C. Video all the way
Rewarded video is a highly popular gaming ad format where players watch ads in entirety in exchange for game currency or progress rewards. This ad placement is entirely opt-in and typically generates far higher engagement rates, which leads to more exposure for brands and thus better CTRs and conversion rates.

While it is currently less saturated than the social media space, advertising in gaming is ramping up quickly and companies that get advertising right in this arena will undoubtedly reap handsome rewards in the future. Ultimately, it all comes down to how you play the game – and this is one that brands cannot afford to lose.

Richard O’Sullivan is the vice president and general manager of InMobi ANZ. 


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