Commentary

Put The Video In Video Games

As I spend more time in the video game world, both for work and pleasure, I see an increasing push by vendors to deliver in-game video advertising. Now, the last time I played a game that had a video interruption was the "Pac-Man" series, and that interruption was limited to a delightful cut-scene of a stork air-dropping Baby Pac-Man to its overjoyed mother, Ms. Pac-Man.

Times certainly have changed.  If I'm playing Tom Clancy's "Splinter Cell" and pass by a billboard on the roof of a building playing a movie promo video, I wouldn't be quite as thrilled. Let's talk about where and how to best use video in gaming environments without aggravating me... I mean, the gamer.

A losing proposition

Please, please, please don't do it for the sake of running your client's TV spot somewhere besides on TV or in video environments.  When I sat through the Microsoft & Massive presentation during Advertising Week, I cringed when the movie promo was playing on a rooftop in the seedy part of town.  I couldn't hear anything else clearly, so if the bad guy was coming to beat me up or shoot me, I would have gotten wacked.  Too bad for me--all that time and energy wasted because the ad's audio drowned everything else out. 

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Most important, it annoyed me to the point of being disgusted, since my experience as a gamer was disrupted.  If I was playing that game, I would have fired off an e-mail to the game producer saying that I'd  paid $50 - $60 just to be pissed off by the in-game video ad. 

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for advertising in a game to add realism, but I've never walked by a video billboard with the volume loud enough that I could hear it on the street, 20 stories below.  I will admit that the only person worse off than me is the person living on the top floor of the building with the incredibly loud billboard.  Let's stick to imagery only, with possibly some interaction like peel backs for hidden messages when it comes to in-game billboard advertising, please.

Walk the line

Yes, the movie has been on HBO recently, so this subtitle came a little too easily.  In some alternative realities, gamers may be asked to watch TV as a means of gaining points or credits towards experience or the like.  And if they do, presto! A TV commercial appears, just like in real life.  With the advances in technology, you think they would have created TiVo in "The Sims" or the "Desperate Housewives" game.  Alas, DVRs are not in these games, so we have to watch.

 Is this more or less annoying to consumers than real TV advertising?  I can't answer that in full, but "more" is my guess.  However, this isn't the extreme annoyance example of the rooftop video billboard, but it is a distraction from the real purpose of the game--to escape our reality for a virtual one that keeps the things we like and improves upon the things we don't. Since TV commercials are sometimes entertainment, this may be an option--depending on how entertaining your ads truly are. 

Research will offer a better understanding of where video best fits within role-playing or alternate reality games.  There are enough video areas today that brands are most likely under-utilizing, so unless you're willing to invest in this area as a research project, I would stay away.  As an alternative, look to broadband first, given the higher accountability and proven success of the channel, then VOD or even TiVo/DVR offerings.

Everyone's A Winner!

Intermission gives the gamer a break between levels, and the advertiser a golden opportunity to connect with a prospect.  With casual games, the real estate between levels or games offers a natural pause to insert advertising.  The standard length of the intermission is roughly :15-:30, which is perfect for a TV spot or custom video ad. 

More important, casual game areas on sites like Yahoo offer greater targeting options than other gaming opportunities.  Even hardcore gamers need to take a break once in a while, which is when they'll visit casual games sites. With a high volume of available inventory compared to other video environments, pricing in these sections tends to be significantly lower than a video-only area--interstitial versus pre-roll--by as much as 50% or more.  Whether you consider puzzle games on MSN Games, or action/sports games on Wild Tangent, there's usually something available to target your consumer demographic.

The next time you think about where to place video ads, think about video games.  But even more so than with online advertising, we need to maintain the user experience--or gamers will see ads as annoyances, not extensions of real-life situations.   After this article, I can say this: If I see a video billboard in the next Tom Clancy release, I'll know that it was put there just for me.

Happy holidays, everyone!

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