The Future of Physical Products in a Virtual World

By: Varun Tikku – WAVIT Copywriter

The Rise

While the video game industry has been growing consistently over the past 5 years, the events of 2020 have both helped and harmed the gaming industry. The effects of COVID resulted in many people being stuck at home with lots of time on their hands, naturally, this caused many to turn to gaming for entertainment. This resulted in the gaming industry out earning both the movie and music industries combined last year, but while this growth seemed to be continuing well into 2021, it seems that the rate of growth was front loaded into 2020 with forecasts predicting far more explosive growth in 2022. The fastest growing market of the future is currently mobile gaming, however due to a combination of a lack of console availability and a lack of available content, 2021 is expected to be a minor speed bump as consoles are expected to grow the most rapidly in 2022.

While the rise of gaming as a major medium is undeniable, the most interested demographics are the younger ones, ensuring further consistent growth in the field for a long time to come. Only one third of Generation Z admits to watching TV and barely over half of the millennials have a cable subscription, Netflix has even voiced concerns that Fortnite represents a far greater threat to them than the myriad of video on demand streaming services today. Generation Z is extremely guarded against advertising as 80% of them skip Youtube advertisements as soon as they can. Looking past traditional advertising models is crucial if you want to keep up with constantly evolving consumer behaviour.

The Good 

With such a behemoth of an industry, you would assume that product placement was widespread and well received. You would be wrong. Even today, product placement in video games is rare and not always well received, despite the industry’s explosion during COVID. One of the most successful examples is Fortnite, who have consistently displayed their ability to seamlessly include product placement for music and movies as well as various products. Nike released their signature kicks in game to be bought as a skin which was highly effective, not only because the consumer chooses to opt into this form of placement, but also because it did not distract from narrative immersion.

The Bad 

Death Stranding on the other hand is a good example of what to avoid, it is set in a bleak, grey, dystopian post-apocalyptic world and is a heavily story driven game. Monster Energy chose to put a can of their energy drink in the main character’s home, where it is always visible and can be drank from during cutscenes. This bright, aggressive can stuck out like a sore thumb against the backdrop of a dark game following a lonely protagonist along slow paced routes. They did not even seem to imply that Monster gave him energy, the inclusion of the can was jarring to narrative immersion and was received poorly to say the least. Whereas Fortnite is a picturesque, fast paced game, brimming with action that is not story driven and has a wide variety of colourful characters, hence the placement of the bright Nike kicks worked extremely well and blended into its background seamlessly.

The Beautiful 

Football Manager is a flawless example of product placement, companies can buy advertising spaces in virtual stadiums just as they do in real stadiums, but for a fraction of the cost, with the same brand uplift. These placements are clickable and do not obstruct gameplay, in fact, they make the game seem more realistic as it makes the virtual stadium feel more authentic. This is exactly what you should emulate when practicing product placement. Above all, be certain that your product fits the virtual world you want to display it in.

The Future 

Gaming seems to be replacing social media as the main medium where young people gather online, which is excellent news for advertisers as gaming is a far less convoluted medium. Product placement in gaming will not be lost among an ocean of social media posts, each of which garner very little attention from its users. Technically, both gaming and social media are active forms of media consumption, however, gaming is certainly more active as gamers have to pay more attention to continue playing, directing more attention towards your placement. Research also shows that repetition of product placement in video games has an equally positive effect for both known and unknown brands. Proving beneficial whether you are a massive international brand, a smaller local brand or anything in between.