Once the Ugly Duckling of Digital, Gaming Is the New Star

The key to targeting gamers is to stop calling them gamers


Games have been part of popular culture long before they became cool. The trope of gamers as basement dwellers has fully fallen by the wayside—gaming is everywhere, on every screen we own, in every genre and format we could imagine. Even consoles that were once tethered to a single television in a household can be undocked and taken wherever people go.

Gaming is a mode of entertainment that offers audiences both active and passive engagement opportunities, much like music. You can pick up a controller as easily as a guitar pick, or attend a professional esports tournament at the same venue as a concert. Just as there’s an audience for recipe blogs, there’s another one seeking crafting guides for games.

The issue that has long obscured advertiser interest in the space is simply the label “gamer.” Over the years, numerous studies have revealed the same fact over and over again: People are far more likely to play games than they are to say they are a “gamer.” Why? It comes with a stigma, an assumption, that frankly belongs in a basement archive.

Not into labels anymore

Not every person who enjoys movies would call themselves a cinephile, yet we’ve long assigned a similar weight and connotation to “gamer.” Meanwhile, most of us are indeed gamers (between 67% and 78% of us, depending on the study), and the advertising and publishing industries are starting to wake up.

A decade ago, gaming events were reliant on meager support from endemic sponsors, the brands seen as core to the “gamer” label. Meanwhile, engagement marketers were latching onto the concept of gamification, as we intrinsically knew that game mechanics could elevate user satisfaction and enrich the customer experience to improve lifetime value.

Yet, five years ago, ad platforms found themselves either apologizing for or having to explain why brand campaigns on mobile were placed in so much gaming inventory. Today, brands are clamoring to understand and reach gaming audiences.

The conversation has shifted from “Why should I care about a niche gaming audience?” to “How can I better engage the right segments of the vast gaming ecosystem?”

A treasure trove of research at your disposal

Engaging gaming audiences requires two key elements: deep, contextual knowledge of these consumers, and an understanding of how to pique their interest in already captivating environments.

The first may seem difficult, but gaming communities are rich with user-generated content that is any market researcher’s treasure trove—provided they have AI capable of natural language processing to make sense of it.

The second is a lesson that ad platforms, publishers and creators have been solving for years. In the same way that native ads and sponsored posts have provided effective and unobtrusive ad experiences for traditional sites, new ad formats are making inroads within gaming.

From rewarded video ads in mobile games to native placements within the gameplay itself, gaming publishers have continuously found new ways to monetize, and advertisers have followed. Similarly, creators and other content publishers in the gaming space have sought natural sponsor integrations.

Gaming is culture

In the past, a perceived inability to understand these environments and quantify the value of these custom integrations have left advertisers reticent to spend on an audience or placement they didn’t understand. However, as marketers, we now have tools at our disposal that help us verify safety and measure our impact, no matter the format, from view-through attribution to AI-powered brand sentiment analysis.

Of course advertisers and publishers are paying attention to gaming: It’s a part of life for so many of us, offering joy and captivating entertainment at a time we arguably need it most. Once the ugly duckling of media, gaming has become part of popular culture, and it’s way past time to embrace it.