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.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

NBCU Knows where the consumers are

The big news yesterday seems to have been that NBC Universal has teamed up with in-game ad vendor IGA. The details are that NBCU will now be able to offer clients inventory within video games that are represented by IGA. This includes positioning in games produced by prominent publishers like Activision and Electronic Arts as part of a comprehensive multi-media package. The partnership is seen as atypical for several reasons, including NBCU's traditionally television-heavy portfolio, and how young the in-game advertising industry really is.

A true sign of what early stages the industry is in is that everyone seems to want a piece of it, but no one really seems to know how to go about implementing it. "For example, Massive Inc., one of IGA’s top competitor, was snatched up last year by Microsoft, which has a far larger footprint in the digital space, while earlier this year online ad leader Google acquired the startup in-game ad firm Adscape Media." NBCU's interest in expanding it's portfolio into gaming is a good sign for in-game advertising firms, as it may be the first in a long line of advertisers waiting to get their messages out to a highly engaged and constantly growing audience of gamers.

However, while all these in-game ad firms are starting up and being bought by and partnered with huge corporations, I have yet to see a multitude of advertisements in my games. And as much as people keep assuring that they are coming, I still don't really see how. Despite all the new technology and amazing graphics that now exist that can make some truly incredible in-game advertisements, the same problems keep coming back. The games that people are interested in playing and developers are interested in making are not generally conducive to the presence of advertising. Many of them are not set in worlds or time periods in which these brands exist. Making a game that revolves around advertisements is a cute idea for a free internet game for as long as people still think it's a novelty, but they will tire of the idea soon enough, and advertisers can make all the games they want, but people will not play them. For all the articles I keep seeing about how big this industry is going to be, I'd like for just one of them to tell me how.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The 'social' side of gaming

Something that I've noticed a lot of people talking about over the last couple of days, including Josh Lovison of Gaming Insider, and Jane Pinckard on Game Girl Advance, is the concept of social gaming.

Lovison takes the stance that games that are designed to be played alone are on the decline and that multi-player games are not only greatly expanding the gaming audience, but also serving as community builders. And this is true; casual gaming has made it so that everyone can play. Nintendo has put a great deal of effort into making gaming a social activity, rather than a solitary one, bringing people together. MMORPG's such as World of Warcraft have thousands of players at any one time, which has led to many of them forming guilds of 40 or more people who always play together.

Pinckard, however, explains how all this 'social' gaming may actually be making people less, well, social. Though the argument has probably been made a million times before, there may be some merit to the idea that the more wired we become, the less we actually interact with people. Pinckard sites a study done by Rob Nyland, which shows that heavy users of social networking sites “feel less socially involved with the community around them.” The relationships cultivated in these online games, or in the social (usually party) atmospheres in which Wii type games are played, are usually non-demanding and low commitment, which could possibly keep people from connecting. I'm not sure I agree, being that people have a tendency to make this argument about every new form of media that becomes popular, but the argument is there, and who knows - maybe it's valid.

And what does all of this mean for advertisers? Sure, there's a much larger gaming audience to target, but doesn't that just mean that they are no longer a unified group that can be targeted? And if people are playing with their friends, will that make them more or less likely to notice in-game ads? In addition, if we are creating a culture of lonely people who do nothing but sit in front of their computers or television sets and never talk to anyone, what does that mean for advertising in other mediums? Just something to think about.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Casual Gaming 2.0

I'm not sure why I've gotten so hung up on casual online games recently, but this tidbit from GigaOm's Wagner James Au caught my attention. Wagner talks about MyGame.com, a kind of "YouTube-meets-casual games proposition" with a very user-created feel. It's essentially a gaming site where developers can upload their games, and if they become popular enough, they can share ad revenue with the company. And now Google is reaching out to these developers to partner with it's Adsense/Adscape network. In other words (and unfortunately for me), it's a good time to know how to use flash.

These developers can make thousands of dollars off a popular flash game using a variety of different business models. The two most successful models seem to be the Pogo strategy, where free games are supported by ad revenue and subscribers can pay a small fee for added benefits; and the MochiAds strategy, which places interstitial ads that run in the beginning and in the middle of independent flash games. While there aren't huge profits to be made (Kongregate CEO, Jim Greer, estimates about $10 - $15 thousand per game if it's really popular), it's still a substantial amount of money for anyone who doesn't rely solely on flash game development as a source of income.

