Tools To Measure Ads In Online Games Likely To Lag Until Market Evolves
The announcement on April 8 of a plan by Nielsen Entertainment and Activision to track the effectiveness of advertising within console-based video games begs the question: When will advertising and promotion be monitored in online games? While online and wireless gaming via handheld devices and cell phones is on the rise, it hasn't reached critical mass yet compared to the installed base people who play console-based video games. And advertising and product placement within online games, handheld gaming devices, and wireless handsets is quite nascent.
"The measurement of gaming is always a challenging category. Not all games online are online all the time," says Peter Daboll, comScore Networks, president-CEO. Selected titles for Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox and Sony Computer Entertainment's PlayStation 2 consoles are online-enabled.
Both comScore and Nielsen//NetRatings track the online gaming audience and supply market intelligence on the segment.
Daboll says comScore has no immediate plans to develop tools to track and monitor the effectiveness of ads in online games and wireless/handheld gaming devices. However, the research firm does track PC-based Web gaming via its Media Metrics unit, analyzing visitation to gaming Web sites like Pogo.com, time spent, and other basic metrics. "We don't capture mobile gaming or use of games on mobile devices," Daboll confirms.
In addition, comScore analyzes online gaming via premium, for-pay subscriptions offered by providers including MSN Games and Pogo. As part of comScore's premium services tracking, the firm charts metrics such as the number of subscribers, dollar sales, and active registrants. The firm also tracks data streams generated by PC-based games that are connected to the Web, such as online multiplayer games like EverQuest, Ultima Online, and the Sims Online. comScore also offers customer research and tracking.
"Our approach is really to measure what we can measure well, and continue to work with custom research, and as the [online gaming] segment evolves, we'll re-evaluate," Daboll says.
According to Nielsen//NetRatings, 46.8 million unique visitors spent time during the month of March on online gaming sites which include properties such as Electronic Arts, Yahoo! Games, Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Games, America Online's AOL Games, Shockwave.com, CNET Networks' GameSpot, IGN.com, Kraft Entertainment, UGO Games, and MiniClip.
Online gaming is growing in fits and starts. Electronic Arts last year extended its popular Sims franchise online, and incorporated McDonald's and Intel branding. Today, the product is no longer being actively marketed.
Companies including Wild Tangent have built custom games for marketers--both for online, PC-based play and video game consoles. Popular franchises such as Activision's Tony Hawk Pro Skater and Electronic Arts' Madden NFL series have included branded billboards and all manner of product placement. But long development times, creative and technical issues, marketer trepidation, and software publishers' concern with treading lightly on the so- called "user experience" have so far limited growth of ads in online games.
While NetRatings' sister company will measure ad effectiveness in console-based video games connected to a TV set, NetRatings--at least for the time being--is focused on measuring traffic to online gaming sites. "The opportunity will exist, at some point, when the sector gets bigger than it is right now," says Manish Bhatia, senior vice president of product marketing, Nielsen//NetRatings, of the prospects for measuring ad effectiveness in online games. "We may want to extract the data for the gaming activity, and combine it with Nielsen Entertainment to be able to profile the users and activity across all environments," he adds.
"Our domain happens to be the desktop," and "right now, there is obviously a large enough sector for Nielsen to concentrate on the console sector, but as online [gaming] picks up momentum, we see ourselves as being the company to track that and combine [the data from both the console and online sectors]," Bhatia explains.
Hypothetically, Bhatia suggests the model might be similar to AC Nielsen's Homescan panel. In the future, as online gaming hits critical mass, spurred by broadband penetration in the home, Nielsen and Nielsen//NetRatings might combine assets to create a joint product for the analysis of advertising and branded entertainment in online and offline gaming.