In-game advertising enjoyed a lot of buzz in 2006, but the platform should power up in 2007 as new generations of Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii consoles all come out of the box with broadband support. But aside from the predictable post-campaign branding studies, do we really know how, why and where product placement and brand messages work in the game experience? One U.K. firm, Bunnyfoot, is hoping to extend its legacy of studying user interfaces into the game world. We spoke with Alison Walton, Bunnyfoot's head of visual engagement, behavioral research, about her first research into gamers' interactions with in-game ads and how it might inform future media placements. Get ready for a new metrics acronym: SFI, or the Sponsor Fixation Index
Behavioral Insider: Before we get to gaming, what sort of research into interactivity does Bunnyfoot do?
Alison Walton: Bunnyfoot conducts behavioral research on interactive interfaces, with the aim of optimizing consumer experience and targeted interaction. We use eye tracking to understand visual behavior, and combine this technique with other methodologies, such as biophysiological measures, to understand consumer engagement and emotional response. We apply these techniques to a number of different interfaces, including Web sites, software, iTV, mobiles, print, advertising.
BI: In surveying previous research into the effectiveness of in-game advertising, what has been missing? What is it that we don't know yet about whether and how game advertising woks?
Walton: As the market exists today, campaigns are measured on exposure and awareness (for example, reach, frequency and CPM rates). These measurements provide a good starting point, but do not provide the valuable insight that is required to gauge and quantify consumer behavior. Advertisers are looking for ways to determine their return on investment. The technology we use has the unique ability to analyze actual subconscious behavior and immediate reactions, thereby eliciting true user responses without any interference by a moderator, or questionnaire.
Advertising is about brand influence, and engaging the user with your brand. Current models are simply just focusing on exposure and awareness, [which] is not sufficient or sustainable in a fast-growing market that requires true quantifiable data and proof that [one's] brand is invested in the best possible way.
BI: Explain the technology that you will be using. What will it measure in games?
Walton: We use eye tracking to evaluate visual behavior, and biophysiological measurements to understand emotional response. Using eye tracking, we can understand how consumers respond to advertising in games; we can look at their gaze fixations to understand what they are engaging with, and what they're not engaging with.... Biometric data gives us data on consumer's emotional and behavioral responses, such as galvanic skin response, heart rate, muscle tension. Combining certain measures of biometric data gives us information on a consumer's emotional state. We can understand how consumers are reacting and what they are feeling at that specific point within a game.
Traditional methods of testing are good for eliciting general feelings towards brands and understanding brand awareness. However, this kind of testing is influenced by group members, and has an element of variability due to outside influences.
BI: What metrics will come out of this? How will they be different from metrics categories we get in passive and interactive formats elsewhere?
Walton: We can gather all metrics relating to brand impact. The SFI (Sponsor Fixation Index) provides us with data on levels of consumer engagement with available advertising. The EASFI (Emotionally Adjusted Sponsor Fixation Index) provides us with data on positive and negative engagement and focuses more on the emotional response or attachment associated with the placements.
BI: Your initial research showed very low effectiveness among in-game ads. What sort of placements did you find performed best and are the opportunities sponsors are missing?
Walton: Currently, surrounding playing fields, hoardings, and building billboards are the most popular. However, these are not the most effective for players during interaction. The focus needs to be more on integrating the placements, rather than on available spaces within a game. Companies need to remember that the interactive playing experience is different than the 'viewing' experience, in that the focus of attention is very different. We work with companies to optimize the placements and identify areas of greatest impact--without intruding on the game play! That's where the eye tracking and biometrics come in.
BI: Will you be working with sponsors and game publishers before a game is finished to design optimal placement for ads in advance--or be measuring effectiveness after the fact to establish best practices?
Walton: Both. The way we work is very collaborative --and we work very closely with companies to optimize the creative and game play experience. This is the best way to implement more effective advertising strategies. Ultimately the player is our greatest concern, and we do not want to disrupt game play at all.
As we grow we will become more involved at the early stages of game development working with publishers, but we also work with published titles to understand and develop best practices.