Wagner's question essentially added up to "how can this survive as an industry if there is so little money to be made?" Well, I suppose it really couldn't if the people that were making the games were large businesses. However, if the only real "businesses" that are involved are the host game sites, then there is still plenty of ad revenue to go around, and anyone with a fun idea and a lot of patience for designing games in Flash can make a little money for their hobby. And we've seen the popularity of user-generated content on the web - there is no lack of support. People can make the games that they want to play, developers can make some money for their work, and advertisers can still find places to put their ads through the host sites - everybody wins.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Casual gaming to become... not so casual

Recently, Jane Pinckard of GigaOm brought up some interesting questions about the future of casual gaming revenue. IGA has just signed an in-game advertising deal with casual game publisher Merscom. Merscom makes both DS games and downloadable games for the PC, which, the author claims, are the kinds of games that are likely to face pressure to become more sophisticated in graphics and sound design, making in-game advertising necessary to reduce costs.

At the moment, casual online games are essentially broken down into two groups: the pay-to-download games through PC and Xbox Live, and free web games on gaming sites. Consumers are highly sensitive to advertisements in games that they pay to download, and in these games it is crucial to make ads fit the context. Consumers are a bit more forgiving about advertisements in free web games, as that is how the host sites keep running. However, there is still a certain amount of sensitivity surrounding ads, and each ad needs to try to keep with the theme of the game. Additional complications arise when one considers that advertisers do not want to risk making the mistakes of others. Microsoft (MSFT) Casual Games’ studio manager Chris Early cautioned against using to many in-game ads, saying, "If we get to the point of getting like commercial television on cable channels where ads are so intrusive of the experience, then people won’t play anymore.”

So, if people don't want to see an abundance of ads in their on-line games, how do publishers make the kind of money that it takes to create the more sophisticated games that their audience is beginning to demand? The author's idea was simply to charge people for everything they might want to do in a game. Want to challenge a friend? Pay a dollar. Want to customize your leaderboard? Pay a dollar. Enough of this, and in-game ads become completely unnecessary. People will then have to decide if they would rather pay more for their gaming experience, or put up with an ad every once in a while; and in today's society where people are getting more and more used to getting a lot for free, I doubt they'll want to be nickeled and dimed by the gaming industry. But hey - maybe that's just me fighting for my beloved in-game ads.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Gamer Babies

While the main age demographic for core gamers remains in the 18-34 range, a much younger group of gamers is coming around the bend. According to a recent article in Advertising Age, more and more children around the age of 6 are becoming serious gamers. NPD Group released their annual survey of children and video games this week, which stated that while older children still spend more time per week playing video games, there was a significant spike in the amount of time that children ages 2-5 and 6-8 spent playing. 6 to 8-year-olds spend an average of 75% more time gaming than they used to, with an increase of 3 hours per week. A full half of children ages 2-17 play 6-16 hours or more each week.

However, the transition into serious gamers doesn't just mean an increase in the amount of time spent playing. These children are also switching from "kid" systems to portable and console systems. For the moment, PC's dominate the gaming market for children 2-17, with a 58% usage rate. NPD Group Director David Riley speculates that this is because computers are the most accessible and the least expensive.

So what does this mean for marketers? Well, nothing at the moment. "We are a nascent industry. ... This is not the time to be dabbling in grey areas," said Julie Shumaker, senior VP-sales and marketing at Double Fusion. Kids may be getting more sophisticated with video games at a much younger age, but advertising to children in video games runs into the same issues that television has run into time and time again. Before the age of 15, parents are more in control of what video games get into their kids hands then the kids themselves are, and these concerned parents will not be appreciative of games that send repeated and tailored messages to their children without their knowledge.

Does this mean that advertising can't exist in games tailored to this expanding younger audience? That depends. As children become more sophisticated gamers, they are likely becoming more sophisticated consumers as well, though more research may need to be done on what age at which children can recognize when they are being advertised to. However, until all the rules to advertising in this medium have been worked out, we may be missing out on an ever-increasing young market.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

devisions and challenges

A recent article in eMarketer contains an interview with IGA Worldwide CEO Justin Townsend, who discussed some of the challenges advertisers are facing in the effort to reach the gaming audience. Specifically, that there is no single "gaming audience". The audience itself is broken down into core and casual, the gaming channels are divided by console or PC, and the types of ads that are available to advertisers are divided into static or dynamic, each of which has pros and cons. The goal of each game advertising campaign requires a specific and complicated blend of possibilities.

