20 July, 2007

Pepsi: The Official Soft Drink of…Master Chief?

We're surrounded by advertising every day. As Jason pointed out, some of us are brushing our teeth with the magical saliva of Mary Kate and Ashely Olsen after eating a hefty serving of super-digestible Spider-Man cereal. (If you are raising your eyebrow in confusion right now, read Jason Bloom's blog below.)

We see commercials during TV shows, advertisements before movies, billboards on highways, and banners during the games. And now, we're starting to see the footprint of advertisers in video games more than ever before.

Though my infrequent play as of late makes me a slacker in the XBOX 360 community and my XBOX Live Gamer Score is definitely cringe-worthy (don't worry, I'll save the details for a geekier blog on a different site), I am still a video game fan. So, when I happened upon a link to an article titled Video Game Advertising: Closing In on a Billion Bucks, you're darn right I clicked on it.

According to the article in the E-Commerce Times, in-game advertising in 2006 was a mere $77.7 million (okay, I know a just used the word 'mere' in front of a pretty hefty sum, but compared to $1 billion it's like loose change in the sofa cushions). So, why is the Yankee Group predicting a sharp increase to almost a billion dollars by next decade?

Simple: because video games are where the eyeballs are. More in-depth games and online game play can easily mean hours upon hours of game-play. I personally know some people who have basically made gaming a mandatory part of their daily schedule. Go to work; pay the electric bill; birthday dinner for sister; defeat 1,000 zombies barehanded in Dead Rising.

It makes sense that more and more advertisers are exploring in-game advertising. And, it makes sense for developers too, as they face the rising costs of creating more advanced game play on more complex platforms. So, how do gamers feel about this growing corporate invasion into their beloved games?

I asked my friend Adam Gallia, a frequent player, what he thought of the issue. His response:

"It doesn't bother me that it's in the game, unless it gets to be gratuitous and overwhelms the game-play experience. It could even make a game feel more realistic. But let's face facts: a good game will sell and offset the costs of development. A crappy game will not. So, make a good product and recouping development cost is not a problem. Seriously, do you hear Bungie (makers of Halo) complaining about development costs? The answer is no. You wanna put a Coke machine in the scenery of Gears of War 2? Go for it! But when Marcus Fenix is running around in Nike shoes with a Stihl chainsaw, I'm officially done with video games."

The key is subtlety. Add elements that make sense to the game without being overbearing. Trust me, what seems like a small addition to the game environment will be noticed, and will earn respect from most players. If you're company is cool enough to support Call of Duty or Madden NFL, then you've gotta be good.

Want to be more obvious and still be respected? Then offer something that adds value to the game-play experience. Online gaming offers opportunities to sponsor new levels of game play, new characters, etc. Hey, you're sponsoring the development of new downloadable maps for Halo 3? Now you're really cool. Check out this guest column from Double Fusion CEO Jonathan Epstein for some more insight.

Developers are beginning to integrate ad technology into their design process. Nielson is looking to track video game use to give more validity to video games as an advertising medium. As advertising in video game grows, this player can only hope that companies and developers know where to draw the line.

--Alicia Taft, Course Developer

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