What makes video games so popular? Simply put, video games let you escape your everyday life woes, but what makes them different from other forms of entertainment is that they’re immersive. You get to live through an avatar, gain the rewards and rack up out of this world achievements.

…the very best advergaming is actually a playable, interactive game that happens to include promotional messages.

Video games are designed to keep you in that sweet spot between happiness, frustration and progressive skill development. You just want to keep playing and playing. So, naturally, hardly anything would be more frustrating than advertisements plastered all over the screen, annoying promotional pop-ups or full-screen video commercials interrupting your gaming flow. That’s why you might think that marketing and video games don’t mix well. Yet advergaming exists and is very much alive.

But there’s a catch. These aren’t just your average ads. They’re more subtle than that, and the very best advergaming is actually a playable, interactive game that happens to include promotional messages.

As playable advertisements, advergames promote a brand, raise awareness and spread its message. From a marketing point of view, they’re a powerful tool to attract, engage and keep your customers.

The difference between gamification and advergaming

Gamification is the combination of marketing strategies with classic gaming techniques to keep you engaged with the brand or product. When you compete with your friends for Foursquare Mayorships, collect points for My Starbucks Rewards or play McDonald’s Monopoly, you’ve been lured in by gamification.

Advergaming might sound similar, but it’s not the same. It means developing an actual game for the purpose of marketing. There are three main types of advergames:

1) Advertising inserted into an existing game
Have you played Mario Kart 8 for the Wii U? Did you notice how you can race with Mercedes cars in the game? That’s product placement right there. Back in the 90s, the rising wave of popularity of video games had advertisers salivating over all the possibilities to place brands and products in your favourite video games. What followed were games like Zool, a platformer where an alien ninja ant fights its way through a sweet world of candy — sponsored by ChupaChups — and Cool Spot, which had players jumping and running around…with the 7-Up mascot.

2) Full games for desktop computers, consoles, or mobile devices
The restaurant chain Chipotle released a free iOS game called The Scarecrow in 2013. Marketed as an enticing game in which the player breaks up a monopoly, it not-so-subtly promoted the company’s values. Regardless, The Scarecrow was a huge hit with fans. Players downloaded the game more than 250,000 times in just four days.

3) Games on a company’s website
You might think of these as branded mini games, which you’ll find on sites like Candystand. But successful advergames on the web go beyond throwing together a bit of flash animation. Ubisoft’s video game Watch Dogs is set in a dystopian future where players hack cameras and mobile phones. To promote the game, Ubisoft produced the website WeAreData*, which offers infographics and real-time visuals of geo-data from Paris, London and Berlin.

* The website no longer seems to be live, but you can watch a video that talks about the campaign here.

The benefits of advergaming

Advergames use the interactive and social components of games to the advantage of a brand. Here are some of the main benefits they offer to brands:

  • Raise brand awareness: You play games in your free time, and a player’s levels of attention are high when they’re playing a video game. You can harness that power with subtle placements of your brand and product. A custom advergame can tell a story about your company in an unobtrusive yet engaging way.
  • Positive brand interaction: When done right, advergaming continuously and effectively exposes the brand to the player in a way that is neither aggressive nor invasive. Instead, playing creates a positive experience associated with the brand.
  • Followers: Advergames can help build true fans who are potential leads and can convert to loyal customers. The marketing feels less intrusive, because it is up to the players to choose when they play and interact with the brand.
  • Promotional opportunities: Don’t stuff your advergame with sales and offers – any overkill can turn off gamers. Yet there are subtle ways to add in just the right level of promotions and rewards (like discounts or coupons) into games.
  • Data and research: Games are an alternate reality and offer you nearly ideal circumstances to test drive new products and ideas. Marketing strategies that wouldn’t work offline can work well in advergames. You can use things like sign-ups, sharing and polls to collect valuable data from players.
  • Good games go viral: Advergames can make it really simple for the players to talk about the game (and the brand) on social media. Games often have shortcuts so players can do things like share scoreboards, show off achievements and compete with friends online. Players spread the word for you when they like your game.
  • Great reach through games: You think video games are just for boys? Think again. Today, the average gamer’s age is 30, and 45% of them are female. The gaming industry is raking in over $100 billion per year, and roughly 20% of the market share falls to mobile and social games. The wide-reaching marketplace offers you great potential to reach your target audience.
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How to use advergaming as a small business

But wait, you say, isn’t it expensive to produce a video game? Big brands have big bucks to throw at advergames, but how can small businesses compete with that?

