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The eGames business (online video games) in Spain generated more than 1.8 trillion euros in profits in 2016. Advertising is no stranger to the potential of this market, and brands study the best ways of approaching and adapting to the world of eGames. In this report, we analyze which the most effective advertising strategies for brands in the online video game world are. To do this, the players (eGamers) answered a 60 question survey that addressed issues such as playful habits, the viewing of advertisements in games, the purchase of advertised items and advertising in competitions. Korean and Spanish players answered the same questionnaire considering that South Korea has the most advanced video game industry in the world and Spain is the fourth European country in eGames and our subject of study. After the investigation, some of the most relevant results indicate that conventional online advertising does not attract the attention of gamers as consumers. We determined that the best strategy would be based on brand presence through products that are prescribed or used by professional gamers, since spectators, as they watch the games, also observe what elements and accessories the players use.
eGames, eSports, advergame, branded content, strategies, advertising, Spanish gamer, Korean gamer
Video games have generated more than $200 million in profits for sponsors and more than $150 million for conventional advertisers according to data obtained in the 2017 “Global Games Market per Region” conducted by Newzoo (2016a) and based on data from 2016 (Newzoo is the leading provider of market intelligence that encompasses all global games, eSports, and mobile markets. All of those with research on the video game field), which also affirms in its 2017 “Global eSports Market Report” (Newzoo, 2016b) that gaming is one of the favorite pastimes of millennials, that “complicated” audience that brands so desire to conquer.
Advertising has always been present in the video game business. However, it is during the last two decades that the “game” has evolved dynamically due to the development and consolidation of the Internet, and advertisers must adapt and be aware of the business potential that this entails (Scalvinoni, 2012; Sempere, 2016). Brands themselves, (whether they are media, platforms, electronic or telephone firms), have relied for a few years on what we have coined as eGames (electronic video games that are played online).
Being in ninth place in the world ranking and in fourth place within the European framework (behind Germany, the United Kingdom, and France, in descending order of revenues), the eGames industry in Spain generated more than 1.8 trillion euros in profit during 2016 (Newzoo, 2017). According to the “Infographic Spanish Games Market 2016” study, the Spanish population was around 47.2 million, of which 36 million were Internet users, and 24 million were gamers. And the 1st Electronic Sport Observatory in Spain 2016, conducted by Arena Media, states that: 1) 1 out of 2 Spanish players spends money on eGames and not only downloads or plays online for free; 2) The average player spends approximately 130 euros per year; 3) 2 out of 3 Internet users in Spain play some type of video game on some device.
In addition, according to the White Book on Video Game Development in Spain 2016, promoted by DEV (Spanish Association of Video Game and Entertainment Software Development Companies), 40% of the income comes from other sources, i.e., the sale of their services and training. However, it states that 34% of revenue comes from digital sales, that is, from eGames. Moreover, another 10% comes from advertising in “free to play” video games. With this data we can see how an industry that was previously based on the physical sale and the use of devices such as the PlayStation (former “queen” of video game devices) has now changed and that the “new king” is the Internet, with the computer being the star device on which to play games. The digital era has consolidated despite the fact that consoles continue to be used, but with an Internet connection (Pérez-Latorre, 2012; Salva-Ruiz & al., 2016).
However, the use of screens and video games has also evolved. At present, simultaneous multiscreen use is a reality that we must acknowledge and explore. In this sense, we must be aware that one in three players alternates between four screens (television, computer, tablets, and smartphones) (Vivian, 2017; Sempere, 2016; Parra, 2009).
At present, the union of PCs or computers with digital sales and competitions give rise to the so-called eSports. This term was coined by the Arena Media Institute in 2016 at the 1st Observatory of Electronic Sport in Spain. In this study, “electronic sport” is used to refer to eSports, which are competitions that are played on computer screens and/or consoles.
eSports have values that allow brands to be part of this world either by embracing or renewing them if they have similar values. These games have a strategic component that attracts people with this type of skill, who know how to work in teams and have leadership skills (Sedeño, 2010). In addition, these games are avant-garde in terms of design and spectacle. On the other hand, the fundamental element that marks the origin of eSports is the community, given that in its beginnings it did not have the economic support of large companies for these competitions (Márquez, 2017).
The Newzoo analysis (2016c) focused mainly on computer games: “League of Legends (LoL)”, “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive”, “Dota 2” and other multiplatform games such as “Overwatch” and “Hearthstone”; all of them were studied in 10 countries, including Spain. These video games are part of the so-called MMO category “Massive Multiplayer Online games”, which configure the eSports competitions. However, within the MMO video games, there are the following subcategories:
• MOBA (battle arena: “LoL”, “Dota 2”...).
