Game On at D&AD 2024: Every Pencil winner in the Gaming & Virtual Worlds category

LONDON, UK — In light of the recent announcement of D&AD Pencil winners this year, Game On captain Rey Tiempo takes a look into the campaigns that made the cut for this year’s Gaming category through the lens of Gaming X Marketing. That is, how the campaigns work for gamers and for brands, analyzing this integration and what it means for gaming in advertising today.

Your Game On Captain here, back again and coming straight from a rainy summer in London, for a report on all things Gaming X Marketing from the recently concluded D&AD 2024 Awards and Festival.

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As one of the first industry award shows to feature a standalone category on Gaming, along with its reputation as the world’s most prestigious benchmark in creativity, D&AD never fails to surprise with its serving of very, very few but very, very deserving Pencil winners. 


And here they are, this year’s prestigious Wood, Graphite, and Yellow Pencil winners in the Gaming & Virtual worlds category. Analyzed and dissected in the “Achievement Unlocked” way – through the lens of both hardcore gaming and advertising. 

All D&AD winning cases can be viewed online on the official website. Shoutout to the brilliant and inclusive D&AD team for making this available for free, truly a great service to the creative community.

For previous work featured on Achievement Unlocked, check out:


The Gaming POV

Google Doodle Games have become a treasure trove of delightful, fun, casual gaming experiences that can be played straight out of the browser. The really best ones have some form of cultural or historical significance to them. And the really great ones, like this work, elevate the gaming experience into a whole other level. 

An immersive Where’s Waldo-like “gamified search,” the experience truly captures the essence of a brand synonymous with search, and the perfect anniversary celebratory piece. A gaming work that only Google could have pulled off. This is especially great for gamers, as Google itself has never been really known for hardcore gaming (see: the failed “Google Stadia” experiment). But this turns something so mechanical like a search into a fully engaging and infinitely rewarding experience (especially true for gamers, from the most casual to the most hardcore – the rewards have to outweigh the motivation). The accessibility options, which have become a staple in today’s games, make this already inclusive work even more inviting for everyone to try out. 

The Advertising POV

Google doesn’t need any other platform other than its own to bring out its best, celebrate its best, and champion human connectivity with technology at its best. The brand promise is neatly encapsulated in an engaging game — this is Google’s best case in brand experience in years.

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The Gaming POV

One of the most important points I highlight during my Gaming X Marketing sessions across Asia, spreading the word on creative gaming capabilities, is the crucial role that gaming communities play. Engaging the communities is key to success for any brand in gaming. A fully immersed community, whether big in size or sometimes even laser-targeted small, spells authenticity to this infamously hard-to-please audience driven by passion. And any brand not displaying the same level of passion (or worse, faking it!) will ultimately risk alienation.

This work fully embraces the weirdness inherent in the game’s ethos; it spoke the community’s language and, in turn, got the response it needed, breathing life into this 12-year-old game. One of the few cases in the list (and there are others later) that fully maximizes the gaming ecosystem outside of the actual game itself, to excellent creative effect.

The Advertising POV

R/GA and Ponos are clearly having fun with The Battle Cats property (as there are more creative gaming work I’ve encountered recently, likely for future “Achievement Unlocked”). What’s great about the work is its boldness to extend its lore outside of the actual game, to penetrate other media touchpoints, and as a result reigniting interest in this property. In all honesty though, I feel there are other similar work in this winners list alone, which I feel are stronger (see: Starr Park CCTV further down the list.)


The Gaming POV

From the entry writeup:  “…a first-of-its-kind learning module that reframes video games as educational tools.” Well, first of all, I believe we are way, way past the era of discrediting video games as nothing more than useless pastimes or glorified spaces for violence. Video games and the academe have long been working together and using gaming disciplines in education. There are currently Gaming courses being taught in the most established educational institutions (as invited guest lecturer for a gaming class, I have once conducted a mini-Street Fighter tournament as a school activity.)

I am also reminded of AcadArena, which has been using esports and gaming to empower students and educators with scholarships. In fact, certain video games already exist primarily as education tools, and some major releases have even been updated and tweaked to reflect education programs. The most recent and notable that comes to mind is Ubisoft’s “Discovery Tour,” where it turned its biggest open world games into virtual historical tours (or yes, field trips). So I struggle a bit with how this entry sets up its idea. I don’t think any “reframing” is really needed.

That said, this is probably my favorite work among this year’s winners (what a save point.) Because the solution is so simple, yet so spot on; the idea sells itself effortlessly and brilliantly. It’s really nothing more than a podcast playlist serving as educational audio guides to select video games – and that solution, though not as groundbreaking in itself as the setup claims, is very clever and, above all, very practical.

Yes, it may not be as elegant or as seamless (why open a separate app, for example) but it does get the job done, and actually does an excellent job pulling in listeners with the clever writing. I cannot wait to replay the games while listening to these audio guides. I just wish they add more episodes to more games in the future.

