Popcap Drives Conversions, Not Impressions

Two shorter items this week, instead of one long one. We're going to say that it's because there's a lot of news this week, and not because I was playing Assassin's Creed until the wee hours last night:

Popcap Tests In-Game Ads

Casual game leader Popcap recently released the results of some game ad research the company did on one of its flagship titles, Zuma. You can probably read about the details of the test on Monday in OMD from my colleague Tameka Kee, but one thing stood out. Popcap tested a number of different setups for its game ads -- one configuration allowed users to download and play the game for as long as they wanted, free, but with video ads served at natural breaks in the gameplay. Users could purchase and register the game to make the ads go away. A second configuration allowed users to play the first three levels free, with ads, and then locked them out until they bought and registered the game.

Now, Popcap is in two businesses, putatively -- it's trying to sell its games, and now it's also considering selling these ads, which have very competitive clickthrough rates. The ad test showed that the ad configurations work towards different purposes. The best ad configuration to sell games was the level lock -- obviously, once the player's got through the first three levels, they don't want to stop. But then they buy, and the ads stop showing, so there's no inventory for the advertiser. Conversely, the configuration where users could play as long as they wanted with ads showing the whole time served the most impressions, and delivered the highest number of clickthroughs, but didn't drive conversions -- why buy the game when you play it for free?

For the moment, Popcap says, they're going with the ad configuration that drives more conversions and fewer clicks, because they can't be certain that they'll sell through all that inventory. But there's a great opportunity here for advertisers to get in front of casual gamers -- remember, these are the people who are watching less TV and playing more games. Until the ad demand is there, Popcap is wise to continue driving conversions rather than impressions -- but everybody can make more money if advertisers get on board.

Things Looking Up For Movie-Based Games?

One of the few products that usually ends up being worse than games made from movies is movies made from games. Just to give a quick sampler: In 2006, we had "Silent Hill" (28% on, in 2005, we had "Bloodrayne" (4%) and Doom (19%), in 2004, Resident Evil: Apocalypse (21%), in 2003, "Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" (21%) and the stunningly godawful "House of the Dead" (4%).

Obviously, the storytelling conventions of video games don't translate very well into movies. As little dialogue and plot as there was in the "Doom" movie, there was less in all three of the games combined. In terms of plot arcs, character development, and dialogue, there's really not much to go on, and for the most part, studios seem to rely on the draw of the game's title rather than quality writing to make the film profitable.

Things, however, might be on the verge of looking up. Writing in games is improving significantly in the latest generation of consoles (inasmuch as when a game is poorly written, it gets noticed at all). Recently announced is a film adaptation of the action game "Max Payne," a standout in 2001 that remains one of the best-written action games you can buy. Starring Mark Wahlberg (we can't call him Marky-Mark now that he's been nominated for an Oscar), "Max Payne" stands a good chance of being a video game-based movie that actually has some artistic merit



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