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Pop culture influences so many of our choices, from the music we listen to to the food we eat, from what becomes fashion to the realm of entertainment. Trends often start underground, in small specific communities, and then bubble up to the consumer surface slowly before ultimately earning their place among the masses.

Nothing quite demonstrates this like the rise of the comic book. Once considered a niche interest, comics are now mainstream. They have worked their way into every form of entertainment, from massive ComicCon events to some of the most popular TV shows and movies starring A-list Hollywood actors who a few decades ago wouldn't have considered roles in the genre.

Now, something new has permeated pop culture – gaming. The gaming industry currently boasts an estimated 3.4 billion players worldwide. While that impressive number is higher than the number of global Facebook users (2.8 billion), what's most compelling and what shows the industry's most promise is its financial value. The video game sector is projected to hit $189.3 billion in 2021, which is higher than the combined value of the four largest pro sports leagues in the US. The esports tournament for Dota 2: The International had a prize pool of $30 million, three times larger than the Super Bowl or Masters Tournament.

Although gaming has become more widespread over the last decade, the coronavirus pandemic certainly propelled its infusion into mainstream entertainment. With movie theaters, concerts, festivals, and the like shut due to the virus, the masses sought other ways to occupy their time. So, here we are today, in the midst of a new entertainment revolution, aptly referred to as game-tainment.

Gaming is a natural fit to fill the entertainment gap now and post-pandemic. It keeps players entertained for hours on end and offers a social environment to connect with friends and strangers. However, what's unique about gaming, particularly when viewed through the game-tainment lens, is that some of the most popular games have managed to create the beginnings of a metaverse. For the uninitiated, the metaverse is a hot topic in Silicon Valley and refers to a shared, virtual space that acts as its own always-on world with items for purchase and exclusive content to consume.

Anzunew1Travis Scott
Travis Scott Fortnite Concert

To get a more tangible grasp of the metaverse's potential, just look at what Fortnite has done. Travis Scott and DJ Marshmello have already performed in-game concerts, allowing players to enter unique spaces and bop along to tunes in a fully decked-out digital environment. Approximately 12 million players attended Scott's show. We've seen a host of other celebrities, pro athletes, and even politicians becoming gamers to entertain themselves and connect with fans and supporters through a new and valuable channel.

Brands are immersing themselves in gaming

Game-tainment is becoming the new frontier for brands as well. Similar to how brands sponsor sports teams, MasterCard entered into a multi-year partnership with Riot Games. Louis Vuitton also collaborated with Riot Games, releasing both in-game skins and a real-world League of Legends capsule collection. These kinds of collaborations seem primed to replace or supplement the way brands rely on product placement in the entertainment industry.

For brands that can't take the sponsorship leap, in-game advertising is a significant opportunity that allows them to get in front of billions of consumers authentically. Gamers have tremendous spending power and more than double the amount of discretionary income compared to non-gamers. They are interested in purchasing a wide range of products, many unrelated to gaming. They often turn to each other or popular YouTube gamers who have secondary communication channels to recommend their favorite gadgets, media and entertainment items, and food and beverage products. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to proving that gamers must be part of your audience, or you risk losing out.

With people still sticking close to home for the foreseeable future, gaming will only grow as an entertainment source. As a channel, in-game advertising enables brands to reach gamers where they are through blended in-game ads that enhance the playing experience by incorporating real-world brands into the environment.

Deliverable in both static and video formats, in-game ads are specifically designed to increase brand awareness and recall. This happens for two reasons. The first is that players are so focused on the screen they take in every detail, including the ad content. The second reason is that gamers are having fun while they play. The positive emotions that are elicited while playing seamlessly carry over and are associated with the branded content they see within the game.

Stimorol in Final Kick

Gaming and advertising: a perfect pairing

Like wine and cheese or spaghetti and meatballs, video games and advertising are meant for each other. In the coming years, game-taiment is expected to explode, and we'll witness more brands taking advantage of the creativity, flexibility, and eagerness of the gaming industry.

Brands with larger budgets can engage with the gaming community by creating one-off and long-term sponsorship deals as well as collaborations between themselves, influential gamers, and game developers, replicating the partnerships we see in other entertainment industries. In-game ads will become standard for every company looking to increase their brand awareness due to their sheer effectiveness. When done right, in-game ads respect the playing experience rather than interfering with it, giving brands a unique opportunity to reach audiences in an affordable and favorable way.

With the immense amount of gaming content available, every brand can easily find its target audiences in the game-tainment industry. As gaming steps into the entertainment spotlight, brands that want to beat the competition need to adjust their strategies and diversify their media plans to include this captivated audience.