Tuesday, December 4, 2007

To summarize...

Over the last 3 months, some interesting developments have occurred in the area of advertising in video games, though most of them have simply left me with more questions to be answered in the months and years to come. I’ve noticed five major themes in my research so far. These are the problem of casual vs. hardcore games, the problem of making in-game advertising profitable, the emergence of several new methods of measurement, the growing importance of things like Second Life and advergaming, and the fact that new markets are being reached all the time. This industry is only getting started, and it’s pretty exciting to see how quickly things are changing.

The first major issue I noticed was the question of whether casual or hard core games were better suited for advertising. Often it was implied that the whole point of advertising in video games was to reach the extremely fragmented young male audience who can’t be reached through any other medium. By that logic, advertisers would have to use traditional big-budget games. It was said that these games created an emotional attachment that kept people involved and constantly coming back for more. However, I have consistently argued that there is little future for advertising here – there simply aren’t enough games that could support it and those that can have to be careful that they don’t make players angry. The Guitar Hero III example, where brands that had no place in the game managed to actually anger gamers, shows exactly what will keep happening unless some serious restructuring of the gaming industry is done. Casual gaming, on the other hand, is usually free, so people are more willing to put up with ads during their game play. And they’d more than likely be willing to put up with a few more if it meant keeping their games free. It targets a much wider audience, making it considerably more profitable, and there are a large variety of gaming sites to advertise on. I would predict that casual games will be the way of the future.

The second issue I kept running into was the frenzy surrounding the idea that in-game advertising was going to be a $1 billion industry by 2010. NBC Universal teamed up with IGA to begin producing in-game ads as part of multi-media packages. Microsoft bought Massive Inc last year. AOL is re-launching games.com to pick up on some of this ad revenue. User-generated gaming site mygame.com is all about upcoming game developers making advertising money. The first result I saw from all of this craziness was that sad result that is Guitar Hero III – so packed with ads and product placements that it actually disgusted several game reviewers, despite the fact that the game itself was great. I reiterate my opinion that ads will never really find a home in traditional video games. But what of casual gaming? This model seems to be working, but I’m still not sure if I can see it becoming a $1 billion industry in the next two years. Luckily, the CEO of EA recently agreed with me on that point.

The third major trend I saw was the beginning of ways to measure the effectiveness of video games as a medium. Neilson Media Research launched its Nielson GamePlay Metrics in July to measure PC and console video game usage. It gives the same kind of in-depth audience data provided for television, which is very useful information for advertisers – assuming they ever come. Another new development came when EmSense developed a way to use empirical data to read people’s emotional responses to games. They monitored everything from eye movements, heart rate and brainwaves, to how players furrow their eyebrows, blush and sweat. This allows game developers to get the best reaction possible from their games, and could allow advertisers to determine the best placement for their ads. With these developments coming within a year of each other, it seems to be a sign of the importance of video games to marketers in the years to come.

A trend I saw that I’m still not sure what to think about is Second Life. The virtual world does seem to have a relatively loyal following of about 400,000, and marketers are really making an effort to try to make it in the name of innovation. Expensive virtual islands are being bought, in-world billboards are being plastered around cities, and promotions that try to get people to interact with the brands are being tested. Crayon’s Coca-Cola Virtual Thirst Contest was really cool to watch, and I think it was a neat idea that did something to actually contribute to the game instead of just advertising at people. However, the residents of Second Life are not thrilled to see marketers in their space, and I’ve seen articles about residents actually voting to ban PR agencies from particular islands for not following their rules. I don’t see the virtual trend going away, but I’m curious to see how advertisers will be able to make it where they are not liked and seldom paid attention to.

I spent a good deal of time researching and talking about advergaming, because I am very curious to see which way that trend goes. The vast majority of it does not go past the extremely casual web-game found on advertisers’ own sites, or simple and poorly done banner ads that have you push a button a few times to win a prize. However, I saw real potential for this idea in the Burger King games, which get people involved and let them have a little fun without shoving the brand down their throats. Unfortunately, I don’t think a single good example of advergaming has come around since then. Toyota made a very sad attempt that didn’t seem totally thought through with their Xbox live game “Yaris”. They essentially made a game that was boring, had terrible controls, and only succeeded in making people angry, and then associating that anger with their brand. Over all, I would really like for advergaming to succeed, and to see more examples of good games that just happen to revolve around a brand. However, if the current trend of making a bad game just for the sake of being able to say they did continues, then that hope may be in vain.