• MMORPG (online multiplayer role-playing games: “World of Warcraft”, “Final Fantasy”...).
• Shooter (video games with shooting weapons: “Call of Duty”, “Overwatch”, “Counter-Strike”...).
• Strategy video games (“Starcraft”, “Clash of Clans”...).
• Fighting video games (“Street Fighter”, “Dragon Ball”...).
• Sports video games (FIFA, NBA, “Grand Slam Tennis”...).
• Others (“Hearthstone”…).
The main tactics developing within the current Spanish advertising framework in the eGames field are sponsorship and branded content. In Spain, the eGame and eSport sectors are advancing significantly, but there is still no business model to follow. The good thing about this field for brands is that, since it is new, the rules are not dictated or formulated as they may be in other sports sponsorships. These circumstances enable the creation of an abundance of new sponsorship formats in leagues and teams (Cavusgil & al., 2017; Muros & al., 2013).
The star collaborations are events and tournament sponsorships such as Red Bull at an international level (“Starcraft” video game competition) or “Domino’s” at a national amateur level in Spain, called “Go4LoL” (“League of Legends” video game competition); or the sponsorship of teams with brands like Phone, who is a manufacturer of peripherals (hardware devices through which the computer can interact with the exterior, such as the mouse or the keyboard) and has always been a supporter of many teams. In 2016, an important brand like Vodafone backed the G2 Vodafone team to make it a national winner. Another example is El Corte Inglés, which organizes championships inside its buildings that bring traffic to the store and increase the purchase of products; or Media Markt with online and final competitions in its stores, with the same purpose of redirecting traffic to their stores. Last summer, Orange and NSL organized their own competitions (Martín, 2010; Gutiérrez, 2017).
Creative content, not previously seen, has emerged due to fields which have not yet been explored with all their potential in Spain. This is the case of Vodafone and MTV which broadcast a documentary called “Gamers” on MTV about the G2 Vodafone team as if it were Big Brother, aimed at a more mainstream audience. This was Vodafone’s attempt to communicate the fan movement typical of the eGames public to an audience that is not so familiar with this world. It was successful in terms of audience, both in television share and on other platforms where this content was used. (Selva, 2009; Sánchez, 2017; Çinar, 2018).
Furthermore, there are many examples of brands that sponsor competitions around the world such as “Intel Extreme Masters”, a series of eSports tournaments that began in 2007 and played in different countries around the world, sponsored by the Intel brand. But not only technological brands “play” in this field. One of the first major brands to sponsor leagues or tournaments was Coca-Cola, which has been one of the two global partners of the LCS league for many years, through Coca-Cola Zero. This has allowed the brand to create its own eSports world through digital platforms such as Twitter with the @CokeEsports account, with more than 300.000 followers, a YouTube channel, etc. However, it has also created its own “Team Coca-Cola” for the video game “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare”, organized by MLG or “Major League Gaming”, the professional world leader in the organization of eSports. Movistar has also created its own website with eSports content (León, 2017; Yuste, 2016).
Media Pro and LVP are a clear example of how Spanish companies invest in eSports. The LVP or Professional Video Games League was founded nationally with the purpose of exporting its business model and reproducing it in other countries and has ended up being the largest national league in Europe. The audiovisual group Media Pro bought most of the shares of this league organizer. According to statements made by LVP at a press conference, this almost 5 million euro investment was made with the intent of “professionalizing, expanding and boosting competition”, with greater resources for marketing and sponsorship departments. This has been beneficial for the teams, but the industry has not totally professionalized, and there is no audience loyalty, so we cannot connect as clearly as Santander to Fórmula 1 or Movistar to cycling. However, this does happen in South Korea, with brands like Samsung, closely linked in the unconscious of their audience to eGames for their famous “Samsung Galaxy White” team.
As a reverse example, the company GAME, which sells video games in Great Britain, absorbed SocialNAT, a Spanish platform that broadcasts eSports. This demonstrates how companies abroad are interested in and see the benefits in the viewing of eSports in Spain (Cavusgil & al., 2017; Osorio, 2016; Costa-Sánchez & al., 2017).
Twitch.tv is the leading eSport broadcasting platform worldwide. Platforms like Amazon pay to add these special audiences to their public. On August 25, 2014, Amazon’s CEO stated on his platform that Amazon had bought Twitch.tv for $970 million, according to the Media Trends portal. In 2016, Amazon launched a promotion for those who subscribed to “Amazon Prime”, offering Twitch.tv for free (Leiva & al., 2017).
