2013 Social Gaming Trends and What They Mean for Marketers


EDITOR’S NOTE: This article, originally published on January 21, 2013, placed at No. 1 in our 20 most popular articles of the year.

ADOTAS – Social gaming is one of the most engaging and popular activities on social platforms, mobile devices and the web. And with the rapidly increasing adoption of mobile games, it’s spreading like wildfire. According to eMarketer, by 2014, over half of social network users will play social games, 141 million people in the U.S. will play games on mobile devices and 101 million people in the U.S. will play online casual games.

Also according to eMarketer, in-game ad revenues will grow right along with audiences. With such a captive audience, it’s no surprise that this presents a powerful new marketing opportunity — one that will redefine what it means to run brand advertising in digital mediums. What should marketers know to get into the game (pun intended)? Below are six notable trends and their implications for those who want to truly harness the power of cross-platform social gaming.

1. In-game ads are 100-percent viewable and offer a new creative canvas

The current debate around the IAB’s push for the digital advertising industry to adopt “viewable impressions” is a hot topic and rightly so. The approach forces us to hone in on highly engaging advertisements that actually get seen. In-game advertising ensures all ads are viewable. Have you ever seen a below-the-fold ad on a social game or in a mobile app? No? That’s because they don’t exist.

What’s more, social gaming offers a new canvas for marketers. According to a recent Harris Interactive survey, 60 percent of smartphone owners and 72 percent of Facebook app users prefer to see immersive, interactive ads versus static banner ads. These results prove that gamers are asking for and open to new ad formats. Now we must deliver.

2. Everyone plays social games

Not since television has there been a better way to build a relationship with your target audience. Social gaming spans generations and touches people from all walks of life. According to Newzoo, casual gamers online and on social media range in age from 10 to 65. Similarly, eMarketer found that mobile gaming is popular across a broad range of demographic groups, even older adults. This proves that gaming offers marketers a tremendous opportunity to reach all audiences and engage with them in a respectful way that honors the user experience – for example during key game breaks or “rescue moments” (more on this later) – while they are already engaged in game play.

3. Social gamers are on all devices — your ads should be too

Social gaming represents the most time spent cross-platform and across devices, especially on mobile. According to eMarketer, smartphone owners spend almost 39 percent of their time gaming and tablet owners spend 67 percent of their time gaming. As more devices are launched seemingly every day, including those that are a bridge between smartphones and tablets, it becomes ever more clear that for brands to protect their integrity, they have to ensure a consistent experience for consumers where ever they are. Seeking out game developers and advertising platforms that understand the importance of HTML5 and CSS3 with responsive design functionality will be key for providing consistent, immersive brand experiences. This technology will allow marketers to run one set of creative units per platform, thus cutting creative approval processes and costs nearly in half.

4. Social gaming has gone mobile

Some trends may point to a flattening of social gaming on Facebook, but there are other outlets cropping up for social gamers on the web (such as Zynga’s games portal) and across mobile devices. According to eMarketer’s report “Gaming for Marketers,” mobile gaming is undergoing significant growth as users are playing across screens. Mobile gaming is predicted to grow by double-digit figures through 2015 and is the most popular activity for mobile and tablet owners in the U.S. These points prove the potential for cross-platform gaming, all the while revealing that gaming has yet to reach critical mass. To capitalize on this growing audience, marketers must know how to navigate the complex social gaming landscape. Having a partner with the right industry relationships in place to manage this complexity will surely help you maximize your campaign results.

5. In-game video ads are a “must buy”

Juniper analyst Charlotte Miller recently stated in the report Messaging, In-App and Mobile Internet Strategies 2012-2017, “Creating immersive and entertaining experiences to attract the attention of the consumer is essential for marketers wanting to take advantage of the massive increase in app usage.” What is the most popular category of app? Games, of course. In-game video ads offer brand marketers one of the best ways to run engaging, immersive creative cross-platform. Plus, analysts report that mobile video is the fastest-growing mobile ad format. Don’t get left behind. Think about in-game video as a part of your social gaming strategy and overall marketing mix.

To ensure the best user experience for consumers, also consider partnering with companies offering pre-fetch technology, which preloads video ads onto phones before they’re served. Pre-fetch technology won’t eat away at consumers’ bandwidth and will ensure video ads load immediately so there is no buffering.

6. Embrace value exchange video advertising

Social gaming produces positive emotions, stronger social relationships and a sense of achievement among users that any brand can be part of. But wait, there’s more. Now you can further utilize the positive vibe by offering value to social gamers with reward-based video ads. For example, if a social gamer is playing Song Pop and needs help guessing a song, your brand can offer the player the chance to watch your marketing message in exchange for taking away two of the answers, thus, narrowing down the guessing options so the player can stay in the game (and add value to the overall experience). According to a recent Harris Interactive survey, more than half of Facebook app users and smartphone owners say they prefer newer video ad formats such as user-initiated and value exchanged ads to pre-roll ads. For these reasons, you should embrace value exchange video ads, all the while enriching user experience for players.

In 2013, social gaming advertising will continue to be an exciting one to watch. For marketers, it guarantees a truly captive, engaged audience that hasn’t been found since the early days of television. If you haven’t run a social gaming campaign yet, what are you waiting for?


  1. Thanks Ari for the great writing! It is pretty much the best that I’ve read lately about in-game advertising. I agree that games are underused as a channel. The ads we can see now are mostly so 1.0. Games offer a great opportunity for brands to create situations where gamers interact with brands and improve the gameplay instead of the common banners and video interstitials that damage the gaming experience. To make that happen both games and brands need a better understanding of gamer minds!


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