The last issue that has come up a lot recently is the ability to come up with a consistent way to create revenue using in-game ads. There is no single “gaming audience”, there is no single channel that they all use, there is no consistency in the types of ads that exist in games, and there is no consistency in the way these ads are viewed. Specifically in the world of casual gaming, revenue can be generated by letting people play the whole game for free with a lot of supporting advertisements, or they can let people play the first level of a game for free and then make them pay. If this second method is used, then there is no room for advertising at all. Then there is always the games.com strategy of including product placement in their games, making people watch an ad before the game starts, and then littering the game play with interstitials. Depending on which business model prevails, advertisers may find themselves with nowhere to place their messages, and all the planning for the exponential growth of in-game ads could come to a screeching halt.

It will be very interesting to see which way the industry develops, and whether it ends up working out at all. Some very big claims have been made about the future of in-game advertising, but the industry’s success depends on whether or not it can find a market that will accept its presence, and games that are consistent with their brand message.

Monday, November 26, 2007

So long, farewell...

Well, it's been an interesting 3 months getting acquainted with the blogosphere. However, it has come to my attention that I have fulfilled the requirements of the blogging assignment for my Audience Research class, and don't have to do this anymore. My reaction? I've decided to go legit.

I got myself a typepad account: Adver-Whatever (That's http://adver-whatever.typepad.com/weblog/)

I'm expanding my topics of interests a bit from gaming-only to include interesting developments in the advertising and marketing worlds, and seeing how this whole blogging-because-I-like-it thing goes.

So... this will be my last post on this site, besides one last summary assignment whenever I get around to it. Hope to see everyone for my next big blogging adventure!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Because I think it's a neat idea...

I promised myself I wouldn't do it. I was absolutely going to take this week off and not do anything for the blog. It's Thanksgiving, for god's sake! But here I am. This has absolutely nothing to do with gaming, but I was so amazed by what it was able to do for Joseph Jaffe, that I really wanted to get involved this time.

On December 14, there is going to be a bumrush the charts event for the book Age of Conversation, written by hundreds of different bloggers, and with all the proceeds going to Variety, the children's charity. Go here for details, help out the cause, and be sure to buy the book here on December 14!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Too bad I'll be in Ithaca...

M16 is a video game marketing conference that has been going on for the last two years, and the dates for next year's conference in San Francisco have been released. The event, taking place April 8-9 is themed "Cracking the Code", and will feature "the value of combining marketing innovation, revenue-generating partnerships and creative strategy that gives careers, product launches and ROI that extra push." (quote).

Companies that will be there include Nintendo, EA, Ubisoft, DirecTV, Future US, Microsoft, The Ant Farm, VOOM HD Net, Activision, 2K, ABC, THQ, Konami, Nokia, Lucas Arts, Disney, Eidos, IGN, Midway Games, GameTap, Nvidia, MTVN, and GamePlay. Over the acourse of the two days, there will be sessions on game launch strategies, research, multi-platform marketing, new technologies, inspiration, and advertising, media and marketing partnerships - not a bad topic list. There will also be awards handed out, including outstanding TV ads for both products and consoles, outstanding TV campaigns, outstanding theatrical ads, most innovated pre-sell program, best new property launch, best product packaging, outstanding marketing campaign, and a whole host of others ranging from the design to the game play.

Anyway, it may have been slightly off topic, but I thought the conference sounded like a great way to celebrate the achievements of interactive marketers and bring more attention to gaming in general. I won’t be able to make it to the conference, as I happen to be living on the opposite side of the country at the moment, but for anyone who might be able to get to SF, you can begin the registration process here. I will be on a blogging hiatus during the next week for Thanksgiving, so to anyone out there: have a have a happy Turkey Day!

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Gamasutra informed me (and the rest of the world) yesterday that AOL has recently announced that it is going to relaunch its gaming site, games.com, in order to increase advertising revenue (flaw #1 - not to give something back to the community, but to increase ad sales - not a good sign). They've done some cool things to the site, such as making navigation easier, and planning for 400 online and downloadable games and 20 online exclusive games by the end of the year. They are also trying to widen their demographic by targeting gamers of all ages, while their other gaming site, games.aol.com, will still be tailored to adult gamers.

However, the biggest change to the site seems to be their plan to whack their players over the heads with advertising every chance they get. This rather interesting strategy promises advertisers "deep in-game integration" by placing logos on the backs of cards in Solitaire, or on t-shirts being worn by the character calling out numbers in Bingo. Well, that much is all well and good - I am likely to notice the logos and make note of the fact that those companies were nice enough to sponsor my free game, and it doesn't interrupt my game play - everyone wins. Unfortunately, it doesn't end there. AOL also had the wonderful and incredibly unique idea (note the sarcasm) of including pre-roll ads and interstitials within the games.

