A view from Adam Mingay: Four ways to play in the branded gaming ecosystem

With two consoles released this week, can gaming fill the void left by IRL experiences during the second lockdown?

This is a big week in the world of gaming. Not only are we about to witness the much-anticipated launch of two flagship consoles – the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X – but we are also back in lockdown. And that means gaming is once again helping to fill the void left by in real life (IRL) experiences.

But even before lockdowns one and two, gaming in the UK accounted for more than half of the entire entertainment market, making it more lucrative than music and video combined, the channels that every brand used to want a piece of.

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The power that a fun, interactive and well-designed game can have in creating a positive and lasting audience connection is enormous. And never more so than in our current socially-distanced, locked-down world. Levity and escapism have become critical to pandemic-weary consumers. So now is the ideal time for marketers that haven’t yet woken up to the power of branded gaming to get in play.

As with all advertising, the creative idea is key in getting a branded game to resonate and succeed. But to become a moving cog in the gaming ecosystem, brands first need to fully understand where a game should “live”. The platform should complement not only the original creative idea, but the entire brand positioning. The four main platform options are browser, social, native app and experiential, and their various pros and cons need to be understood before SOWs, KPIs, or ROIs are even considered.

1 Browser-based branded gaming experience

The first, and possibly most traditional, way a brand can activate in the gaming space is to develop a browser-based, branded gaming experience; a staple of the internet since its inception. While the core appeal in browser-based games remains, the technical approach in creating branded games has continued to evolve and innovation remains at the heart of any successful web campaign. Gone are the days of painfully slow dial-up and Flash; seamless, smartphone-ready experiences can now reach billions of web users around the world in an instant.

A web-based, branded game provides an incredibly low barrier to entry for day-to-day users because a URL is the quickest and easiest entry point. By living in a browser, a web-based experience has incredibly high shareability, and it’s far simpler to develop a web-based experience within an established site. This then pushes towards any form of commerce or content to streamline user journeys while capitalising on an already engaged user base.

2 Social gaming 

The next obvious choice is leveraging social media’s vast and captive audience, who are already familiar with platform mechanics. The sheer volume of active users across different social platforms cannot be overstated, making social gaming an incredibly attractive proposition. Facebook and Snapchat log an impressive 1.7 billion and 229 million DAUs respectively, while TikTok boasts more than 800 million average monthly users. Activating in this space is a no-brainer when you combine these numbers with robust, pre-existing tools to create engaging games.

Aside from social platforms’ massive reach, they also offer an already well-established infrastructure that users are familiar with, further mitigating the risk of creating a new game. Facebook Instant Games users are there to find and share new games, while AR filters fans will relish new interactivity in their Stories posts.

3 Native app gaming 

A third option is native app gaming: either a standalone app for the branded game, or a new game module embedded within existing brand apps. Native app gaming has a higher barrier to entry when compared with social and web. Although users may hesitate to download a bespoke app, the creative control gained through this approach is unparalleled and offers a potentially far richer user experience.

4 Experiential gaming 

Experiential gaming sees gaming mechanics integrated into real-world surroundings, as with Nike’s Reactland, for example, where users control their avatar in a massive immersive game by running on a treadmill. With all the challenges that 2020 has presented it may feel like a risky option, but with certain measures in place, experiential gaming can create an unrivalled opportunity for audiences to engage with brands beyond the digital landscape. With the product at the centre of the experience, a seismic lasting brand impression can be made with new and existing customers.

Being interactive by nature, video games create unique opportunities for experiential marketing activations, transforming digital worlds into enlarged, hyper-interactive physical experiences that become shareable by design and drive conversion rates that reflect consumers’ amplified joy.

With gaming becoming the new form of branded entertainment and providing popular shared experiences during socially-distanced times, it’s clear that branded gaming is here to stay. And if marketers can wrap their heads around the pros and cons of each platform, they will have a solid foundation to build upon. Identifying the right platform can be the Luigi to the creatives’ Mario, working hand in hand to level up any branded gaming experience.

Adam Mingay, client partnerships, UNIT9