Facebook has partnered with Blizzard to broadcast Blizzard games, an alliance that has appeared on eGames news platforms such as IGN Spain. More Facebook news is its cooperation with another international partner, ESL, a global eSports viewing platform that competes against Twitch to become a world leader in electronic sports streaming. Facebook has partnered with ESL to broadcast live eSports, according to the “The gamersports” platform. Facebook, therefore, ensures audience building in real time, which is what all digital platforms are currently vying for in the new digital era (Gutiérrez, 2017; Rodríguez, 2016; Valderas, 2016).
The general objective of our research was to analyze eGames in Spain, as well as the development of the industry and advertising from within. Our specific objective was to define the Spanish player’s profile and its behavior with respect to advertising and the brands that appear in games and competitions. We compared the Spanish player to the Korean player since we considered the latter as a reference of what an advanced player is (since Korea is the country with the most online players) with the aim of analyzing which advertising strategies would be most effective for this target audience and possible applications of advertising strategies of brands aimed at this sector of the Spanish public.
In order to analyze which are the most effective advertising strategies for brands in the online world of video games, we decided to investigate and compare game routines, advertising viewing, purchasing behavior and the opinions about brand image of Spanish gamers (our study object) and Korean gamers (where the gamer culture has settled in). We chose the online survey technique to conduct our research. The questionnaire is a quantitative technique which consists of investigating a representative sample of subjects in a given population. The advantages of this data collection method are that it allows us to obtain information from almost any group, it also facilitates the standardization of data. We can treat the data informatically and analyze it according to statistics (Hernández & al., 2003). We considered that the best way to reach our target was the Internet. Thanks to online surveys, it is possible to reach a large number of people at a low cost. At the same time, this tool allows interaction with the interviewee, which translates into fewer incomplete questions (Díaz, 2012).
The questionnaire consisted of a total of 60 questions, 54 closed questions, and six open questions, and a total of 280 Spanish gamers answered it. The benefit of this type of questionnaire lies in the fact that closed questions require less effort from the respondent, therefore reducing completion time, in addition to the fact that it allows for easy data coding and analysis. Open questions allow for deeper insight into the issues that interested us the most. The 60 questions were structured into 5 sections: the first section was intended to confirm that the person responding to the survey was Spanish and a video game player, specifically MMO video games (those that are played in eSports); a second section called “game behavior” where the subject was asked about gaming habits, hours spent, time of day, electronic devices used, location of play, etc.; the third section was called “Internet” and it included questions about Internet use to play video games, advertising in this media, the use of streaming platforms such as Twitch, the purchase of advertised articles, etc.; the fourth section addressed eSports in terms of how the respondent viewed competitions, the advertising that can be seen in them, how the viewing of advertising or brands influences shopping behavior, the image that the audience has of professional gamers, etc.; and, finally, the “demographic data” section related to age, monthly income, occupation, personality and the use of social media.
The survey for Korean gamers was exactly the same as the one for Spanish gamers and was completed by a total of 293 players.
Both surveys were supervised and pre-tested for validation by experts in scientific research methodologies at Jaume I University and the results were introduced and cross referenced for their statistical analysis through the SPSS program version 23.0 for analysis and validation of basic statistics.
The 60 questions for Spanish gamers analyze the way in which they consume video games and competitions, how they receive advertising, how advertising is currently being used and which could be the most effective advertising formats. Next, we expose and analyze some of the most significant results obtained.
Figure 1. At what time of day do you play most frequently?
With regard to the questions in the first section (Habit and type of games) more than 40% play video games every day and 35%, several days a week. They were asked about the MMO video games category they play the most, to which more than half responded “Shooter”; 38%, MOBA (battle arena video games) and 35%, strategy video games. The percentages of this question add up to more than 100% since it was multiple choice. Regarding the question of whether they had ever seen an eSport competition, 53% of them answered affirmatively.
Figure 2. What electronic device do you use to play?
Other data related to video game behavior revealed that 46% play more than 10 hours a week, while 30% play more than 3 hours daily. Almost 40% of them frequently play after dinner, between 10:00 pm. and midnight, and they all play at home.
Figure 3. Have you ever spent money buying items in video games?
The computer is the electronic device that more than half of the surveyed Spanish gamers use, followed by a mix of mobile phone and computer, and finally the PlayStation.
Figure 4. What gives you more confidence when buying a computer component to play eGames?
To start introducing purchase behavior in the survey, in this section we already asked if they had ever purchased items in video games, to which 25% confessed to having spent more than 500 euros, and 23% between 100 and 500 euros.