Now, I'm an advertising student. I will go out of my way to look for ads online. I will flip through TV stations just to watch commercials. In other words, I'm a freak of nature. But if I'm playing a game, that's me time. In that time, I don't want to be harassed by commercials not just at the beginning of my game, but actually interrupting my game in the middle to tell me something I don't care about. I would imagine that people who are less enthusiastic about advertising as a whole would be even more upset by this idea than I am. I'm not sure that even "the best selection of online and downloadable game content on the Web" would be enough for some people to put up with all of that.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Back to Second Life

A while back, I had my first adventure with Second Life, and basically just gave Crayon a hard time for their island being deserted at the time that I was wondering around. Today, I had my second adventure in-world, and the Crayonville island was anything but deserted. At one o'clock this afternoon, the winner of the Coca-Cola Virtual Thirst competition, in which contestants created the Second Life 'essence' of Coke, was revealed.

crowd of people:

So I show up to Crayonville, get transported to an amphitheater on the other side of the island, take up five minutes just trying to figure out how to make my avatar sit down (I never did finish orientation island), and watch the proceedings. By about 10 after, there was quite a crowd in the amphitheater, and I'm watching all these conversations pop up in the corner of my screen, though I have absolutely no idea how to talk back. I really wish I had a better idea of how SL actually works, because it also took me quite a while to realize that there was an audio feed that I had to turn on to go along with what I was seeing.

In the beginning were several people standing at the front of the amphitheater, one of which was the woman who created the winning entry, all standing in front of a very large box.

When the box finally opened, it revealed a large, nicely designed, bottle of coke, apparantly a new kind of "vending machine of the future", which would dispense a unique Coke experience.

The bottle itself turned out to be a puzzle that the designer was solving in order to dispense this Coke experience. However, I guess there were some technical difficulties due to the large number of people in the room causing a lag, so it took a while to solve. When it was finally all put together, out of the bottle came some very pretty bubbles and a giant snow globe photo booth, complete with penguins, ice fishing, and bottles of coke.

15 of These vending machines will be placed around SL for other people to solve the puzzle. There are three different types of puzzles, and those who can solve them will receive prizes. Everyone seemed to be very excited about the whole thing, and even though I am completely incompetent when it comes to SL, I agree that it's a pretty neat way for people to interact with the brand in a whole new way. I especially like this promotion because it actually ads something to the game, instead of taking people out of the game - as was mentioned in the presentation. Over all, this was pretty neat, and an exciting sign of things to come.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Guitar Hero: guitars, groupies, and... Axe?

So, in my last post, I went on a slight rant about how, despite all the forecasts of huge amounts of advertising going toward video games, I still hadn’t seen any evidence of it actually happening. Well, here comes some of that evidence now. Recently released Guitar Hero III features a rather wide variety of real-life brands, which the company hopes will bring more realism to the game.

Many of these brands make perfect sense to have in the game, and do add to the over-all feeling of realism. The musical brands present include Gibson, Guitar Center Audio-Technica, Crate, Ernie Ball, Krank, Line 6, Mackie and Zildjian, as well as music publications Alternative Press, Decibel, Guitar Player, Kerrang and Paste. However, there are several brands represented in the game that seem not to belong. These include Axe Body Spray and Pontiac, which appear in the form of sponsored venues, guitars, and go-go dancers. On the one hand, it's true that real-life venues have sponsor logos everywhere you look, so the "realism" argument has some legitimacy, but on the other hand, it's a video game that people pay rather a lot of money to play which is now shoving irrelevant ads down their throats.

I'll say one thing for the ads in this game - people noticed them. At least that one aim of all advertising was achieved through this effort. What Axe and Pontiac did not achieve, however, is brand support. Game reviewer Alex Navarro of Gamespot said that it was "disappointing that Activision has finally decided to corporate up the Guitar Hero experience with a fair amount of lame product placement and dynamic in-game advertising." He later described the whole advertising experience in the game as simply "gross." One extremely miffed fan went as far as to want some of his money back for the overload of advertising he was forced to swallow in the middle of his game. In 10 comments replying to his post, other Guitar Hero lovers expressed their mutual disappointment in the prevalence of advertising that did not seem relevant to the game.

It is important to note that not a single person seemed to have a problem with the musical brands that were in the game. They all seemed to agree that this added to the realism of the game, and that it was fair for them to be there. It was the brands that have nothing to do with music that really seemed to bother people, and even take them out of the game. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - in-game advertising is a great way to get people to interact with your brand; but it has to make sense in the context of the game. Sponsored venues may have seemed like a realistic way to go about it, but it obviously stood out enough to bother the gamers. I am all for the continuation of in-game advertising as a way to break through the clutter present in other media, but if this is a sign of things to come, maybe I should worry.