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Books You'll Like: Creative Thinking

The Houdini Solution Thinkertoys Caffeine for the Creative Mind

This blog follows the future of media and ad technologies, bridging the gap between geekdom and advertising since 2004.
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Sketchpad: How to Bring Gamers Back to TV

The problem: "Nearly a quarter of video game players watched less TV in the past year and plan to watch even less in the next year" (TV Predictions). The question: "How do you increase the number of players watching TV? How do you increase the amount of time players spent watching TV?" A question for extra credit: "How do you make gamers watch commercials on TV?" Possible answers:
  • Create TV content around game properties to attract game fans. An interesting effort was undertaken by MTV that produced a week of game related programming.
  • Reward players for TV watching by providing extra game content. For example, a TV program could provide cheatcodes that unlock extra equipment or new environments.
  • Make watching TV a condition for playing a particular game. For this model to work, the games will have to tied to and synchronized with particular TV franchises. For example, a strategy game based on "Survivor" could be released at the start of the new season, and the game elements would be unlocked according to the events on each new episode. The show (and the commercials) would provide information necessary for succeeding in the game. Possible model: Kuma\War, "a tactical first and third-person shooter. Kuma\War is an episodic game that re-creates real-world conflicts in video game format using information culled from news accounts, military experts, Department of Defense records and original research. Episodes consist of a playable mission, extensive background text, and often include interviews with military experts, soldiers and other actual participants in the events described" (Wikipedia).
  • Stream TV content into games.
All of this is tricky, because the gamer fan base is divided between many different genres and even more titles. What appeals to the Counter-Strike player will not neccessarily appeal to the player of World of Warcraft. Resources:
  • "Gamers Watch Less TV -- But More HDTV", August 9, 2005, available at tvpredictions.com, accessed on December 18, 2005.
  • "Video Games Explode...", November 14, 2005, press release by MTV Networks, available at biz.yahoo.com, accessed on December 18, 2005
  • Also somewhat related: "Gamers could drive high-definition", news.bbc.co.uk, Jo Twist, January 24, 2005, accessed December 18, 2005.

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    Sketchpad: VOIP Integration in Games and TV

    BrandNoise: "Video games are leading the way with how people interact with media entertainment. The way people play games now often shapes how they interact socially. The trouble is that a lot of this innovation stays in the gaming world and does not move over to more mainstream media - namely TV." The assumptions:
    • Many gamers use VOIP features to communicate with each other in-game;
    • This interaction is based on the common interests shared by the players;
    • TV shows with strong fan bases could consider enabling VOIP interaction over their shows.
    Counter-argument: In-game voice communications are goal driven; that is, VOIP enables gamers to create a common winning strategy faster than an already existing channel - text chat. For the TV VOIP model to succeed, the shows need to be goal-oriented as well. Resources:
  • "TV Needs to Learn from Games", brandnoise.typepad.com, accessed online on December 18, 2005.

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    Illustration: Truckers, The Art of Robbery

    A Shell gas station in the upcoming Russian title "Truckers 3" ("Dalnoboishiki 3", published by 1C). A laptop with a Windows XP screensaver in the upcoming Russian title "The Art of Robbery" (publisher: 1C). Resources:
  • Game screenshot for the Truckers 3, accessed online on the publisher's site on December 17, 2005.
  • Game screenshot for The Art of Robbery, accessed online on the publisher's site on December 17, 2005. Keywords: in-game advertising, brand integration, Russian, driving simulators, computers, stealth.

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    Illustration: Mars's Skittles in Darkened Skye

    Darkened Skye, published by Simon & Schuster in November 2002, developed by Boston Animation. Gamespot: "The core concept behind Darkened Skye, a fairly straightforward fantasy action adventure game, is probably one of the most peculiar in a while. The game was originally intended as a vehicle for the Skittles line of candies, and more specifically, as an extension of the Skittles commercials where Skittles-loaded rainbows would bring life and color to otherwise drab fantasy settings." This is an interesting and a rare example of a brand integrated into a fantasy environment, generally considered off-limits to advertisers. To this end, the developer tapped into popular culture built around Skittles and the brand's "Rainbow commercials" and presented the brand under a humorous angle. While the game scored low for its technical glitches and simplistic gameplay, the gamers' reaction to the Skittles theme is generally positive, as illustrated by this comment left on an online forum: "At first I was like "What the.. Skittles" and then I got the comedy. The game is extremely easy to enjoy when you see all the spoofs from comercials down to movies in it. Some people still cant see past the skittle spoof. Get over it! the game has many more spoofs than just that. After a while it became a games of subconcience inteligance to me. the more I played the more I see subliminal spoofs as just laughed the entire time." - User Rauskavich at a game-related forum. Resources:
  • Online forum discussion at gamecube.stationplay.com. Accessed online on December 16, 2005
  • Review for the GameCube version of Darkened Skye at Gamespot.com. Accessed online on December 16, 2005.

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    Case: Lada Racing Club

    A Russian developer Geleos is scheduled to release a new urban racing simulator "Lada Racing Club". The game action will take place on the streets of Moscow and is built around a real Russian car brand Lada by VAZ. Besides the natural exposure of the Lada brand and commercially available advertising space on billboards and mass transit vehicles, the game offers new innovative formats of brand integration:
    • