As you know if you listen to The BeanCast, I'm a huge advocate for in-game advertising and promotions. The numbers clearly show that acceptance is high and that gamers actually appreciate relevant placements as adding realism to some game experience. But I still think we haven't scratched the surface of what's possible in the medium, instead relying on what works for films and TV shows.
From thecommercials that ran during load screens
for Wipeout HD, to theads next to a urinal
you use to slam a guy's head into during a torture sequence in the forthcoming Splinter Cell, we aren't so much exploring opportunities to extend brand engagement as running in-game ad vehicles. This is fine and the data shows it's effective, (there's even heat-map data) but often it leaves gamers puzzled.
Case in point, this recent post from the video game blog, Kotaku. The blogger (Stephen Totilo) has been covering in-game advertising for some time, so I respect his insights. But his comments, while accepting, highlight that there is a vast world of difference between an ads effectiveness and whether it makes sense. From his post (which I suggest every media buyer should read in its entirety for perspective):
Our Ubisoft man explains how the Splinter Cell team has generated heat maps to determine where players look in a level, and ensured that ad-placement locations are situated in those lines of sight — which might sound potentially irritating, but he's the one talking about making advertising in games as innovative as gameplay. And he's the one talking about selling deodorant to players as they make a bad guy tumble into a urinal.
Or was that part a joke?
I'm not here to say what is being offered isn't great. I'm just saying the Kotaku post makes clear that game companies are catering to the ignorance of the media buyers they are trying to impress. And that means coming up with ideas that media buyer understand, rather than pushing boundaries into even better thinking.
They're talking placements and heat maps and acceptance numbers and stuff that media guys salivate over. But in the end it's all about reducing the brand to fit the numbers, rather than finding smart and exciting integration into gameplay or experiential enhancements that create favorable impressions of the brand.
The point is, we can think of an in-game ad as an impression or we can think of it as an engagement. And clearly the only way we can move toward the latter is by taking away the confusion and making gamers like Totilo excited by the advertisers involvement, rather than perplexed by how we think this could work.