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!


Nathan Snell said...

Hey Rachel,

I found your blog via Greg's (and saw your focusing a bit on games, where I've spent a lot of time playing and designing). Some interesting agreements and disagreements you put out.

Dealing with the concept you covered about emotional involvement, I would say I have to agree with you on its lack of effectiveness in comparison to TV shows, but for a different reason. There are two things that I think were missed in the original article:

1) Gamers already come back to the game week after week, generally regardless of emotional involvement. This in itself, if all they are going for are eyeballs, is a good purchase point.

2) As I see it, "Emotional involvement" of a gamer with a game will most likely not lead to the purchasing of product placement goods the way it is assumed to with TV shows. Much is for the reason you stated that many games are not based in such a clear cut real world setting. However, there is, in my opinion, a different kind of product placement that can occur. That is, game makers could design the game in such a way as to make it more open to merchandising. As a game designer, you can create elements of the story or the game that the player /does/ get attached to. This /new/ product is then what players purchase. This is in part the power behind creating a new intellectual property title (Like Gears of War as opposed to pumping out yet another UT). The issue that many companies still seem to encounter is getting past the traditional notion of advertising- much like is still happening online.

Lastly, even to play a bit on the side of traditional advertisers- they could take a creative route when it comes to advertising in games that have similarities with 'our reality' by enforcing brands instead of products. For example: The car you drive may not be the latest from BMW, but you could create a fake, futuristic version of BMW. It is to say, I don't actually know how well that would work, and lean much more towards the notion of designing a game with the idea of merchandising or growing a loyal fanbase that buys into the game, not just the products advertisers have placed in it.

Kim Gregson said...

2 good posts - good detail and links - 10points