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.