The Advertising POV

Xbox is at it again – we have seen so many great creative gaming campaigns from this brand (still, my favorite so far is their 2021 “Birth of Gaming Tourism” campaign, which does tend to tread on similar grounds compared to this work.) At its core, the idea and particularly the solution is brilliant. I cannot wait what Xbox comes up with next. I am definitely a fan (don’t tell my hardcore PlayStation friends.)


The Gaming POV

The sole Yellow Pencil this year in the Gaming category, and one of only few works from a non-gaming endemic brand (more on my thoughts on this later.) The work is deceptively simple, so let’s try and peel off its many intricate layers.

First off, kudos to the brand for building off of an authentic gamer behavior — snacking while gaming and, more importantly, snacking while SOCIAL gaming. This is absolutely real and pivotal, and a point I also often make during my Gaming X Marketing sessions: that gaming has become the new social. It is undoubtedly more important for younger gamers to communicate and build relationships while gaming. And yes, that involves being able to talk clearly (hence the big business built out of gaming headsets, microphones, speakers.)

Unfortunately, the brand does get in the way of clear communications. It is a situation where the most apparent product attribute (crunchiness) has actually become a liability for this market. In traditional advertising, your traditional marketing people would undoubtedly want the product highlighted even more, it is the selling point after all. The genius of its approach for this work: using existing AI noise-cancelling technology to actually eliminate the product selling point! By eliminating the product in the picture (and actually, the “audioscape” of gamers) they are able to, ironically, push more consumption – and yes, sales! But that’s just half of the genius, as the real breakthrough of this gaming work actually comes from the advertising side…

The Advertising POV

…yes here. See, instead of focusing on the AI technology and its apparent application to the gaming market, Doritos, instead, is going for an unconventional branding approach – by dressing it up as a new product launch! The intrigue, the PR mileage out of launching a seemingly entirely new product variant, one that does the impossible, is infinitely more attractive and newsworthy than hyping the technology that made it possible. It’s branding maturity at its finest. A modern marketing sleight of hand, that never looks down on its market but instead lifts them up to new experiences. And a triumph of a well-written branding narrative that ultimately makes this work stand out. A true blue Gaming X Marketing case that just wins on all fronts.


The Gaming POV

The statistic is indeed glaring and based on experience, very real. Out of all esports pro athletes, only 5% are women. This issue has been in gaming communities’ consciousness for a while now but has never really been addressed properly or extensively. This a welcome effort from one of the biggest multiplayer online games. Guest characters appearing in games are, of course, already quite common (Fortnite and PUBG have all been doing it quite successfully, with a number of different big artists.) But when a cause as important as this work wants to highlight is attached to an equally big spokesperson, the whole effort takes on something special and noteworthy, especially to the general public. Work like this helps further celebrate and, most of all, grow gaming culture even more to the behemoth that it has become. 

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The Advertising POV

Using a celebrity to promote a cause is, of course, nothing new and has been successfully implemented by so many brands, gaming or otherwise. The winning element here is the work’s grasp on media, how gaming causes can cross over to many touchpoints and continue building even outside gaming communities. But in truth, the real challenge for this campaign is to see the actual results of the problem and objectives it has set out to address. Will we actually see more female esports athletes soon? That’s the only real success metric for this campaign. Let us see.


The Gaming POV

A bank, streaming on Twitch – what an ingenious way to reach a target audience. BMO obviously identified gamers as an untapped source of business (with the gaming industry’s growing numbers and cultural relevance, it’s practically criminal for brands not to be in this space.) The work also exemplifies another key point from my Gaming X Marketing sessions – that gaming is actually NOT one thing (“I want to get into gaming” you will often hear this from marketers, as if gaming is one homogenous entity – and herein often lies their source of confusion.)

We should understand that there are as many touch points into gaming as there are games, consoles, devices, communities, peripheral interest groups, etc. It is perfectly fine to identify and focus on just one – and in this work’s case, streaming on Twitch. It’s a simple enough idea, but something that entails so much dedication (keeping the channel alive with fresh content, for example). BMO has truly found a treasure in Twitch streamer Sean Frame, dubbed as its first Gaming Relations Specialist, with his extensive background on both banking and gaming. His passion keeps this work alive.

The Advertising POV

A fun gaming work from a bank! As mentioned, it has found the perfect talent/spokesperson/advocate in Sean Frame. It even created an all-new role and job title just for him — a Gaming Relations Specialist — which is a genius move that projects expertise and authority but still retains that tongue-in-cheek humor that appeals to gamers. 

The case, as presented though, is obviously buoyed up by some key narrative points:

  1. “Gamers were banking as they gamed” – but there’s really no given explanation how banking transactions are made through the Twitch stream.
  2. “Gamers were banking in anonymity” – technically, yes the viewers are interacting using their online identities; but it’s not such a big deal if you think about it, if no major financial decisions are really made using those made-up identities.
  3. “Treating this Twitch channel as a branch” – which is really a stretch, to be honest, but a great reframing of its presence on this platform.