The first open, long answer question to delve deeper into the mind of this audience was “Why did you start playing online video games?”, to which 280 different answers emerged but most of them followed two strands; a significant amount of respondents play online video games because they have been playing video games since childhood, and another large part claim to have joined this community because their friends started playing.
However, more than 60% do not pay to consume these online video games, and as for the frequency in which they tend to watch the games of other players through streaming platforms such as Twitch, 60% do so on a daily or weekly basis, while 28% have seen them several times in their life but not periodically. Therefore, we can conclude that all the respondents are familiar with eSport competitions.
Delving into the advertising that appears while they play, 67% of gamers deny frequent viewing of advertisements on the screen while playing. However, 70% go on to state that they have seen product placement (mentions or samples of products or brands) within video games. We can affirm that brand advertising currently follows a strategy focused on being integral to the video game and not an external element.
The next question was about the power of prescription and influence from external agents. They were asked “What gives you more confidence when buying a computer component to play eGames?”, to which 42% responded “The recommendation of a professional gamer”. The fact that nobody answered “Advertising recommendations in video games” consolidates the idea that they are critical consumers, either they trust themselves or the professionals and that advertising such as banners and derivatives are ineffective with them.
With respect to the following open question as to whether they have ever seen video game advertisements on the Internet and/or elsewhere, the answers cited several platforms, primarily YouTube and television.
The fourth section on eSports begins with a question as to their location when they watch an eSport competition, to which more than 80% answered: “At home”. To the question “Through which device do you usually watch these competitions?” more than half responded through the computer, the same as when they play. 58% of the respondents watch the competitions by themselves. The repeated answer was that they watch them because they like to and because they can improve their technique by putting other more advanced players’ moves into practice.
As for advertising in eSports, 70% say they have seen ads, and 90% have seen product placement. When asked if seeing these advertised brands encourages them to purchase, almost 60% responded negatively, and 90% had not bought a product from having seen it in an eSport competition. We, therefore, conclude that the current type of advertising is not efficient. However, although they haven’t purchased, 50% had a good impression of brands from seeing them in tournaments.
The following questions are related to professional gamers. To the question “Would you like to become a professional gamer?” 60% responded affirmatively, and the long answer question “Why?” obtained “For passion” primarily as an answer, and “For money” in second place. As for those who answered “No”, they said that it takes a lot of time and sacrifice that they are not willing to give.
As to whether they have purchased computer accessories (peripherals) because a professional gamer uses them, 72% responded “Yes”, and the reason given was because of the perceived quality of the product.
In the second survey, we used a similar sample with the same number of questions to examine the Republic of South Korea target, 293 respondents and 60-questions.
In the first section, all respondents claim to be Korean, and we obtained a higher percentage of video game players than in Spain; 40% of them play several days a week and half of the total play every day. We can see that the frequency with which they play is much higher compared to Spain.
Almost all respondents play MOBA video games (arena battle video games), which include the most famous eGames such as “LoL”, “War of Warcraft”, and the rest of the categories were ignored, unlike Spanish gamers who were distributed more evenly among the categories. Finally, a big difference is that 95% of the Korean respondents have seen an eSport competition at least once, with respect to 53% of the Spanish gamers.
Regarding the second section on gaming behavior, Korean gamers dedicate many more hours than Spanish gamers. Almost 80% of the respondents devote more than three hours a day to video games, which contrasts with 29% of Spanish gamers that gave the same answer. The time of day changes completely: 60% of Koreans claim to play on breaks at work/university and 25%, between 8:00 a.m. and 12:00 noon, unlike the night preference in Spain. The place to play and the device used are two of the greatest differences between both audiences. Koreans play away from home (94%) and with their mobiles (82%), while in contrast, Spaniards have an indoor profile (100 %) and use their PC (57%).
With respect to the money spent on elements in video games, almost half have spent between 124,000 and 615,000 Korean won (between 100 and 500 euros) and 30%, more than 615,000 (500 euros). Spanish players spend less, their results evenly distributed between the options “Never” and “More than 500 euros”.
In the question “Why did you start playing video games?” we find a sense of community emerging as much as we do in Spanish gamers. The majority of respondents say they started because their friends played, and now they still play, but online.
When asked if they usually see ads on the screen while they play, 88% deny it (more than in Spain), but in the next question, 94% claim to have seen product placement in video games. Therefore, we can see a growing trend of product placement in streaming platforms.
