Getting in on the game

Marketers have been reluctant when it comes to using video games as advertising platforms. But with the number of playings increasing, opportunities to reach a large audience are following suit

onscreen_violenceMarketers have traditionally shied away from gaming: violent themes, paired with teenage boys with minimal purchasing power, never made video games attractive. However, advances in animation and communications technology mean today’s games offer much greater variety and appeal to multiple demographics.

A new report from Media Contacts, the digital arm at MPG, indicates video gaming will continue to grow globally with the number of installed game consoles set to exceed 150 million worldwide by 2010.

As a rapidly growing number of adults play video games in multiple locations and, thanks to wi-fi, against multiple opponents, the opportunity for them to see targeted, relevant messaging also increases.

In the long term, today’s teenagers, who now spend almost as much time (ten hours per week) playing video games as they do online (11 hours) and watching TV (12 hours), will ensure this growth continues for years to come.

For marketers and players the gaming options are extensive. Games can be played on consoles such as the Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox or Nintendo Wii; on CD or DVD; online; on mobile; on PDAs; or hand-held consoles such as the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS. The result is games that are released on multiple platforms.

Video game advertising is a little more complicated than print and TV and this presented a barrier to marketers. But as the development of cross-platform titles increases, advertising will get easier.

Research suggests that Sony’s PS3 may be poised for a fast-paced rise and is likely to move ahead of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and the Nintendo Wii by 2010. By 2011 nearly 50 million consoles will be installed across Europe.

The numbers involved are impressive but this is just one side of the picture. Consoles, and their accompanying games, are highly immersive and demand time, ability and skill. The real mass market lies in the millions of casual gamers who do not want to spend time or money on gaming.

The Ipsos Consumer Survey has reported that while 60% of console gamers are men, 60% of casual gamers are women. Sixty-seven per cent of casual gamers are over 35 years old and 23% are over 55. Conversely, 55% of console gamers are aged 18 to 34 and only 8% are over 55. Sites like Miniclip, Europe’s largest casual games space, are growing rapidly.

Investment by publishers, retailers and developers in casual gaming continues to increase as consumers spend more time online and broadband provides better access to games.

For casual gaming sites there are two revenue models: ad-supported or subscription. For advertisers planning to advertise through video games the different demographics involved need to be kept in mind to ensure messages feel organic to both the game and players.

Advertising in video games can be broken down into two broad categories: advergaming and in-game advertising. The former are commissioned and sponsored by a marketer and they outlast typical ad executions. In-game advertising integrates a brand into a pre-existing narrative. Ads can be static, staying the same every time the game is played, or dynamic, meaning they can be manipulated via an internet connection to precisely target the player. Two thirds of all video game advertising will be in-game by 2012.

As game releases increasingly become global events, the ability to deliver targeted ads to a gamer in France and a gamer in the US who are playing each other clearly opens up huge possibilities. Static in-game ads are trickier. The right ads have to be placed in each version of the game during development. Red Bull, for instance, is a perfect fit for many games titles but not in Scandinavia, where it is illegal.

There are also a number of variations to these existing models. These include pre-game, post-game and interstitial ads, sponsorships and product placements. The latter can require long lead-times and possibly significant upfront investment.

Another less widely used model is advertising within the Xbox dashboard itself. The dashboard is split into different sections such as marketplace, where people can download music and movies. Advertisers have the opportunity to offer players downloadable icons as well as video. This has worked particularly well for trailer-based advertisers such as movie and video games clients. However, the relatively high cost has put off a lot of advertisers.

Another of the biggest potential pitfalls is gamer backlash, should ads be too obvious or detract from play.

Metrics for measuring the success of advertising in video games are still evolving. For advergaming, click-through is fairly easy to track and monitor but the amount of time a player spends with an ad can be more important than the number of impressions. For both categories, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

The largest game releases such as Grand Theft Auto IV and Halo 3 create bigger social events than some of the largest Hollywood blockbusters. In addition, like Hollywood movies, many major games titles are released globally, offering dynamic advertising opportunities as “local” as the marketer desires. All that flexibility means there’s a fit for almost any brand and any demographic. Thus, there is growing evidence that game-related advertising must be given strong consideration in any digital media mix. v

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