First of all, advertisers must decide if they want to hit core or casual gamers. The differences between these groups consist of everything from demographics to CPM, to the type of ads that are available to those types of games. Core gamers are typically considered to be males aged 18-34, while casual gamers are typically older women, however, these definitions are broadening quickly. The CPM for core games is typically around $30, while casual games see a CPM of $5 or less, though the cost of advertising in casual games varies wildly. The advertising in casual games tends to be things such as banner ads that are largely click-based and take people out of the game itself. However, core games tend to be more a part of the gaming environment, such as billboards or radio ads, and they tend to have a much higher recall value.

Just within the category of core games is the division between PC's and the various consoles available (though the Wii is often more of a casual gaming console). Advertisers face the problem that if they want to reach the entire core gaming audience, they have to put in insertion orders for every console as well as PC games, and this is not always possible, because they don't always contain comparable games in which to place the ad. In addition, Microsoft's "Massive" is affiliated with the Xbox Live arcade network, and no other advertising firm can include that network in their strategy, dividing the market even more. In addition, while static ads can be placed in multiple games, dynamic ads that actually get the player involved with the product can only be placed in one game at a time, limiting the advertisers audience to what that particular game sells. What we really need, Townsend claims, is a game released on all platforms so that advertisers did not need to create different ads for every game that they want a presence in. However, this doesn't seem like something the gaming companies are likely to support.

So what's an advertiser to do?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Advergaming gone horribly wrong

So, last week I was talking about the Burger King games and asking why nothing along those lines had been done since they came out last year. I mean, getting your customers to not only see your message, but to interact with it for longer than they would ever spend with an ad is a good thing, right? However, this is really only the case if your game is executed properly; a message that apparently never reached Toyota when they were planning their new Xbox 360 game, "Yaris".

"Yaris" is the first game on Xbox Live Arcade to be fully brand-supported, making it free to download. It's a racing style game where you drive a Yaris down a futuristic looking track while shooting robots with a gigantic arm coming out of the hood of your car. The cars themselves are customizable, and you have a variety of weapons to choose from. You can race your friends or take out your robot enemies alone on eight different tracks. Why not? Sounds like as much fun as any other casual game I've heard of, at least for a few minutes - especially because it's free.

Well, not so much, according to Dan Dormer, a game reviewer for Joystiq. Dormer describes the game as: "Crafted in a circle of Hell even Dante didn't believe existed, the developers of Castaway Entertainment created Yaris with an objective I can only believe is to cultivate anger in those who play it." He goes on to describe how the game does nothing right, from the graphics to the controls to the online play, and concludes that Toyota should stay far away from all advergaming in the future, saying that scooping his eyes out with a rusty spoon would be more fun than playing the game. Ouch.

The rather unfortunate example of Toyota's venture into advergaming should serve as a warning to all advertisers. Games can be a great way to promote your brand and get people involved in your products. However, people can smell advertising from a mile away, and they almost never like it. They are not going to play your game just because it's there and they can't wait to interact with your product. Also, they are getting used to extremely sophisticated gaming with incredibly life-like graphics, and if your game doesn't make some effort to be worth their time to play, they won't. The heart of advergaming has to be the GAME, not the advertisement, which is what made the Burger King games so fun to play, and what could bring a lot of advergames in the future a good deal of success. Don't put any less effort into your games then you do in any other aspect of your marketing, or it will simply get thrown back in your face.

Monday, October 8, 2007

They know what you're thinking right now... (j/k)

I’m taking a quick break today from my casual gaming bit because I found something on Game Daily that I thought was really cool. EmSense, a company started by a couple of MIT grads, has developed a way to use empirical data to read people’s emotional responses to games. What they have is a simple headset (the lack of large quantities of wires and gels was a major breakthrough) which monitors everything from eye movements, heart rate, and brainwaves, to how players furrow their eyebrows, blush, and sweat.

Game developers are always looking to find ways to get people more engaged in their games. This headset is capable of giving a continuous stream of data that show what is normal for a game, and what is a better than average response, as well as which parts of a game are more engaging than others. This allows developers to better determine where the climax of a level should be, and how to lead up to it. It also allows them to see what techniques are more successful at bringing about desired responses, allowing them to make better games that people are more engaged in, and are more interested in playing.

While this technology has been used on television commercials, it has not yet been tested on in-game advertisements. This is largely because of the lack of money that companies put into advertising in games as opposed to on television as of now. However, they believe that the same techniques could be used to gain some very interesting information. Because they are able to see how engaged they are in a game at any given point in time, and because they can see whether or not people even looked at the ad, they would be able to very accurately determine what ads are effective and at what points in the game.

