The building of games around advertising characters and products (CI No 2,794) makes it sound as if new advertising is taking off in a big way. Advertisers are excited about the market. But there are other issues in developing non-linear promotions that have to be considered as well. If a character in an advertisement is always running, game developers have to work out what he does when he is walking or sleeping. A whole picture of the character’s life has to be developed, and importantly for a game, his friends and enemies need to be established. In the case of Peperami, these have to fit around a character which for television was a one-sided personality. Manchester-based Ocean Software Ltd said it gets approached weekly by companies wanting their product promoted within a game. But the games and advertising markets are very different.
Games are often two years in development, which is necessary to perfect the game for a demanding audience, but advertisers cannot always wait that long. It can also cost something like ú2m to develop a game, Ocean said. And many advertising budgets just won’t stretch that far. Ocean Software also had some problems of its own with in-game advertising. It has used product placement in two of its games. One Step Beyond is based around the Quavers crisp character, Curly Colin. Stephen Hey, corporate public relations manager at Ocean said the Curly Colin character fitted the games style, but in general it is difficult to find appropriate product characters around which games can be built that aren’t detrimental to the quality of the game. Ocean was also involved in the development of James Pond II, the game developed around the Penguin chocolate biscuit character. In its experience, in-game advertising adds confusion to the already complex process of creating a game. It said it chooses to use fictitious companies on the hoardings in its racing games because the process of getting approval from licensees, the advertising companies and the agents is a long one and the financial rewards don’t really outweigh that. It adds more people to the chain and puts obstacles in the way of an already complex process, the company said. [In-game advertising] definitely has a lot going for it, although it has to be selective and careful. It is a case of matching the product with the right game. Most developers are cautious. Interplay Inc, which is working with British Telecommunications Plc to put network games UK-wide, said it didn’t have any immediate plans to incorporate advertising because its games don’t offer the right kind of opportunity.
The market that advertisers hope to target is so much more streetwise and so much more cynical these days than it has ever been before, so the new electronic media are being viewed as a soft new means of penetrating consumer consciousness. But there are myriad problems as the pressing need to turn around a client’s fading brand conflicts with the long time scales demanded by games developers, a risky judgement has to be made over what will amuse and what will disaffect and alienated the potential customer – after all, games players are ornery critters, and would take delight in boycotting for life the products of an advertiser that irritated them.
Abigail Waraker concludes her report.
These are often sports games, especially racing games because of the opportunity to advertise on the billboards around the race track, the company said. In addition, Interplay’s games are developed in the US, so any brand marketing would need to be an internationally recognised product or targeted regionally. Interplay said it remained open to the idea of including advertising in games but it voiced concerns that games entirely based around a brand would not be accepted by its customers. Our gut feel is that it would alienate our consumers although we haven’t done any research on that. Ocean doesn’t share this concern. Players of our games are of a media-literate age. They know they are being sold to. They know what a product placement is and they would respect it if it is done well. London-based Microtime Media Ltd’s research shows that customers do want brands if they add value to the gaming experience and reduce the cost. It found that three quarters of the people it asked were prepared to accept it if it meant better graphics and animation quality and more varied environments.
US marketing and technology consultant Aimee Rosewall believes that the game itself will eventually dictate whether and what type of advertising is appropriate. She envisages linear advertising being added to games when they have already been launched. If a game like Tetris or Space Invaders is already successful, consumers are less likely to object to a bit of advertising being added at the beginning especially if this reduces the price of the game. Development would not be totally based around a branded product. The process would be faster – and similar to putting ads at the start of rented video cassettes. The fact that this market is still in its early stages means it is limited at the moment. The two main successes are the Adidas Predator football boot in FIFA International Soccer and the promotion of the Midland Bank in Bullfrog Theme Park. If this is the case, companies advertising via new media may get a competitive edge. Not all in-game advertising is particularly dynamic. Company logos on racing games billboards do not seem the most original means of maximising an advertising opportunity, but then it took a decade or two for advertisers to begin to impress us with their television commercials, so perhaps new media advertisers need more time to get their teeth into this advertising opportunity.