The evolution of ads in video games

May 13, 2024

For as long as there has been media, there has been advertising. Every time the world is exposed to a new medium, there are marketers wanting to use it as a vehicle to sell products. Since video games launched in the early seventies, the integration of brand ads within the platform became an idea. Marketers adopted strategies to integrate brands into games with minimal levels of disruption for gamers.

Dating back to 1978, video game Adventureland included its first product placement, advertising its follow up game, Pirate Adventure. Growing numbers of brands throughout the early eighties and nineties began implementing product placement in cartoon-style games. In 1992, blatant in-game advertising flourished after famous lollipop brand Chupa Chups featured in Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension.

New levels of innovation and sophistication brought in the growing demand for product placement within the fifth and sixth generation of consoles such as PlayStation and Xbox. In the mid-nineties to early noughties, banner ads were typically shown in “static format”. In 1994, FIFA featured brands on billboards in its first instalment of the football video game series.



Following this, early technological advancements altered how marketers could target large gaming audiences through advertising their brands in games. This made the medium more creative and marketers hoped to invest in product placement and successfully target gamers.

The growth in product placement encouraged the development of in-game ad companies. Both founded in 2002, IGA Worldwide and Massive.Inc were nascent pioneers, focusing on in-game ads. In a short time, the demand for in-game ads rapidly increased and interestingly, both companies went into liquidation after a number of years in business.

Fundamentally, smarter technology and intelligence impacted the fast decline. At this time, programmatic and tracking were not yet known or available, meaning marketers were unable to rely on relevant data to ensure successful ROI. AAA studios wanted guarantees and without automated intelligence and tracking, there was a lack of scalability which these in-game ad providers offered.

Introducing new, innovative in-game ads was mobile. Since the release of smartphones, mobile in-app games have rapidly evolved. Brands wanted to be smarter with their ads in gaming and mobile games offered effective interactive ads through programmatic technology. Technological advancements have altered how marketers advertise their brands in gaming, with hope to captivate consumers when playing video games.

Mobile software was able to offer ad formats which tailor to the brand. Offering wider scalability, brands can engage with gamers through programmatic, ensuring marketers can measure the ads success.


                                                                                           <img src="" alt="(C)" />                                                                                        (C)                                


Moving on from this, the future of immersive advertising is nearly here and it comes from virtual reality gaming. Comparatively different to standalone VR experiences, VR ads can surface across a wide network of games similar to display and video ads seen on video game consoles and gaming apps.

Advertising is traditionally linear and VR offers an alternative method when interacting with gamers, potentially altering how gamers relate to ads. VR game ads offer a completely different experience when exploring a branded world. Marketers can create compelling content which does not interrupt a gamers experience.

We need to think about the consumer. The gaming audience is huge and changes in technology have altered the way we interact with ads. Whilst we do not yet know how successful VR ads will be, marketers will need to be more pragmatic when approaching VR advertising.  Marketers need to have a full understanding of how to deliver compelling in-game ads in order to ensure a successful ROI.

Having evolved from traditional banner ads, marketers are captivating audiences through varied engaging and interactive content in games. In today’s frenzied media landscape, in-game ads will continue to evolve as marketers hope to have 100% of their audiences’ attention when viewing their ads.