Using video games as a marketing tool may seem like a modern tactic, but advertising video games, or advergames, have been around longer than you may have realized. The very first advergames appeared on the market way back in the early 1980’s!
Advergames have come a long way since they first came on the scene nearly 40 years ago. There has been an impressive evolution in their game quality and accessibility. Let’s take a virtual journey through the ages and explore the evolution of advergames through some emblematic examples.
The beginning - 1980's
Advergames first hit the scene in 1983 with the likes of Tapper from Budweiser and Pepsi Invaders from Coca-Cola. The combination of advertising with the fun of video games was generally positively received.
Avoid the Noid from Domino’s Pizza was a game characteristic of its era. Debuting in 1989 for Commodore 64 and DOS, it featured bunny-like characters called “Noids” who tried to stop you - the pizza delivery kid - from delivering pizzas. The “Noid” was created for Domino’s ads in the 80’s, intending to represent the difficulties involved in delivering pizzas within 30 minutes, as promised by Domino’s at that time.
Side note: not surprisingly, Domino’s eventually rescinded their “30 minutes or free” promise. Unfortunately, the change was only made after multiple incidents involving pizza delivery people driving recklessly while trying to live up to the promise. The ad campaign began in 1984 and was heavily promoted throughout the 80’s, finally being removed in 1993 after lawsuits involving one death and another serious injury.
Avoid the Noid came out in the height of the “30 minutes” campaign. The game is played entirely within a high-rise skyscraper, with the objective of delivering pizza to the penthouse. Though somewhat advanced for its time, the game’s simplistic graphics leave much to be desired. Players also reported frustratingly sub-par controls, making playing an exercise in patience. Despite these flaws, the game was rated 90/100 overall by HonestGamers.
By the year 2000, advergames had already evolved far beyond their rudimentary beginnings. In this decade, advergames progressed to feature eye-catching, intricate graphics, as well as more detailed story-lines.
Darkened Skye, by Skittles, was released in 2002. Though it was originally created with M&M’s in mind, Skittles ended up jumping on board. The title character, Skye, is a young woman looking for her mother, using Skittles and a staff as a weapon. She fights vampires and an evil wizard with various Skittle-induced spells. Each spell requires a different combination of Skittles colors in order to be cast, expertly weaving the brand into the game.
By this point, combat control had advanced tremendously, receiving positive reviews from players. The game also included beautiful landscape graphics and exciting third-person play where the player controls the main character from a viewpoint behind them.
Overall, the game received mixed reviews. The gameplay received highly-positive feedback, with comparisons to industry giants like Tomb Raider and The Legend of Zelda series. The Legend of Zelda is one of Nintendo's most prominent and successful game series; many of which are lauded as some of the greatest video games of all times. On the other hand, Matthew Kato from Game Informer stated that he liked the magic system while calling the combat "painfully average".
You may not be able to produce spells without playing the game, but doesn’t it inspire you to go grab a pack and try different flavor combinations? Subliminal marketing at its finest.
Some of the greatest advances in advergames in the 2010’s have been improved graphics and the continued focus on mobile gaming.
One such recent success was the charming game, Crabs & Penguins, released in 2013 by Coca-Cola. The game begins with Emperor penguins playing soccer in the Antarctic, when suddenly their ball is swept up on a (possibly hurricane-force) breeze and carried thousands of miles away to the tropics of Crab Island. That’s where the player comes in, taking on the role of a “hero” crab who traverses numerous dangers while trying to return the ball to the penguins.
Product placement varies between the comical (the crab fashions a boat out of an empty Coke bottle) and the expected (the penguins gift the crab an ice-cold Coca-Cola when the player completes the mission). Yet the brand use in the game doesn’t detract from its appeal, rather it generates a nostalgic association with the popular Coca-Cola polar bear ad campaigns that have run since the 1990’s.
Though most of the advergames from the 2010’s were made specifically for mobile, this game was released for both desktop and mobile platforms. The graphics are gorgeous and the adorable characters make one wish that the advergame was still available for download.
Through just these three examples, the evolution of advergames is apparent; they have improved vastly in both quality and effectiveness over the years. From basic graphics and occasional awkward product placement, to epic adventures played on mobile, advergames have come a long way since their 80’s beginnings.
At Plinq, we design high-quality advergames focused on your brand and mission. Take a look at the 3 levels of advergames to get a better idea of how advergames could revolutionize your brand!