Games dominate the app usage and given the explosion of smart phones, you can reach over billion people instantly through games. Thats a bigger reach than Superbowl or most of the global media companies have. For brands games are the perfect media, since they are engaging by nature.
I´ve met with dozens of game studios and what still strikes me odd is that still only few of them see themselves as media or entertainment companies or take advantage their media-like posture. Many brands would gladly seize the opportunity to speak to an audience of hundreds of millions if given the chance. Of course it doesn´t work just by placing a logo in the game. Brands need to bring something more to the fans, not just billboards on the side of the road when you play Need For Speed, but really augment the game and have an active role in it. For example Michelin tires to make your car go faster or in-game currency handled by Visa. The level of engagement is in a whole another level so the brands should not be passive. Even with casual games that usually last minutes, the attention and focus is beyond anything you´ll get from a traditional TV ad.
But one should not limit themselves to just have an active role inside the game. Thanks to mobile gaming, augmenting can be done also in a physical place. The Angry Birds & McDonald´s campaign we did in China is a good example of this. By entering a McDonalds restaurant, Angry Birds players would unlock in-game currency called Power-Ups and hidden game modes, giving them chance to play as the pigs and use the power-ups to get a better score. These features could be unlocked three times a day, so that drives traffic to the actual restaurants several times a day.
There is also the question of should a brand develop a game by itself. In my opinion, the answer is yes and no. Yes, I you have the resources and are ready to promote and develop the game in a long run. No if you see this as a campaign gimmick, thats live for some weeks and then fades away (and the game is about using the product in a boring way). Like always, you should listen and respect the fans.