This new technology will likely change a lot of things about how games are developed. More importantly for my purposes, it will likely change the way in-game advertisements are thought of. If the level of engagement that people have with in-game ads can be directly monitored and rated using the kind of empirical data not even available before, then maybe we will be seeing not only more ads, but ads that are much more effective in catching gamers’ attention.

Friday, October 5, 2007

A look at mobile gaming

Moving on to the next casual gaming genre: mobile games. This term often includes hand-held gaming systems such as the PSP or DS, but for the moment I am sticking strictly to cell phones. US mobile gaming revenue for 2005 reached $600 million according to eMarketer, and it is projected to reach $1.5 billion in 2008. At the moment, these profits come largely from people buying simple puzzle games, however, this may not be the case forever. Nokia has teamed up with G-Mode to develope multi-player games that better utilize newer phones internet capabilities, and bring mobile gaming to a much more advanced stage. These games are popular with large audiences, and are only getting more advanced.

Mobile advertising, on the other hand, is in its younger stages of development, according to The Economist, with companies having spent $871 million world-wide last year. However, buzz is beginning about the future possibilities of this mode of advertising. There are 2.5 billion mobile phones around the world which are often carried around with people everywhere they go, giving advertisers the opportunity to reach people outside their homes and offices. In addition, by using mobile firms profiles of costumers (assuming they can get this information), advertisers can send out relevant ads that would fit with each subscriber's habits, hopefully making such advertising less annoying to the consumer. One way advertisers have been utilizing this is by placing ads on pages where people go to download games. Another is similar to internet usage, where people have the option of receiving free content in exchange for watching one or more ads.

However, there are still several problems which need to be worked out in order for mobile advertising to grow. First of all, only about 12% of people use the internet capabilities on their cell phones because of high rates and small screens. Newer phones such as the Apple iPhone are combating the small screen issue, but the high rates of accessing the internet on a cell phone may cause problems for advertisers for a long time to come. Another problem is that of accessing people's personal information. Cell phone service providers have a lot of information about their customers that would be very interesting to advertisers. However, privacy laws prevent them from getting it, and it could be argued that this is a good thing, however much it may decrease their ability to connect with the right people.
One more problem is the issue of how welcome these advertisements would be. Most people consider their cell phones personal, and do not want to deal with the intrusion. Quickly Bored mentions that 90% of users are against the idea of receiving ads on their phones; not that this means they won't put up with it if it means that they will receive something in return.

Finally, the problem exists that advertisers have not reached a consensus on how mobile game advertising should be done. There are several different formats that would be possible, but for reasons such as lack of interoperability between carriers it could be difficult to even make this type of advertising particularly profitable.

In conclusion, while mobile games themselves are only getting stronger and more popular, it may be a while before advertisers get their acts together when it comes to using this new medium to their advantage.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

More fun with advergaming

So, while it isn't terribly recent, I found Burger King's Sneak King in a GameStop the other day and decided I had to try it out. For anyone who hasn't played it or heard of it since it came out late last year, you play as the ever-creepy Burger King and run around trying to surprise people with various food items from the BK menu. It's surprisingly fun for about 15-20 minutes, and every bit worth the $1.99 to play. The key here is that it's fun for 15-20 minutes - which is much longer than anyone ever spends looking over an ad, and it's fun enough, and novel enough that people are willing to pay for it. Check out this video, made months after the game came out, which shows just how involved some people got.

So my question is, why hasn't anything like this come out since? It was an example of advergaming at its finest, getting people really excited about engaging with a product in a medium that is entirely theirs. The vast majority of advergaming consists of examples like the ones I gave last week, with games on the company's website that make it interesting to go to, which is a good start, but that doesn't get anyone interested in the product to begin with. They have to visit the site to even be exposed to those games.

Obviously, the Burger King example would not work with all market segments, but maybe that's not important. In a recent post by Doug Meacham, the point was made that campaigns that try to target everyone are not necessarily the best way to go about things anymore. Marketers who are able to maintain the loyalty of a narrowly defined market are going to see much greater profits, because consumers want to be treated as individuals.

