Study: Bad News For In-Game Ads?

Just as 2006 was wrapping up and we were all heading off to our respective (and ideally, warm) holiday destinations, UK-based research firm Bunnyfoot released some data potentially troubling to the 2007 prospects of in-game advertising.

The data, compiled using eye-movement measuring techniques and surveys of 120 players of sports titles generally carrying the most advertising, found that ads were failing to capture the attention of players, and recall of the ads across the board was low.

The study directly contradicts ad-friendly data released earlier in the year by Nielsen Interactive Entertainment and PMI Research. The Bunnyfoot research instead concludes, "Current methods are not optimizing consumer engagement and are failing to influence the consumer in any significant way. These results reflect the industry's concern relating to brand value and return on investment."

Gamers seem to agree more with Bunnyfoot's assessment--they don't mind having ads in games, but the ads don't necessarily make an impression. Erin Ali, one of the star bloggers from the 1UP Network's extensive gamer community, said that she's developed a "look the other way" attitude when it comes to ad spots in her games. Albert Ferrer, another 1UP gamer-blogger, said that in-game ads have "little to no effect" on him. "Because the players are so engaged in the gameplay itself, the in-game advertisements become less of a focus and are only there to add to the overall setting," he said. "Our attention spans are solely on the gameplay."



To an extent, Bunnyfoot's findings are pretty intuitive. In-game ads in sports games (the type of games that the research firm focused on) often take the form of billboards and other outdoor placements--after all, they work in real life, so why not try them in games, too? Of course it's not quite the same: When you watch basketball on TV, you have time to sit back and wonder how the Knicks can cram so much mediocrity into one season, and if wearing Axe body spray will actually cause women to pole-dance on nearby lampposts. When you play "NBA Live," you might be too busy shouting at the virtual Eddy Curry to care.

Some developers are taking a different tack, however, and it's working. Ali mentioned a game where the sponsors have made a significant impression--"Tony Hawk's Project 8," the most recent installment in a long-running skateboarding franchise. "The character is made to build rep and gain sponsors and receives calls about local demos," she said. "Through those techniques, the engagement with advertising actually was played off better than I've seen in other games." Sponsors for THP8 include Jeep, Powerade, Nokia and Reebok.

Integrating a brand into the fabric of the game itself, making it something that players play with, instead of next to, needs to be a key element in in-game advertising, and it's something that companies need to look to in 2007.

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