Register for our free newsletter

Latest News

Geek image dropped as in-game advertising gets serious

Geek image dropped as in-game advertising gets serious

Marketers must put their game faces on as a fresh playing field opens up in the virtual world.

August 14, 2008 8:49 by

Precious de Leon

In the cat-and-mouse game between advertisers and consumers, marketers are constantly looking for new ground to communicate with its target audience.

With TiVo giving access to almost ad-free TV viewing, the internet opening doors to movie and TV program downloads (albeit mostly counterfeit), the only audience left without escape are those stuck in traffic jams with a broken CD player and nothing to do but listen the radio.

Then marketers discovered a new battlefield, the world of video games.

For those who think the game world is reserved for so called geeks who prefer the virtual world to the real one, they are advised to take a second look.

“So many people were stuck in this idea that gamers are lonely 12- year-old boys in their bedrooms,” says Ed Bartlett, vice president for Europe at IGA Worldwide, a specialist in-game ad agency, as quoted in the International Herald Tribune. “In actual fact, they are 29-year-old, affluent men with plenty of disposable income.”

In UAE and Saudi Arabia alone, 32 per cent play mobile games at least once a week, according to research commissioned by Ericsson. These numbers purportedly outperform other services like MMS, portal browsing, listening to music and mobile TV.

In EMEA, sales for console and portable video game hardware is estimated to reach Dh32.2 billion this year—18.4 per cent more than last year, according to the Consumer Electronics Association and market research firm GfK.

This number is topped off with worldwide revenues of gaming software reaching up to $50 billion.

In-game advertising has been a hot topic in the Europe and North America for sometime now. Banks, airlines and beverage brands are raising their game. McDonald’s, the German mobile phone operator Tmobile International and energy drink brand Red Bull are just some of the big names on this list.

And with worldwide in-game advertising expected to grow from $80 million in 2006 to as much as $950 million in 2011, there’s a lot at stake.

“Brands and products that hold clear contextual relevance to the gaming experience such as automotive for racing games, sports brands for football games would benefit from in-game advertising. High interest categories such as mobile and fashion will also do well,” says Dimitri Metaxas, group director, OMD Digital.

“The brand needs to hold a certain cool to maximise the impact and some brands just don’t nor will they ever have this. Gamers want to see brands that they find relevant to their lives.”

OMD research reveal regional gaming demographics to be “13-33 year old males with a burgeoning market for younger females from games like The Sims and Singstar. The psychographic tends to be more progressive, modern and technically and socially active.”

A more general look at the EMEA region’s entertainment and media sector shows an expected rise of 5.5 per cent CAGR to reach $617 billion in 2011, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2007-2011.

Led by Saudi Arabia, GCC and South Africa, the MEA region will continue to be the growth hotspots, averaging 8.5 per cent compounded annually during the forecast period. TV distribution, internet advertising, access spending and video games will be the fastest growth segments averaging double-digit compound annual increases during the next five years.

New internet-enabled consoles and growing broadband penetration, on the other hand, will spur growth in the online game market while next-generation wireless devices will drive demand for wireless games. Globally, video game spending is expected to rise from $32 billion in 2006 to $49 billion in 2011, a 9.1 per cent CAGR.

If these numbers do not impress, the mushrooming conferences and exhibitions across the Middle East should do the trick.

The International CES/Hometech conference and expo, a consumer electronics event, hopes to become the platform in the Middle East for the gaming market in 2008. This year, it will be accompanied by a game championships and a conference on gaming.

“The computer games industry has changed massively over the last ten years and it has truly planted both its feet in providing global entertainment for individuals, families and professionals…there really is a game for everyone to enjoy as well as showcasing some of the most talented gamers in the world,” says Jaffer Mir, CEO of Game Frontier.

In addition, Gitex has added a gaming arm to its programme. This year, the event will put more focus on the Gitex Shopper, aligning it with world gaming tournament that will see some of the world’s most famous gamers compete alongside regional teams.

Running parallel to the tourney is a conference that aimed at business side of gaming. Specific topics are still being finalised at the time of writing.

And to think before all this, games used fake brands that looked similar to their real world counterparts. Zup! cola (7up) and GUP (GAP) clothing are a couple of examples.

Recent colourful examples of advergaming executions are IKEA offering a catalogue of its flatpack furniture as an optional package to The Sims 2 and Nissan lending its expertise for driving simulations on Gran Turismo (GT Academy).

In the Middle East, there has so far only one advertiser to venture into this arena: Saudi Arabia-based telecoms operator Mobily. The company worked with in-game pioneer Massive Inc. to put 250,000 impressions across Xbox and PC titles, including Burnout and Guitar Hero.

“Mobily are a challenger brand in what was a monopoly market controlled by STC who represent heritage, power and size. Hence, Mobily need an alternative tact based on a modern youth platform, to be a brand that innovates and pioneers,” said Metaxas, who worked on Mobily’s gaming venture.

“There are the lighter quintiles who largely don’t watch hours of TV and ignore traditional advertising but represent a growing youth and young adult segment that influences heavily in the market. It became clear that digital media and in particular video games would be a great untapped channel to better connect with these consumers.”

