Is advergaming dead?

Well, not really. Advergames are games built around a rhetoric message, usually related to a brand. See for example the classic Magnum Pleasure Hunt and Colonel Sander’s Quest from KFC. I could talk about all the examples but, yet, do you really care about advergames?

Gamification vs. Advergaming

The interest for advergaming decreased over the past years, if compared to gamification, for example (see Google Trends). Gamification emerged as concept that includes design process, through the application of game design elements for non-leisure contexts (Deterding et al., 2011). In other words, gamification is about making situations and contexts more “gameful”. The confusion of the blurred line between games and gameful design could have been one of the reasons why advergaming decreased the interest. Well, advergames are games, and gamification is a design process. I could even go further and say that advergames are persuasive games and gamification could be more related to motivation (extrinsic + intrinsic) (if you don’t agree correct me :)). However, it seems that the term gamification is lasting more than advergaming design. But why?

Maybe people are just getting bored.

Or maybe they’ve just discovered that they are being persuaded by the game and they might not like it.

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Gamification (blue) vs Advergames (red) – Google Trends, 2015


Now imagine that you’ve discovered that Coca-cola created a new mobile game. Are you going to play it? Maybe. Why? Maybe because of the mechanics, or the fun for fun sake, just pure entertainment. But are you going to play it because it’s coca-cola? Maybe not. You might play it because people are talking about it. And if they are talking about it and you are playing it, you’re cool. This is a bit of what it is called as social exchange. In the social media and in studies about viral marketing, this is an important element. You’re playing the game that everyone is playing, you’re cool. It has a status and you will easily share it with your friends. This is one of the reasons that games need to be connected to social media and it has to carry a value or something that will make people share your message. With that, the advergame became not only fun but a channel that will help to spread the message. Although this is a kind of obvious, it is possible that not all marketing companies are integrating this very well. It is not just sharing a score. It might have something that goes beyond that: a message.

What am I going to win?

Taking back the example of Coca-cola game. You might not play it because it’s coca-cola, but if you think you’re going to win something, maybe you will. The idea of a clear rewarding system is crucial for the success of the advergame. Most of the people that play those games stop at some point. Possibly because the game didn’t have enough challenges or just because they’ve finished. See the Magnum game. You’ve play it once, you won it, you’ve shared it, done. You’re not coming back, right? You’ve just got your points. Maybe you could get better than your friends… However, if you share it with your friends, the maximum that you can get is status. But playing this game was useful?

Utility vs pleasure

So, where do we situate advergames? Are they “useful” or are they just “pleasurable”? From the advergames that I’ve seen, they’re most “pleasurable”. What I mean by it is that they are just in the category of “fun for fun sake” or the old term of “advertainment” – as an evolution of branded entertainment. But, yet, are advergames just entertainment? Can they carry other things? How can they be effective? It is possible that this could be expanded to the rewarding system of the game – one it’s just fun, and another one is utility – or both. Yet, something to be analysed…

Consumers are humans

Effectiveness of advergames mostly depends on what consumers perceive of your advergame. But, sometimes, we forget that the consumers are humans – and humans have expectations, needs and frustrations. Because of that, advergames should focus on PEOPLE. This is not only thinking of Maslow’s pyramid of needs, but also that there are expectations around the game. What I see here is that there are two different kinds of literacy – or things people learnt: gameplay and advertising. People got used to advertising and now they know what they’re up to. Sometimes this could be secondary, as for example, people expect to see Christmas adverts on TV. But if the advertising is boring or not meaningful, the person will probably forget about it. So, yes, why people like Christmas adverts? And why would they talk about it? Well, they might connect with people through their emotions – and memories. Marketers know what they’re doing. So why don’t they apply this to advergames?

Humanising advergaming design

Let’s make it simple, emotional and contextual.

Christmas adverts, for example, are contextual. They’re on TV on December, which is obvious. We know that this is contextual. But what about advergames of “cars”? How do you apply context? Or tourism? It seems that each brand category might have a different approach of advergaming design. Another question is about emotion. How to build emotional relationships through advergaming design? One buzzword would be “telling stories”. Right, games do have stories – but, are they emotional? Let’s take for example a mobile game. Well, mobile games are often simple games. First, because they’re mobile, they don’t have enough memory for heavy games and second, it is a question of context. People that use mobile games they might be on the go, or waiting for something… The screen is small and sometimes you might be without of headphones. Interruptions are more possible – and then we think again – the context is important.

When game literacy meets advertising literacy

I love this word – literacy. It means that you can read and write things, but it also means that you can decipher and understand things. Game literacy is something that came with the expansion of the gaming culture. You play games, you know about games and you might be more keen to understand how to solve the problem inside the game. The same for advertising. You know advertising, you know that they’re trying to send you a message. What happens with advergaming design is that now everyone knows what you’re doing. You’re doing advertising and – if you’re not careful – you might be doing silly games. Players know – they’re not stupid. This is why it is necessary to change the approach: make them more interesting!

Advergames are not dead. On the contrary, they’re there – and changing. They’re forms of interactive advertising that can incorporate stories and make people actually “do” things. They’re are not loyalty cards. They go beyond the points. They make people share things – they’re are naturally viral (or should be). And this is where we should think.

And you, what do you think?

Author: Vanissa Wanick

I'm an Interface Designer, Marketing specialist and Games/HCI Researcher. I write about games, serious games, games user research (GUR), user experience design, culture and ideas that could make our world a better place for everyone.

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