The (Surprisingly) Long and Strange History of Digital Advertising in Video Games (Part 1)

Retro joystick.

Video games have been around for a long time now. It’s taken over 30 years, but video games have gone from being a hobby that was often the subject of ridicule to a major force in mainstream entertainment. You’d think that, with such a long span of time for the industry to get to where it is today, digital advertising in video games would be a fairly new phenomenon. You’d be wrong. In fact, digital advertising in games themselves goes back almost that whole 30+ year span. In the first blog of a two-part series, JumpSIX Marketing looks at the early origins and development of in-game advertising.

Early Examples of In-Game Digital Advertising

In-game advertising goes back longer than you think. Most in the industry consider the first example to be in 1978’s Adventureland, which had an ad in the game for an upcoming release from the developer, Adventureland International, embedded in the game itself. This could have been the first example of a boom in digital advertising in video games, but the video game crash of 1983 almost wiped the industry out entirely.

Industry Comeback and Commercial Advertising

Obviously, the crash didn’t end up completely destroying the video game industry. Home consoles got a second wind in the late ‘80s, carrying demand through into the next decade. The renewed interest and subsequent spike in demand caught the attention of the commercial advertising industry, and soon came the first examples of commercial digital advertising integrated into video games.

The First Big Step for In-Game Advertising

One of the earliest and easiest to identify examples was the Amiga platform game Zool: Ninja of the Nth Dimension in 1992. Zool featured branding and integrated advertising from Chupa Chups, a candy company that originated in Spain. Although games with branding from companies like McDonald’s had already come and gone, Zool was met with a particularly positive response from players, spawning sequels and ports to other platforms.

This success spurred on the industry in integrating branding and advertising into games. Sports titles were especially useful for advertisers, with football and soccer games featuring recognized brands on in-game banners, or being released with exclusive sponsorship deals. For example, 1994’s FIFA International Soccer featured banners for companies like Adidas and Panasonic. That’s not to mention that the game itself was a branded FIFA title.

Advergames and Brand Merchandise

It didn’t take long for major companies to attempt developing their own games to compete with those putting their name in someone else’s product. Major brands like Coca-Cola and even cereal-maker General Mills jumped on the bandwagon, making games designed entirely around their products and mascots. While there were a few moderate successes (like 7up’s Cool Spot), anyone who remembers the attempt to turn the Noid into the next Mario likely remembers how disastrous this could often be. The less said about Pepsi Man for the original PlayStation, the better.

Talk to the Experts in Digital Advertising

JumpSIX Marketing will be back with a follow-up installment looking at the ongoing developments of digital advertising in video games. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a digital agency that can help you with online advertising, search engine optimization, web development, graphic design, and much more, contact JumpSIX Marketing today.

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