Most ventures into this alternate universe start with static ‘OOH’-type media. Think large billboards along Atari’s new video game Test Drive Unlimited, an ad along Pro Evolution Soccer, and a poster in the murder mystery Death in Scarlet.

Technology, however, now has the ability to take this venture to another level. Brands currently have the capability to integrate their products into the game, whether its recreating real time clothing designs for avatars or promoting the latest brand launch in MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, for the uninitiated).

There are several ways brands can enter this virtual realm. One is through console games like PS2, Xbox360 and the Wii—the later of which has arguably introduced video gaming to more casual and non-gamers.

To get involved with console games, brands work with game creators at development stage to introduce the brand into the game. In the case of IKEA for example, it was introduced a supplementary software package.

On the other hand, ads can be introduced real time in consoles connected to the internet, in online games and in portable ones. This method gives a brand a little more leeway in how it wants to communicate with the gamer and allows ads to be constantly updated.

Dynamic ads also allow companies to reach more narrowly defined (segmented) demographic groups. Brands, for example, can use a player’s IP address to deliver ads tailored to their location. This could mean French-language ads in virtual cars played in Morocco and a promotion written in Arabic for a gamer in Kuwait.

German ad agency Neue Digitale has reported ad rate estimates advertisers pay for dynamic ads: about $122 for each 1,000 times a dynamic ad is viewed. This is about twice the current rate of static ads.

In factr, dynamic ads have accounted for $26 million of the $76 million spent on in-game advertising last year globally, according to Yankee Group.

The research firm also expects dynamic in-game advertising to account for 55 per of the $182 million that will be spent this year.

That is, of course, if the gamer doesn’t reject or bypass the brand first. Some gaming insiders see ads are just going to be seen as intrusive, hence, ineffective.

“In-game advertising is much, much more [in your face] advertising and is more like a billboard,” Nolan Bushnell, founder of game developers Atari told MTV’s gaming blog Multiplayer.

“I don’t believe those kinds of ads are very effective. In a game, if you’re not riveted on the objectives, you’re going to lose.”

Not according to Nielsen GamePlay Metrics. Its surveys have found dynamic ad games from blue-chip brands that ran in the Massive network increased brand familiarity by 64 per cent, average purchase consideration by 41 per cent and an increased average ad recall by 41 per cent.

Of course, billboards and clothing sponsorships would look wrong in a fantasy adventure game, but these would add a touch of realism to sports games and those set in urban environments like the infamous Grand Theft Auto.

Launched last year, Nielsen GamePlay Metrics gathers more detailed information than just how many copies were sold and have the ability to report back data through the internet.

The research would have the capability of determining, for example, the angle and distance at which an ad is viewed and whether the player pauses to look at it.

Besides the issue of acceptance, measurability is yet another issue that is still being resolved.

“Unfortunately in-game doesn’t provide the wealth of measurement that we get from say an online campaign, where people can interact with the brand in many ways, and we can measure that. It is more of a branding medium currently though as the technologies adapt, and games publishers increase ad revenues that will likely change,” says Metaxas.

He also says that along with the balance of realism and acceptance, the industry is “highly fragmented and is in the early stages of structuring” so it is difficult to navigate all options with providers who cannot provide a complete solution yet.

These issues however could be resolved with adaptation of new technologies. In other words, it’s all a matter of time and how much demand businesses will generate for in-game advertising.

So what’s next? Jumping into the not-so-distant future, video games can aide in bringing behavioural targeting to the forefront in marketing. In-game advertising could, for example, allow marketers to create psychological profiles of gamers.

In March this year, Google researcher Shumeet Baluja has reportedly filed a patent for a scheme that will do just that. By analysing in-game behaviour, the programme would put gamers into categories such as risk-taker, stealthy, non-confrontational and dishonest. This could potentially enable ads to target more specifically.

Whether or not these ‘game profiles’ match the gamer’s actual behavior and the choices they make in the real world is another issue best left in the future for the time being.

For now, a more feasible potential for brand/game relationships can be seen in its link bank in to the real world. Game pods, for example, could be installed in store or within malls.

More importantly, there is gaming’s increasing popularity in the mainstream. More women, for example, are getting in on the act. This is mainly triggered by games that focus on women. Wii, for example, is targeting women for its Wii Fit platform games.

These games are continually inviting non-gamers to become casual gamers. This is especially true for mobile games (PSP and mobile phone games, for example) where players are usually just casual gamers.

Low-time commitment games are slated to be huge. While it is generally true that middle-aged women won’t be hardcore Xbox 360 payers, women definitely play puzzle games like Solitaire or Bejeweled generally found online.

With the changing gamer demographic and the technology adapting to allow brands to integrate better into games, the trick with advergaming seems to be that the brand touchpoints must be executed seamlessly into the game. It’s seamless or the gamer will ignore, if not reject the message all together—whether it’s for brand awareness or the latest product launch.

All systems go…so who’s ready to play?

First seen at

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Comment