This Game Contains Advertising

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In the 1950s and 1960s it was all so easy. Mad Men placed cigarette adverts on TV and nationwide the populous soaked it up. The hypodermic syringe model of advertising was working. Keep pumping the message into the audience, and eventually their response to your product with be akin to a pavlovian dog. Great empires were built around the creation, direction and execution of advertising.

Then somewhere between the 1950s and today it all went wrong. The glut of ads got so great that they went from being a novelty to an annoyance and people started to stop listening. TV remote controls were a milestone in ad avoidance, as channel surfing provided a temporary opt out.  As single channels became less effective the agencies started to integrate and plan and create multi-channel campaigns. They integrated press, radio, TV and any other channel that it could lay their hands on.

The leakage of the audience continued unabated and the advertising industries hit a wall around 2000. That wall was the internet and like so many industries the hugely disruptive force of the net, splintered the advertising industry. This was the classic flip from push to pull and suddenly a silicon valleys based start up was leading the audience to the brands rather than the advertising agencies leading the brands to the audience. Google still has a frosty relationship with many global media and advertising agencies. The reason? Google represent a threat to the core of their businesses. Google was a symptom and not the cause of disruptive power of the internet, the evolution of Google was born out of a necessity to search the web effectively. Conversely for the agencies, the better the search the better the ad avoidance. They needed to find another new channel.

Ad-funding is not a new idea, it has been around for decades but away from straight ahead advertising it was almost invisible, with product placement being covert not overt. The net provided a new transparency, a highly targeted route to the consumer. When online you are being watched, and this means that your tastes and habits can be observed and used for geo location, gender, age and numerous other analytic variables. Music was the first to try and employ the model of give away the product, and offset with advertising revenue. To date none of the primary ad-funded music services like We7 or Spotify have started to turn a profit so it seems that even when the audience is given the bait and switch proposition of free music in exchange for ears and eyeballs, that the reluctance to absorb ads is apparent to both audience and advertiser. Online game services like Pogo work on a similar model, where browser based games provide a platform for ad-serving and the games bring in the audience.

In game advertising represents quite a different proposition. Here, the audience have already paid the entrance fee, in most cases £40 (in the UK).  In terms of entertainment media games represent the higher end of the cost scale. In addition to that (in the case of Xbox at least) there is a monthly fee to be able to play games online. There are two primary methods of in game advertising, those included in the on disc game (that can often be static) that approximates to traditional advertising/product placement and those games that have ads served into them once they enter the online environment (Dynamic). The first advertising hoardings within games with real world ads started to appear in 1994 in the EA title FIFA international soccer.

The challenge for these static ads was that they were not measurable like online ad serving. Like any other connected platform ads are piped into the environment. Thus far this has met with varying degrees of apathy and outrage. Some gamers have been outraged and have decreed the ads to be invasive.  In the case of Wipeout HD, the ad-serving proved to be disastrous, with load times greatly increased and an incensed audience. Sony backed down and the ad serving was cancelled. A similar furore broke out around the EA title Battlefield 2142, these ads were served by IGA worldwide.

This was a short term victory for the audience as the introduction of ads is inevitable. Massive have predicted that in game advertising will reach $1.8 Billion in 2010, and it is seen as a way for games developers to offset the increasing costs of game development.  Some publishers see this as a way to make an additional $1 to $2 for each unit sold. The inevitable wave of analytics measure are already being put in place by traditional firms such as Nielsen, through Nielsen Media Research. Nielsen call it Gameplay Metrics and it has been created to serve in-game advertisers.

Visit the Massive website and you will see a very convincing argument for the dynamic in game advertising case. Impressions are counted by actual instances of the ad in clear line of sight of the player, and they are counted by the second. As an advertiser I can be assured that my audience is looking, or at least looking in the general direction of the ad. This varies greatly from online ad serving as impressions do not indicate any accurate level of engagement. Connected consoles provide exceptional analytic feedback about the level of interaction with the ad including viewing angle. These are metrics that outdoor, online or TV simply cannot provide.

If the serving of the ad can be accurately defined the question therefore is are the audience looking and listening? The suitability of in-game ads has to be based upon context. If they add to the experience and are not intrusive, then it seems counterintuitive as a gamer to register a complaint.

Prototype made it explicit on the back of the box, but when you play the game the presence of the ads is far from intrusive. The game is set in New York so the inclusion of ads makes perfect sense. Indeed they add to the experience. The content of the ads is secondary to context, as from memory I am finding it difficult to recall the actual ads within the game. There has been a long standing tradition of the inclusion of marques of car which represents another more oblique form of in-game advertising. Perhaps the most pervasive and least perceived form of in-game branding is the use of real-world gun names such as AK47, M16 and MAC-11. These are all products and whilst not consumer brands, I am sure that most ardent FPS gamers would be able to recall these with almost total clarity. In both of these cases the use of brand name would wholeheartedly be defended in the name of realism.

Advertisers are drawn to in-game advertising as it presents a new channel to reach the 18-34 year old males who had drifted away from traditional TV advertising. The other benefit is that these games are played on the TV, so are not a huge leap away from the communication methods of the past. The fundamental difference is that the TV represents that delivery method and not the platform itself.

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