Downloadable Content Is Key To In-Game Advertising

SAN FRANCISCO -- Downloadable content that modifies or expands games is also a perfect vehicle for advertisers and media buyers, giving them the flexibility they need to execute a product placement or integrate virtual display advertising effectively, according to a number of panelists speaking at the OMMA Gaming conference on Tuesday.

First, because they can piggyback ads on modifications and patches delivered via the Internet, or create stand-alone content patches themselves, advertisers avoid the need to integrate ads into the original version of a game as it is being prepared for release. That means advertisers can take their time to polish the creative content of a product placement or display ad. Second, they can also wait for game play to produce a favorable context to introduce the ad. And third, because they can wait, advertisers can determine a game's popularity and the number of impressions they are likely to get from it, so they are better positioned to negotiate with game makers.

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David Edery, the worldwide games portfolio planner for Xbox Live Arcade at Microsoft, praised Ford's collaboration with EA to introduce a virtual Ford Mustang and several other car models to Sims 2 players beginning in April, 2007--well after the game debuted in September, 2004. As of April 2008, the Sims 2 Web site claimed that 100 million copies of the game had been sold, and the virtual Ford Mustang patch alone spurred over a million downloads, Edery recalled. Subsequently, players tweaked the download with a number modifications that, for example, allow users to make the Mustang any color they want.

Likewise, Michael Sepso, co-founder and chairman of Major League Gaming, said gamers reacted positively to a downloadable patch that allowed them to turn a shoot-'em-up game into an MLG tournament, complete with MLG logos, recalling that it was "a well-packaged thing that really leveraged downloadable content in a really nice way." And Jonathan Hsia, senior associate director at MediaVest, agreed that "downloadable content allows us to integrate the brand when we want to, and how we want to."

In a similar vein, Edery said he was surprised that more advertisers had not experimented with "modding," or modifying an existing game to create a new virtual setting with new features--a common practice among gamers, who often create mods and make them available to other games for free, generally with the consent and even encouragement of the game makers themselves. Even more so than patches, the downloadable mods give advertisers complete creative control over how their brand will be presented, and also relieve the time pressure associated with integrating ads into games as they are about to debut.

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