With Sneak King and the other two games that came out at the same time (Pocketbike Racer and Big Bumpin'), as well as the mobile games that are in the works, Burger King reached out to a specific market segment and connected with them on their own terms, instead of just expecting them all to migrate to the Burger King website and trying connect with them there. If more companies took advergaming to that level, they would probably have much greater luck reaching their harder-to-reach target markets.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Fun with advergaming

Back to my bit about casual games, I thought I'd talk a little about advergaming. The latest Gaming Insider post by Josh Lovison talks about how important it is to catch consumers attention online, now that all other forms of media are converging in on the internet. People are getting their news online, they are watching their favorite TV shows online, they are listening to music online, they are getting their magazine content online - and through all of this it seems that that marketers are still struggling to catch people's attention on this not-so-new medium.

A large part of the problem is that the internet is interactive. No one is sitting around to watch the 30-second spots interrupting their shows online - they just switch over to a new page. You can't expect people to accept advertising passively the way they (sometimes) do in television and radio - you have to adapt your advertising to the medium.

One way to do this is through advergaming. Lots of banner ads with mini-games have been attempted, but not usually well, and instead of engaging consumers with the product, it just ends up annoying them. Probably the best way to go about it is with games such as the one pictured above. M&M's do a great job of making their site fun to visit. There are games, recipes, and even a place to make your own M&M character. Now there has to be a way to make these types of games accessible outside the advertiser's websites without just annoying people...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Is anybody out there?

I've talked a lot about how advertising is picking up in the world of casual gaming, so I decided I should probably go back to that and start profiling some of these gaming genres, and possibly the kinds of companies that specialize in this type of advertising. Since it was recently brought up in Greg Verdino’s Blog, I thought I’d start today with Second Life. While not technically a ‘game’ in the strictest sense of the word, this on-line world does allow people to build their own avatars and islands and interact with people all over the world, so I’m going to go ahead and say it counts.

According to Wagner James Au on GigaOm, about 400,000 Second Life residents log in on a weekly basis, and about one million log on in your average month. So of course advertisers are getting in on this new and interesting way to reach consumers, right? Well, they’re trying.

Most advertising in Second Life seems to take place in the form of billboards that are as unimpressive as their counterparts in real life. In fact, the most successful advertising efforts seem to be those of SL based causes, rather than real world corporations. Besides billboards, the big thing for companies to do is create their own virtual islands, where they can fully control the marketing experience. The problem then becomes getting people to visit your island. Many companies with a presence in SL fail to attract even 500 visitors a week, making it seem hardly worth the investment.

Wagner offers a few suggestions as to why, in many cases, SL advertising seems not to be working. The first of these is the concept of teleportation. People can instantly teleport from anywhere in the SL world to anywhere else, which can make billboards relatively ineffective. It would seem that there is little that can be done about this issue.

The second problem is the lack of imagination in many of these company’s efforts. With all the possibilities open to them in a virtual world, they seem to often be doing things exactly as they do them in the real world. At least one company, Crayon, is attempting to do something about this. In their recent Virtual Thirst campaign with Coke, they had SL residents get actively involved with the brand by creating the “Essence of Coca-Cola” dispensed by SL vending machines in online videos. This intrigued me, and though I was able to find Coke vending machines scattered around the world (which were not Crayon's doing), I never could figure out if Coke had an island of its own – if it does, I couldn’t find it. But despite my inexperience with SL, it was still an interesting idea.

The third problem with advertising according to Wagner is the lack of people on these virtual islands interacting with visitors. This I can agree with from personal experience. After visiting several corporate islands I found lots of ‘welcome’ areas which were completely deserted. Even Crayon, who claims to be so involved with SL, had a completely deserted island. It was kind of spooky. People want to visit places where there are other people, so it makes sense that if no one is manning the desks in these islands, then no one will want to visit. It seems that if companies really want to make the investment to become a part of second life, they are going to have to put in a little more effort to make it successful.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Because Neilson has never been wrong about anything. *ahem*

We have been going over Nielson ratings (mostly for television) in class all week, so I thought I'd tie it together with the blog today. Back in July, Nielson Media Research launched Nielson GamePlay Metrics to measure PC and console video game usage. This new system provides electronic ratings and survey data to show the games and consoles being used, and the time periods they are being used for in an effort to better estimate what kind of games should be created for what systems, and represent the gaming audience to advertisers.

