The end of 2021 marked the release of a huge batch of new games, including Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker on December 7, and the eagerly-awaited Halo Infinite, which dropped on December 8.
In addition to new releases from AAA publishers, there was also a flurry of new games from indie studios, including Loop Hero from Four Quarters and Anvil: Vault Breakers from Action Square.
And that's just the beginning. A recent article in Gamerant notes that “the first three months of 2022 are currently packed with big new releases”. Monster Hunter Rise launched for PC on January 12, followed by God of War on January 14, and gamers across all platforms can look forward to Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Extraction on January 20. Then there’s Horizon Forbidden West and Elden Ring, which are both set to come out in February 2022.
With so many exciting new releases battling for gamers’ attention, let’s take a look at how the top gaming companies have been advertising from the beginning of December through the end of the year.
Top Gaming Category Advertisers in December
If whoever has the most coins wins, then Riot Games definitely came out on top to end 2021. The publisher and esports tournament organizer was the top gaming advertiser in December with $22.1M in spend, racking up 1.3B impressions.
Riot Games' Chief Executive told the New York Times in May that the company planned on "doubling down" even as gamers emerged from lockdowns, blinking in the bright sunlight and brushing off the Dorito crumbs. Knowing this, it makes sense that Riot is investing nearly twice as much in digital ads as its closest competitor, Electronic Arts (EA).
While EA only spent $13.7M on digital ads in December, it still managed to rack up an impressive 1.1B impressions. EA was closely followed by Aristocrat Technologies Australia, which is known for making casino and mobile games, at $10.8M. Chinese video game developer miHoYo came in fourth with $10.2M in spend, and in fifth place, the "Disney of video games" Nintendo with $9.8M.
Notably absent from the top five are Sony Games, which ended the year at #7, and Rockstar (a.k.a. the makers of Grand Theft Auto), which clocked in at #8.
Eight of Riot Games’ top ten creatives in December were for League of Legends. Rather than show clips of the game itself, Riot took a unique approach with a series of video spots illustrated by popular YouTube animators.
Its top creative, which was drawn by YouTuber Nevercake, features a cartoon character in a top hat explaining League of Legends. He tells the gamer he hasn't seen the sunlight in years and “if you had friends, they would already be playing it — so why aren’t you?”.
The ad’s self-deprecating humor has scored points with gamers, who said "League of Legends knows a lot about their fanbase" and "this might have been the funniest and most entertaining ad I've watched in a long while".
This ad isn't new; it was first picked up by Pathmatics Explorer in January 2019 and has received over $4.7M in spend. In fact, eight out of Riot’s top ten ads have been running since 2019 or 2020.
Riot took a video-heavy approach — something we saw from the other top gaming advertisers as well. A full 96% of Riot's ads appeared on YouTube, which is typical for Riot. Clearly, Riot Games knows what works for its audience and doesn’t feel the need to reinvent the wheel.
Electronic Arts (EA)
EA advertised a variety of games in its top creatives, including The Sims, Apex Legends, Battlefield, and FIFA Soccer.
Todd Sitrin, EA's general manager of competitive gaming entertainment, explained to Digiday that the brand has "taken a mainstream entertainment approach and tried to bring it to gaming". That approach is evident in EA's ads, which look more like a movie trailer from a major studio than an ad for a video game.
Like Riot, EA made good use of video ads — but its channel strategy was much more diverse than Riot's. While all ten of its top creatives in December were YouTube or OTT ads, Instagram was actually EA’s #1 platform to advertise on. A third (33%) of EA's advertising budget in December went towards Instagram, followed by desktop video (24%), Facebook (19%), and OTT (16%).
Aristocrat Technologies Australia
All ten of Aristocrat’s top creatives were for Raid: Shadow Legends, “one of the world’s most popular turn-based fantasy role playing games” — according to Aristocrat’s own ad, anyway.
According to Sensor Tower Store Intelligence data, Raid was downloaded more than 820,000 times worldwide last November and reached nearly 1 million installs during December across the App Store and Google Play. But the mobile game is perhaps best known for its “aggressive” marketing strategy, which seems to revolve around endorsements from popular YouTubers.
Indeed, several of Aristocrat’s top creatives prominently feature popular YouTube gamers playing or reacting to the game. In one especially meta ad, a group of four gaming YouTubers who call themselves The Regulars discuss how players can get their hands on an in-game "champion", or character, based on yet another gamer who goes by the name S1mple.
Like Riot Games, Aristocrat spent the lion’s share of its budget on desktop video ads (86%), with most of the remaining spend on desktop display ads (12%). Looking at impression share, though, impressions were split fairly evenly between video (52%) and display (47%). Overall, 96% of Aristocrat’s ads appeared on YouTube, which is not surprising given the publisher's apparent investment in YouTube sponsorships.
While all three publishers relied heavily on video-based ads, there were some notable differences. Riot and Aristocrat were the most similar in terms of channel strategy, with the vast majority of their ads appearing on YouTube, while EA targeted a wider range of real estate including Instagram, Facebook, and streaming services.
Creative strategies differed too, with both Riot and Aristocrat capitalizing on YouTube influencers — albeit in very different ways. EA's approach looked more like what you might expect from a movie studio: slick graphics, exciting sound effects, and a diverse cast of characters.
All three advertisers have new releases locked and loaded for 2022, so we'll have to wait and see if their strategies continue to diverge as they seek to differentiate themselves from one another. In the meantime, schedule a custom insights session to see how Pathmatics Explorer can help you level up your advertising efforts!
After she earned her BS in Business Administration and Marketing, Pam spent time in the non-profit industry developing skills in digital marketing and creating digital content for two years. She then made the transition to content marketing for San Francisco start ups.