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Advergaming 2.0 & the Metaverse

Dave Madden
Dave Madden  |  President, PlayerWON®
Updated: Sep. 26, 2022
Published: Sep. 02, 2021

Vans World in Roblox may be one of the most exciting developments in video games that I can remember in years. Why? Because with Roblox and its metaverse, we now have a scalable way for brands to build their own player base of enthusiastic consumers who can immerse themselves in an experience that is uniquely interactive, entertaining and rewarding.

Image of a video game showing example of a metaverse where skateboarders are customized with their own gear and currency.

A Brief History of Advergaming

According to Wikipedia, “an advergame is a form of advertising in video games, in which the video game is developed by or in close collaboration with a corporate entity for purposes of advertising a brand-name product.”

The first wave took place circa 2000-2010 and was largely based on new 3D game engine platforms, notably Shockwave and the WildTangent Webdriver. The combination of broadly distributed, free 3D game engine platforms and a generation of gamers moving into leadership roles at ad agencies and brands provided the perfect storm for an explosion of free, high-quality, fun, brand-sponsored games that launched in the web browser.

My company at the time, WildTangent, dominated the market for high-production, console-quality advergames, with individual game budgets approaching $5 million, all funded by brands. A few of the more notable games during this period included Nike Football Scorpion Knockout, Unilever’s AXE Unlimited: Mojo Master dating sim, Toyota Tacoma Adrenaline, Visa Championships Torino 2006, Dodge: Race the Pros, Coca-Cola: Live the Madness, Pepsi Shootout and Radio Shack: RC Riot. A full list of over 100 WildTangent games can be found here.

Image of an early example of in-game advertising in RC Riot 2 video game.

Advergaming 1.0 fizzled out for a number of important reasons: First, the ROI for developers was sub-par and only got worse as brands like Nike set higher bars for what features they wanted in their games. For example, by the third year of our Nike football series, we had no way to meet the global multiplayer and production expectations of the iconic brand and their budget at the same time. It was a huge undertaking with no profit at the end of the day.

Secondly, it became readily apparent that making a fun game was only the start of the campaign, and that driving players to the advergame required a promotional budget that might be two to three times the actual production budget, a big hurdle for many brands and agencies to justify.

And thirdly, the rapid evolution of first downloadable, then social, and then finally mobile games meant that if you have a talented development studio, you would be far better off making your own hits to sell to consumers, with all the associated upsides.

Advergaming 2.0 in the Metaverse

With Roblox and other creator-lead metaverse platforms like Fortnite and Minecraft in particular, there exists a ready-made player base thirsting for great new content, essentially eliminating the marketing conundrum of 1.0. As proof, when I jumped into Vans World recently on Roblox, day 2 of launch, there were 18,000 concurrent players, while over 3 million players had visited the game area already. These metaverse worlds are also dramatically reducing the complexity and costs of game production, including, in some cases, codeless development and drag and drop environments.

A skateboarding world is a wonderful launching pad for Vans to build lasting and deep connections with its target customer base. It’s a super popular youth activity and a game genre that is ripe for innovation, especially when it comes with a frictionless price of zero for the gamer. I am sure we will soon see an explosion of high-quality game experiences brought to players for free, courtesy of brands on Roblox, Fortnite, Minecraft and other emerging metaverse platforms that achieve scale and simplicity. Advergaming 2.0 has the potential to be infinitely scalable for the right brands and the right type of games.

Interestingly, while the Vans World game is free, and players can earn a new free item each day, I do find it curious that players are encouraged to buy Vans items in the store to outfit their characters. This feels like a slippery slope of commercialism that might have been mandated by Roblox or the developer, The Gang Stockholm, but nonetheless takes some of the benefit to players out of the concept. It will be important to see where this all plays out. If players feel compelled to spend Robux to update and improve their brand games… well, then the developers are really just making a skateboard game (or whatever) and bringing brands in to sponsor some free content. That’s been standard fare in video games for decades and may portend a quick fizzle for Advergaming 2.0. We shall see.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment at davemadden.substack.com.

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