Results have been released for the months of May and June of this year, showing an estimated 68.1 million people using a video game console in June, for an average of 7.5 days a month. The clear market leader in gaming consoles at the moment is the PS2, which accounted for 42% of game play in June. Not terribly surprising when you consider how popular the PS2 has been and for how long. While all of the newest generation of consoles improved from May to June, they still have a long way to go to catch up with any of the older systems. Also found was that the average gaming session lasted for about one hour, except in the case of the PS3, where the average session lasted 83 minutes. Since Nielson GamePlay Metrics is based on the same infrastructure as their television ratings system, they can get the same kind of in-depth information about gamers and their households, such as seasonal patterns or the social class of the average Wii-owner, which is valuable information for advertisers.

Nielson claims to have "significantly advanced the understanding of how video game consoles are used and which games are actually being played", using a sample of 33,000 individuals ages 7 to 54. Qualifications to be included in the study were ownership of a console or PC, playing video games at least one hour a week, and having bought at least one game in the last six months. The question is, as with any ratings that Nielson provides, how accurate are their findings? If the little game advertising that exists is going to start depending on Nielson data, it's important that all key markets are properly identified and represented. Personally, I have never had great faith in Nielson, as they have only recently begun to include college students in their television research, meaning that for years they had been ignoring millions in the television-watching market. So how significantly have they advanced the understanding of gamers? Is there a significant portion of the market that is being left out (33,000 isn't that big a number in the scheme of things)? Should advertisers buy based on these findings? I don't know, but I guess it's nice that games are a big enough medium to finally get their own Nielson research.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Do you see the ad potential?

I recently ran across another article in Gaming Insider from a few weeks ago that interested me quite a bit. I opened the link just for the title, which mentioned Bioshock, which is my new favorite game to watch my boyfriend play (yes, I'll admit right now that I don't play much, but I am an avid game-watcher). Unfortunately, the article itself not only seemed to contradict later posts, but also just didn't make much sense. It talked about the emotional involvement that players get from games such as Bioshock, which deals with some pretty heavy topics, and how this will allow advertisers to better sell their products in-game. The article mentions how effective this strategy is in television programming, where people who are more deeply involved in the characters or story will come back week after week, and get exposed to more advertisements.

I have several issues with this train of thought. First of all, even though a truly engaging game may keep you glued to your television or computer for 20 hours or more, you are almost never being exposed to advertisements throughout the entire game, or even in regular increments, so no matter how invested you are in the characters, you may never notice some scattered ads.

Secondly, most hard-core games such as Bioshock and others in the RPG or shooter categories are not conducive to advertising at all. Most games in this general vein take place on other worlds or in different time periods where most if not all advertising would be seen as wildly inappropriate. Can you imagine a billboard for a new car in a Zelda game? Or even having that car to drive around in the game? No matter how invested you were in the character, that would be a big turn-off to most gamers, because no one likes to be advertised to that blatantly. Even ads that only appeared during the loading menus would likely only take people out of the game and make them care about it less. Ads are, with few exceptions, relegated to sports games, racing games, and casual online games. So unless a very good, realistic game that takes place in present-day comes around, this likely means that no matter how detailed and engaging these new games become, they will never be good marketing tools.

And lastly, because big hard-core games are not and have never really been good places for advertising revenue, it's more likely to be casual gaming that is going to be the big pull for advertising in the future. This is where the author of Gaming Insider contradicts himself. I would argue that when people are less involved in a game they are more open to advertising, and less annoyed when it is getting in the way of their game-play. Plus, there is no limit to what can be advertised in a casual game, where as ads in games such as Bioshock would have to be limited to products and styles that existed in the time period. Once again, and I know I sound like a broken record: Go casual games!

Friday, September 14, 2007

We love the Wii

I discussed the falling attention given to video games by advertisers last Sunday, and yet this article from Media Post's Gaming Insider states that "In-game advertising is projected to grow like wildfire, from $77 million in 2006, to nearly one billion by 2011" - about a 1000% growth spurt. This is an interesting projection when one considers that the only traditional industry games that can support advertising are racing games, sports games, and a short list of shooters that take place in real-world based cities. Even some that could reasonably incorporate advertising, such as the Grand Theft Auto games, simply don't.

So what is the author's opinion on how this amazing advertising growth is going to take place? As described in Sunday's post: casual gaming. It reaches a wide variety of demographics, and can easily incorporate advertising into any game - not just a few. But how do advertisers reach the traditional gaming demographic? Square Enix, the brains behind games such as the Final Fantasy Franchise has announced a partnership with Nifty, a Japanese game portal with the intention of making casual games which would have ads between level loads. Would more hard-core gamers follow if their beloved game producers started making more of these games? Maybe, but I think probably not.