The answer lies in technology, namely in HTML5. You can design and build highly complex games with beautiful interfaces in HTML5 at an affordable cost, making it perfect for companies with a leaner marketing budget. HTML5 offers you the following advantages:

  • Inclusive: Web-based games only require a web browser and work on any platform, mobile device or desktop computer.
  • Instant play: Playing in the browser requires no app or software download and installation.
  • Ease of publication: No need to wait for Apple or Google to approve your app. You simply publish on your website!
  • Promotion: App promotion is expensive, but to promote your website game, you can use your existing and developed marketing channels and the website itself.
  • Sharing: To share your game, players only have to copy and paste the URL. Social media, email, chat – it works a thousand ways. Instant win!
  • Data: You don’t have to measure data on different channels. On your own website, you implement the tracking, monitoring and analyses you want to evaluate the performance of your advergaming campaign.
  • Standards: Adopting HTML5 is widely encouraged across the web, especially with the focus on mobile. In fact, Microsoft and Google use advergames of their own to promote HTML5 – and their own browsers Edge and Chrome. Microsoft’s Rethink experiences let you play The Settlers of Catan in Catan anytime and Assassin’s Creed Pirates. Google publishes a slew games of their own, including The LEGO Game Build with Chrome as part of their Chrome Experiments.

Examples of advergaming


This game, starring the now retired Pepsi mascot Pepsiman (clever!), was a platformer released in Japan for the original Playstation in 1999. It was a title that was destined to remain in obscurity, but thanks to YouTube it has gained a cult following in recent years because, you know, this is the internet so why not. The gameplay is average at best, and it has become famous for its bizarre plot, bad graphics (even for the time), being frustratingly difficult to play and — being weird, just plain weird.

M&Ms video games

M&Ms jumped on the advergaming trend in 2000, and since then they’ve released six different games for different platforms (like Wii, PlayStation and Nintendo DS). They feature playable M&Ms who you have to take through different types of adventures. They also had a clever idea – they included math problems and puzzles in the game to teach kids math skills.

FIFA Football

This football-themed video game has been popular pretty much since it was released in 1993. Not only does it have lots of branding for the different football divisions around the world, but it’s also got tons of ads for brands. Coca-Cola, Sony and Visa are just a few of the brands you might see in their games. A lot of the advertising is incorporated subtly in places that their players are already trained to see ads in football matches. That means it doesn’t seem invasive or odd, but the message still gets across.

Chex Quest

PC Gamer deemed this the ‘most successful advergame ever’, and it’s got a solid fan of followers online, even though the game is over 20 years old at this point. Using a spork, you try to shoot the evil, slimy Flemoids and transport them to another place. The game was passed out in boxes of its cereal, so they didn’t have to try to convince their customers to buy a game separately. They gave it out and got them hooked. By the way, Chex Quest is so popular that a high-definition remake is in the works.

Burger King

Burger King has also been behind some of the most popular advergaming titles in history. They created three games for Xbox that you could get with the purchase of a value meal for an extra $3.99. They were so popular in fact that they ended up being 2006’s best-selling video games during the holiday season. Rather than having revolutionary gameplay and graphics, Burger King’s games were just fun. They had a touch of humour and simple yet engaging gameplay. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to have a decent video game.

Note: This post was updated on 9 March 2017

Text: Jakob Straub
Edit: Harald Meyer-Delius

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