The advertising industry made video games its BFF a long time ago – 35 years ago to be exact. That is when M Network released Kool-Aid Man for Atari 2600. In fact, this marketing strategy is so widely used that the term advergame made its way into most English dictionaries. Even if you are not familiar with the term I’m sure you can guess what advergames are, you probably even played some of these games.
Now, advergaming is not the same as gamification. Gamification uses the techniques, structure and dynamics of games outside their context. Like taking a survey masked as a quiz with rewards if you do it faster or share the link. On the other hand, advergaming is the development of a specific game with one goal in mind – promoting a product or a service. Advertizing agencies take advantage of the fact that we, humans, enjoy playing and can easily immerse ourselves into virtual worlds. The famous Dutch cultural historian Johan Huizinga even went so far as to define us as homo ludens, beings that play.
There are a couple of methods of promoting a product using advergames. There is the obvious way, where the main focus in the game is on the company’s product, like the Kool-Aid Man, and there is a more subtle way like billboards or specific car brands appearing in the gameplay or a company’s logo in the winning combination on a slot machine on Live Casinos. Players even say that the use of actual products in the game makes it more real and immersive. To give you an example, let’s take a look at some of the first advergames on the market.
M Network introduced Kool-Aid Man on Atari 2600 in 1983 and it is one of the earliest and probably one of the most obvious cases of product placement in video games. The game centres on the Kool-Aid pitcher and the goal is to quench the so-called “thirsties”. Initially the game was available for free through mail-order, but the success of the game also made it possible to be offered through retailers.
In the same year, Johnson & Johnson released the Tooth Protectors, a rather bizarre game in which the main character “The Tooth Protector” uses a toothbrush, dental floss and a dental rinse to protect teeth from the “Snack Attackers”. Also in 1983, Ralston Purina turned their dog food ad into a video game called Chase the Chuck Wagon, with a gameplay very similar to Ms. Pac-Man.
After 1983, avdergaming made a huge leap in the following years. Advertisers took advantage of the rapid expansion of video gaming propelled by the sixth generation of gaming consoles and HD PC games. In 2002, Boston Animations developed Darkened Skye, a third-person action-adventure, in which the lady named Skye uses magic from Skittles candies to find her mother. In the same year the US Army released America’s Army, a FPS video game, hoping to boost recruitment. The game even included a recruitment button, so you had to be careful where you click in this game.