Still, these narratives help tell the tale, to be better appreciated as a marketing/ advertising effort, for such a major banking brand. The streams are still out there, going strong, with new content being added to this day. It’s just such a joy to watch Twitch streamer Sean Frame as he legit plays games and legit relates them to banking, every chance he gets. 


The Gaming POV

A gamified experience on WhatsApp! We’ve, of course, heard about hidden mini-games on messaging apps, but this work takes it much further, a full-on adventure tucked away in one of the most-used messengers. This is exactly like those classic text-based PC adventure games, which already makes this a big plus in gamers’ books. The extent, craft, and gaming artistry put into the game is exemplary. To have an environmental cause behind this effort just makes the experience all the more rewarding. 

The Advertising POV

We have always seen strong WWF work and messaging across many, many platforms. This latest one, in the gaming space, is a most welcome addition. One of the key narratives in the case is the angle on becoming “friends” to engage in the conversation – which is really a rationalization of the effort being activated on a messaging platform. But it’s not only a legit clever way of explaining the WhatsApp approach, but actually also a legit crucial part of the gameplay – as inviting friends over to share in the adventure is one of the first steps you take to prepare in the adventure game (try it!). Ultimately though, as with any case that centers on a specific cause, the only result worth noting is how much this affects the stakeholders to effect the change it proposes.


The Gaming POV

What makes getting into gaming so fun these days (aside from playing the actual games, of course) is to see the lore that forms and grows out of these virtual worlds. Building and cultivating lore has almost become a prerequisite to a game’s success. Sometimes created by the developers and sometimes by the fans themselves, the lore adds so much to a game that it often surpasses the obvious depth of the game itself. Case in point, Brawl Stars. Supercelll knows exactly what it’s doing, building its deep lore: a simple, cartoony game but with complicated, mysterious, dark secrets, not too different from conspiracy theories ala X-files or even the brilliant Omega Mart installation in Las Vegas (a real world walking sim built on dark conspiracies by way of commercialism). Fans jumped in on the lore and added so much of their own (there are huge interconnected worlds of content out there), it’s all actually so bizarre and so engaging. 

Starr Park CCTV is Supercell’s latest addition to the already extensive lore out there, and the technical wizardry is utterly astounding. Fans are given access to view CCTV footage from the premises of the theme park itself (that’s cool) from way back 1995 (that’s waay cool) and all in real-time generative content created from Unreal Engine (now that’s mind-blowingly cool). The attention to detail on this work is amazing, and rivals only the “Clash from the Past” work from last year (also from Supercell, surprise surprise). Both works actually tread on very similar grounds; but with Starr Park CCTV, what’s even more impressive is how it inspires communities to continually create their own user-generated content. The lore grows and there’s no stopping it anytime soon.

The Advertising POV

A brilliant case of creative marketing done right that transcends the game’s own genre expectations. The team surely knows how to have fun “playing while working.” The work is created to “reignite player engagement” as stated on the case, but actually this succeeds in bringing in even new players; because true to the lure of CCTV footage… one just can’t help but take a look! I for one am excited where they’ll be going with the lore. I guess we all just need to keep tuning in.

Closing thoughts:

  • Overall, a strong showing for creative gaming work this year at D&AD. Although I do think that some feel like versions of past years’ work.
  • I feel the maturity of the work is starting to show, and the industry is slowly veering away from the more expected, media-driven gaming work; in good Gaming X Marketing cases, creative branding still reign supreme; strategy and creativity is key.
  • We’re starting to see more real, authentic work winning, which is always a good thing. One of my key objectives in spreading Gaming X Marketing education is to properly commend work that’s honest (as opposed to those that take advantage of the relative newness of this category, and there were lots of these in the past.) I have always pushed for honest to goodness participation – the industry just needs more creative leads who actually play! This leads to better understanding… and then, everyone wins.
  • Is there merit to finally separating categories for gaming endemic vs non-gaming endemic brands? Doritos for the Yellow Pencil is such a major win for brands, only because I know how challenging it is for brands to create authentic gaming work (the hard truth is, gamers don’t need advertisers) vs gaming-endemic brands that already enjoy an engaged gaming market.
  • Anyway, that’s more than enough talk for now. Let’s go play some games! Game On!


Rey Tiempo is a Creative Gaming Brand Specialist. A hardcore gamer since childhood, Rey is the most awarded creative gaming marketer in Asia, with accolades from the world’s biggest creative industry award shows. A veteran creative head with over 25 years’ experience, Rey leads the Gaming and Marketing conversation in the Philippines and Asia, as Founder and Creator of “Game On”, the first and only ad industry column and portal on Gaming X Marketing. Currently playing: Stellar Blade, Multiversus, Street Fighter 6.

Dennis Nierra is Creative Director at BBDO Guerrero. Currently playing: Yakuza Like A Dragon.

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