The last closed question was about where they had seen advertising, on or off the Internet. It’s important to take into account that, although they do mention digital platforms such as YouTube or Facebook, most of the answers refer to outdoor advertising, especially in the subway, something that the Spaniards did not mention.
In the next section regarding “eSports World”, we see the same big difference that was observed in the place they play since when asked where they view an eSport competition, 97% answered away from home.
The device with which they watch the competitions coincides, 53% use a mobile phone and 34% use “mobile+computer”. Another great contrast is that 70% of Koreans usually watch them alone, while the majority of Spanish gamers see them with a company. The importance of eSports in their life is evidenced by the fact that they have seen more than 20 competitions (51%, many more Koreans than Spaniards), most of them have attended a competition at least once (81%, opposed to the Spanish result), the moment to see the competitions is during university hours or work breaks (while the Spanish time of day is during the afternoon), 70% see them through Twitch.tv (same as in Spain, Twitch.tv is the key platform in both cultures and countries) and 71% tend to watch them for more than five hours a day. The majority of the answers to the open answer question “Why do you watch eSport competitions?” resembles the Spanish answer, for entertainment, and to learn new techniques from the professional gamers to improve their own strategies and skills while playing.
Questions regarding advertising and eSports have shown that 70% claim to have seen ads during eSports and 90% say they have also seen product placement, but 57% have not felt the need to shop in response to the observed advertising and 64% deny having bought something because they have seen it in eSports. However, almost all respondents (91%) have a good impression of the brands they have seen during competitions. When asked about professional gamers, 85% would like to become one and the question “Why?” obtained many answers, but the most recurrent ones were directed to seeing it as a job dream fulfilled, being able to work in their passion.
After analyzing and comparing the characteristics of the Spanish and the Korean gamers in terms of their gaming behavior, viewing of advertising, brand image, and shopping behavior, we present below some of the most significant conclusions of our study.
Thanks to the increase of gamer audience in eSports, brands that strategically link themselves to video games will be able to benefit from the full potential that eGames and eSports have to offer (competition, mass audience, community, fans) (Carcelén & al., 2017). As we have seen, conventional online advertising does not attract the attention of consumer gamers, but the products endorsed by gamers is effective. Amateur gamers rely on the criteria of professional gamers and, although they are discerning and they know that having these products will not win them competitions, they know that they are quality products. This is due to an aspirational component. On the other hand, the competitive factor, which increases even more in South Korean gamers, and the desire for personal improvement makes them want to have better products to achieve the level of their “heroes” or role models.
Therefore, one of the best advertising strategies for video games would be the use of professional eGamers as influencers who use and endorse products and brands. They would become brand ambassadors that would generate awareness of the brand. The sponsorship of these gamers would be based on the presence of the brand both during the time of the games and during the viewing of the eSports competitions. This sponsorship is essential during the broadcast of eSports since spectators, while they are watching the games, are also observing what elements the players use, from keyboards to drinks consumed (Vilaplana-Aparicio & al., 2018; Clemente & al., 2018).
Also, it is evident that sponsoring an eSports team is an effective strategy to promote branded content. The mere presence of brands in competitions also generates awareness through the aspirational component, and a perfect way to do this is by creating a team of professional gamers. The interest in the development of these teams, together with the feeling of community and the fan phenomenon generated by these games, facilitates the creation of branded content linked to offering team followers an added value beyond the participation or the viewing of eSports.
An issue which caught our attention was the information obtained about where they tend to see more video game advertising. The Spanish gamers mentioned online platforms such as Facebook or YouTube, and South Koreans, for the most part, refer to outdoor advertising in places like the subway. The subway is public transportation that is used a lot in big capitals like Seoul or Madrid by “millennials” who are young people at the forefront of technology, many of the gamers themselves. Therefore, it is possible to think about the benefits of the implantation of an outdoor and avant-garde advertising campaign, such as the new dynamic LED support that has already been launched in Madrid’s subway. It has been in use for years in Seoul, the capital of the Republic of South Korea. This format creates a moving image outside the metro wagons that would attract the attention of passerby’s and would mesh perfectly with the eGames’ vanguard attitudes.
In conclusion, we want to state that we are aware that this research is not a categorical or conclusive study on the subject, but simply an approach to the reality and the evolution of advertising strategies within the eGames market. Continuous observation and a deeper investigation to analyze the effectiveness of advertising actions in games and competitions, as well as the evolution of players’ behavior, as a result, would be necessary.
This article was written with the help of the research project “The advertising business in the digital society: agency structure, professional profiles, and new creative trends”. Research Promotion Plan of the Jaume I University. Project code P1-1B2015-27.
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