Digital Audio

Play This: Audio, Advertising, and the Art of the Game

Steve Keller, Sonic Strategy Director, Studio ResonateMar 3, 2023

Welcome to Studio Resonate Showcase. What’s a game without sound? Audio is an essential part of the gaming experience, both enhancing and defining the visuals players see. And with 215M active gamers in the US, the time is right for brands to make a play.

Austin is turning up and turning out again this month with SXSW 2023, and as the leader in all things audio, we’ll be there, moderating a panel on The Art of Game Storytelling and Worldbuilding.

You read that right. It might seem a bit strange that a digital audio megabrand would be offering a panel dedicated to gaming, but we happen to believe that audio is at the heart of storytelling and gameplay.

Think about it. What’s a game without sound? In-game audio is an essential part of the gaming experience, both enhancing and defining the visuals players see. Character voices communicate as much about their personality as their on-screen avatar. Music and soundscapes create excitement or suspense. Sound effects like the crunch of footsteps, as well as functional clicks, swishes, and beeps, keep us involved and engaged. 

Theatre of the Mind (and Ears)

We experience the world around us through our senses. The more senses we engage, the more immersive the experience. Sound makes game experiences come to life. And as games get more complex, sound becomes a primary driver of gameplay. It draws a player into the environment, cues them into changes, and builds a world that envelops the senses, producing neurochemicals in our brains to evoke emotional responses.

It's all about the soundscapes that create a mood or feeling, musical themes that are associated with different characters and/or different worlds, sound effects that are tied to player actions that provide important feedback and immerse them even deeper into the experience.

The importance of sound to gameplay extends beyond console and VR based games. Role-playing games, like Dungeons & Dragons, can reach broader audiences precisely because of the narrative nature of the gameplay, leaning into the “theater of the mind” that sound creates. The stars of the wildly popular RPG (role playing game) podcast, Critical Role, are joining us on stage at SXSW to discuss how they use music, sound, and voice to create the narratives and worlds that have contributed to their success, and how the synthesis of audio and technology is shaping the future of gaming.

Audio Game On

The lines between gaming, movies, and episodic television have blurred, often with audio acting as the connective tissue. Consider the popular HBO series, The Last of Us, which is based on a game by the same name. The series producers make purposeful choices to blend the game narrative into the series narrative—incorporating sounds of the infected, popular character voices, and even the music of Gustavo Santaolalla, who scored both the game and the series.

Beyond the physical world, virtual worlds are growing and becoming more immersive and interactive, and gaming is leading the way, often through audio. Major music artists are using gaming platforms to connect with music fans in new ways, like Travis Scott, whose April 2020 Fortnite concert drew an audience of 28M people. Automotive manufacturers are realizing that EVs and the promise of self-driving technology have created an opportunity to reimagine automobiles as “spaces” for immersive experiences, focusing on entertainment, health and wellness, work, and, you guessed it, gameplay. Last January at CES, we saw manufacturers integrating immersive gameplay into the interior of the automobiles, with sound being a major component of that experience.

Making a Brand Play

It's no surprise that brands are beginning to take advantage of game players' captive ears. Tilting Point’s Big Brother game included a radio as part of the experience. When players encountered the radio during the game, they were offered coins in exchange for listening to an ad on the radio. Similarly, the radio in some automobiles in Grand Theft Auto played ads. In the League of Legends Worlds Tournament in 2022, Mastercard tied their sonic logo and brand theme to the recognition of great moves by tournament players. As technology advances and physical and digital worlds collide, there will be even more opportunities for brands to engage consumers' ears with in-game audio.

From where we’re sitting, the opportunity for brands to reach audiences through gaming is immense. The average adult spends one hour and 53 minutes gaming every day.1 And there are a staggering 215M active gamers in the U.S.—that’s two in three Americans.2 Surprised? Well, if you’re imagining a young guy wearing a headset in a gaming chair staring intently at an array of monitors, then you might be. The reality is billions of people across demographics are into gaming, and 3B of them worldwide are mobile gamers.3 Yeah, we’re talking parents crushing candies between errands and professionals taking a break with a word puzzle.

Studio Resonate for the Win

From consoles to online to on-the-go, digital gaming is big and getting bigger—making game strategy an integral part of campaign strategy. And audio can lead the way, with 75% of people saying they prefer audio ads over video ads during gameplay.3

Sound is intrinsically a part of the gaming experience, so when consumers are engaged, the sound is on and their ears are open. Whether it’s incorporating strategic messages into the soundscape or imagery of a game, offering ads to achieve free play, or placing ads in game-centric podcasts, there are many ways for advertisers to capitalize on the popularity of gaming to reach consumers. 

Here at Studio Resonate, we see (and hear) the potential of in-game audio and in-game advertising. That’s why you’ll find us at SXSW, leading the way in conversations about this exciting channel. If you're a fan of Dungeons & Dragons or the Critical Role podcast, catch me, Steve Keller, Sonic Strategy Director, along with Matthew Mercer and Marisha Ray, at SXSW on March 13, 2023.

Thinking about an in-game audio strategy or activation? Our team of sonic strategists, creative directors, copywriters, sound scientists, and thought leaders are here to make sure you’re at the top of your game. Let’s talk about strategy.


1. WSJ TECH LIVE, Activate Consulting, Active Technology & Media Outlook 2023

2. ESA 2022 Essential Facts About The Video Game Industry, June 2022

3. AudioMob, Newzoo, TechCrunch, App Annie, YouGov, AudioMob

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