Playing with Adverts
While once the television was central to home life and ads pushed through the medium were guaranteed to reach a wide audience, the Internet and videogames have made consumers more fragmented and no longer in a central convenient location for marketers. Tim Hoang looks at how advertisers are operating in the videogames space.
According to the Yankee Group, the global in-game advertising market generated $77.7 million globally in 2006 and will grow to $971.3 million by 2011.
Advertising in videogames is not a new phenomenon - sports games regularly feature advertising boards, branded clothing, official players and real world teams, though these are generally added for authenticity as much as for brand messaging.
However, new research has revealed that there is room for this market to grow with nearly 90 per cent of casual gamers saying they would watch video in exchange for free play. The survey of 1500 users of digital entertainment services company, RealNetworks also found that 34 per cent of the respondents take further action and click on in-game advertisements to learn more about the advertised product or service.
"We have been evolving our customer sales model based on user’s feedback since we created in-game streaming video advertising in the PC casual games space in 2006," said Chris Houtzer, senior director of new media at RealGames. "The right mix of advertising in our games gives us greater flexibility in providing advanced game-play options for our customers, sharing in incremental revenue with game developers, and delivering a competitive ROI for advertisers."
Surprisingly, the survey also revealed how 31 per cent of game players surveyed actually liked watching video ads.
But former videogames journalist Mike Oldman from Trilogy Communications, is unconvinced that advertisers have so far understood gamers’ needs:
"Game adverts have been perceived largely negatively by the games-playing public. This is in part down to inappropriate ads being placed in games such as Nivea in Splinter Cell, or having far too much prominence throughout the title. Much like in movies, product placement can just as easily go too far, hanging around too much on screen, and getting between the entertainment and the user," said Oldman.
"It can also be hard for the gamer to see all these advertisements in game, and not see any reflection of this increased revenue in the form of a lower price point for them. As a society, we’re used to expect ads to make something cheaper. Popular websites and services often offer to remove ads for a subscription fee for example. With price points remaining constant, I think this can be the hardest thing for gamers to adjust to. This is also where Burger King made the right move, offering its promotional games at a significantly lowered price, so ads were expected and more importantly accepted," he continued.
Oldman also believes that in-game ads can actually enhance the gaming experience and sense of realism when used correctly.
"In-game ads improve authenticity when attempting to create a ‘real’ world environment in game. Just as in a movie, gamers like to see products they’re used to in real life. It’s not a problem to see Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher using a Nokia mobile phone. If he’s sneaking around a ‘real life’ city, it only makes sense that his phone too, would also be real. They jar however, when over powering or unrealistically forced in to place. Often you’ll find numerous repeated ads throughout a game, which again can harm the experience and is largely down to the lack of worth (certainly initially) of placement. Done well, and sensibly, treating a billboard in say, Project Gotham Racing, much the same as you would a billboard in Piccadilly Circus can massively enhance the experience in terms of realism."
If the in-game advertising is to continue to be part of the gaming experience games developers and publishers need to look at more targeted campaigns and add to the experience.
According to Oldman, "The future lies in tailored and dynamic advertising in games. We’ve already seen dynamically changing ads in many games, with Real Time Worlds’ Crackdown being a recent example - tailoring ads to different regions and times. With the increased availability of high speed internet and its integration into games consoles, the scope for this is huge. The most important fact here I believe is keeping the ads relevant to the user, NBA Live 07 from EA supported live feeds from sports broadcasting within the game, which not only added once again to the overall realism, but was clearly of interest to the gamer."
Above: Football Superstars from Cybersports
Another company straying from the traditional business model of the videogames market is online sports games developers, CyberSports who, with their new Football Superstars game - a hybrid of Second Life and a traditional football game - will make use of in-game purchases, advertising and sponsorship. Steven Marshall, creative director for Cybersports believes that gamers have shrugged off the initial cynicism when it comes to in-game ads.
"Many gamers watch every detail of commercialisation cynically if they feel it as attempts to usurp or influence them within their gaming bubbles. When in-game advertising began there was an outcry from the playing community as many felt that they were being "used" by the publishers to line their pockets. As time has passed in-game advertising has become an acceptable way for developers to fund their projects and gamers to get access to free or at least cheaper software as long as the original ideal of the game is not compromised and the player doesn’t feel they are being manipulated (regardless if they are or not)."
With gamers turning towards massively multiplayer online worlds, Marshall believes that there is even more opportunity to implement effective advertising programmes.
"The primary advantage of MMO games over a single player product is the opportunity for the game to continually develop and be enhanced by features as often as the developers are able to make them across the lifespan of the product (which is arguably limitless so long as the game has a player base and it remains commercially viable for it to stay switched on). This married with thousands of players enjoying the same environment allows advertisers to get a greater understanding of social behaviour and trends of specific groups of individuals, be that by age group, geographical split or even sex. Obviously there are data protection issues with information gathering and it should always be the publisher’s primary objective to protect the information at their disposal," said Marshall.
One organisation that has already reaped the rewards of in-game advertising is the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) whose recruitment ads appeared in games such as Splinter Cell, Need for Speed Carbon and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.
The organisation saw numbers of people substantially increased from 500 to 600 per day to between 4,000 and 7,000 with visitors spending a substantial amount of time reviewing the roles on offer.
"Aside from the fantastic response through the games themselves, visits to GCHQ’s recruitment website have increased by over 500% since the launch of this month-long campaign demonstrating the effectiveness of the employer brand awareness," explains Kate Clemens, Head of GCHQ’s Digital Strategy at TMP Worldwide.