Advergaming, a portmanteau which integrates “advertising” and “gaming,” is a term used to describe games in which advertising plays a prominent role. There are a number of different types of advergaming, all of which are designed to promote a company or product, and the use of advergames in advertising has grown increasingly common. Advergames can be seen online and offline, and the line between advertising and gaming is sometimes very heavily blurred.
In above the line advergaming, the advertisements are explicit, and may actually be an integral part of the game. Games on company websites are an example of the above the line approach, as are games distributed for free on disc with a company's products. This type of advergaming may include ads embedded into the game, including ads around the edge of the screen and ads which are shown during transitions, and the company's product may play a role in the game, with players engaging directly with the product's branding as they play.
Below the line advergaming is more stealthy in nature. In this type of advergaming, people might be playing an ordinary game, but product promotions are cleverly embedded into the game. For example, in a car game, players would pass billboards which advertise real products, or when someone wins a level or beats the game, a company or organization might sponsor the congratulations screen. Several militaries have used below the line techniques as a recruiting tool, distributing free games which display promotional material after players manage to beat the game.
Through the line advergaming is another approach to this promotional technique. With through the line games, people interact with links, websites, and promotional material outside the game. Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) are an example of this type of advergaming. ARGs have been used to promote products, television shows, and companies. Through the line techniques are often praised because they force users to engage directly with supplemental material if they want to beat the game.
Some criticisms have been raised about advergaming. Children can be very vulnerable to advertisements, especially when they cannot distinguish between promotions and true play, and the use of games to market junk food has been targeted by people who are concerned about childhood health and nutrition. The use of manipulative advergaming techniques to get people to purchase products has also been criticized, with critics pointing out that when advertising is explicit, gamers can choose whether or not they want to engage with it, while craftily embedded advertising has a more subtle and sometimes more lasting message. This, of course, is exactly why companies like below and through the line techniques.