The most logical answer most likely lies with the Wii. This moderately priced system dedicated to the kind of casual games that attract everyone from traditional male gamers to women to older people seems to be the future of gaming. Indeed, it seems to finally have made gaming a mainstream pastime. But is the potential for advertising there? One concern there could be the willingness of consumers to pay $60 for a game that now includes advertising. Another concern is the propriety of ads in Wii games. Most casual gaming takes place online, in sites that are entirely supported by ads, which people can accept. What place to ads have on the sidelines of Wii Sports or Wii Play, or even on the loading screens? One way or another, some major changes are going to need to take place in the gaming industry in order to support the kind of advertising growth projected. Perhaps some of these questions will be answered by the OMMA conference in New York coming up on the 24th. One thing is for certain - this is not the last time I will be mentioning the Wii.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Reaching Different Audiences

Major questions that everyone in the industry asks are how do we reach our target audience, and where does our target audience go for information? As an assignment for my Audience Research class, I looked at blog postings about various audiences to learn how the industry gets information about these groups, what measurements are used, and where these groups would likely go for information about travel.

The first blog was On The Record: They Aren't Just Like Us, by Mike Bloxham, and was about media consumers as a whole. He discussed how many of them may not be as media savvy as people in media industries may expect them to be, and that reaching them and understanding their use of media is largely trial and error. He mentioned one instance where Nielson research found that only 2% of 400 sampled iPod users acutally used the video capabilities available to them, which deeply surprised commentators. As a whole, consumers are difficult to understand or predict. With regards to their habits on finding information on travel, there is no good way to predict this, as it is too segmented a group.

The second blog was Consumer 3.0: Survival of the Fittest, by Peter Lauria. Its focus was on young consumers who have grown up with the latest technology and consume media differently than the generations that came before them. The best way for the industry to learn about these consumers seems to be to look at the media content that they create and control for themselves. Media studies such as The Pew Internet and American Life Project have shown that 55% of 12 to 17-year-olds use social networking sites such as myspace or facebook, and are extremely media savvy. As travelers, this group would most likely look for travel blogs written by their peers or on-line testimonials from people who had been to the places they were interested in visiting, because they are so used to user-generated content.

The third blog was Market Focus: Calling All Pets, by Alex Miller, which focused on pet owners. The main way for the industry to get information on this audience seems to be The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association (APPMA). The APPMA found that people spent $34.3 billion on their pets in 2004, with one in three American households having at least one pet of some sort. As travelers, one can expect that avid pet owners would take their pets with them wherever they went, and would search trade magazines such as Pet Age or even the Animal Planet website for information on where to go, and how their destinations of choice will treat their pets.

The fourth blog was Market Focus: Targeting Harried Commuters, by Larry Dobrow. It focuses on how advertisers are catching the attention of commuters in buses and trains. The best way for the industry to gather information on what catches the eye of this group seems to be trial and error, as no measurements or research agencies were mentioned in the article. Advertisers are left to try out campaigns and various ways of presenting information and see if it works. As travelers, this group would probably not get all of their information from the billboards, train-placards and bus-wraps that surround them on the way to work, but they may be given ideas for vacations by these means, and be directed to a travel website from there.

The fifth blog was Targeting Young Males, by T. Miller, and focused on how to catch the attention of the extremely segmented and media wary market of young men. Industry professionals rely on focus groups and Nielson research to gather information on what this group wants to see, and where they want to see it. The article cites a Nielson Entertainment study which showed that TV viewership is down among men ages 18 to 34, and that the best way to reach them is through viral ads and grassroots marketing instead of traditional media. As travelers, young men may get information anywhere from the media targeted at them, such as Maxim magazine, to the travel blogs that are likely to attract all young media consumers.

The sixth blog was Buzz Focus: Cracking the Fickle Tween Code, by Tina Wells. Wells looks at ways to reach the pre-teen audience. The best way for the industry to learn about this audience seems to be focus groups and surveys, such as the one mentioned in the article done by Buzz Marketing Group, which showed that 87% of tweens said that ads are one of the top three ways that they want to be introduced to a new product. Tweens are very influenced by both celebrities and their friends, so as travelers, they would likely get information from these same sources. They will want to go places that their friends have gone and enjoyed, and they will want to go places where they know celebrities have been.

The seventh blog was Marketing To Women, Part II: Stats and the Single Woman, by Adrienne W. Fawcett. It gave statistics on single women and showed how marketers have much of their information wrong, which leads to marketing that does not connect with their audience the way they would like it to. Industry professionals learn about this group through surveys which give them all of the basic demographic information, such as age, race, income, and education. However, apparently the industry as a whole has not yet found a way to get information on this market to keep from stereotyping them in their advertising campaigns. Since this group has an enormous range in everything from age to education to occupation, there is no good way to estimate how they would get their information as travelers.

The eighth and final blog was Modern Multitaskers are Really on the Ball When it Comes to the Juggling Act, by Peter Lauria. He talks about how people today often consume multiple forms of media concurrently in order to ingest as much information as possible, as efficiently as possible. Industry information on this group is found through forecasts and studies, such as the one conducted by Ball State University on "Concurrent Media Exposure", which found that through shared or shifting attention, almost one third of the time spent with any one medium is shared with another medium. The article talks about the importance of easy searches. Because this group wants information as efficiently as possible, as travelers, they will want travel sites that have all all the information that they need readily available.

Each group can be reached in different ways, and would be likely to go to different places to get information on travel, and they each must be considered separately in any given advertising campaign.

The downfall of the gaming industry?

Game Business and Its Crisis of Attention is a blog post by Wagner James Au that I recently read and found intriguing. The article talks about the video gaming industry's various failures to adapt to a changing gaming environment over the last several years, and how it has negatively effected the attention that they are getting from both advertisers and gamers.

They (meaning major consoles and game publishers) are a highly insulated industry, meaning that young men are creating games for young men and being reviewed by young men who have all been gamers since before they could talk. They are only interested in epic, Hollywood-esqe games such as Halo 3 and Gears of War which appeal only to their own niche market, and have been ignoring the much more simple user-generated and flash computer gaming trends that have popped up recently.

The rise of non-game virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft and Secondlife as well as casual, web-based games, which do not originate from major publishers have been slowly chipping away at the attention given to the gaming industry. However, they continue to ignore these gaming alternatives as if they expect them to go away and for the content of their own big-budget games alone to be enough to hold their consumers attention.

Real evidence of the difference between the interests of the gaming industry and that of their consumers can be seen in the latest generation of consoles. While the PS3 and the Xbox 360 were expected to dominate, the Nintendo Wii, with it's low resolution graphics and few major games, has vastly outsold either system. This made EA, a major game publisher, cut its profit estimates dramatically for their lack of titles for the Wii.

This raises several questions for the future of the gaming industry as a whole. Can they regain the attention they have lost? The Au certainly doesn't seem to think so, as he predicts that user-created online worlds will dominate. Other questions to arise are, how do we catch the attention of young males now? As gaming becomes an increasingly universal pastime, how does advertising in video-games change? When the extremely sectionalized young male market can no longer be reached by their traditional medium of choice, where do advertisers turn? And lastly, are we really seeing the downfall of the gaming industry?

Friday, September 7, 2007

Reaction to Podcasts

For anyone who may be reading this who is not Kim Gregson, I am a senior at Ithaca College majoring in Integrated Marketing Communications. As part of my audience research class, I was instructed to listen to a couple podcasts (Across the Sound by Joe Jaffe and Marketing Edge by Albert Maruggi) and post my reactions to this method of getting industry information before getting into the topic I will be discussing for the rest of the semester (advertising in video games).

Unfortunately, the link we were given to Across the Sound wasn't working, and my extremely limited experience with podcasts kept me from finding it elsewhere. However, I found Marketing Edge to be extremely interesting.

I do have a couple initial complaints about podcasts that I'd like to get out of the way quickly. First of all, they are somewhat difficult to focus on. I am not an audio-oriented person, and if I can't see something that corresponds to what I am hearing, I tune out. So, unless they start broadcasting these things as very catchy songs, I doubt I will be listening to very many more of them. Secondly, I don't like not being able to skim when I am trying to get information. I was listening to an episode about viral advertising, which was interesting, but I think I would have been happier if it had all just been text and I could have read only the parts that I actually cared about.

Having gotten that out of the way, I have to say that I was very impressed by the Marketing Edge Website as a whole. It had some great information on just about everything in the marketing industry, and the podcasts themselves were relatively interesting and informative. One thing I did like about this format was that I could write myself notes as Maruggi was speaking, which made the whole thing kind of like a lecture - kinda hard to pay attention too, but informative and helpful.

Anyway, looking forward to delving into the topic of advertising in video games next week.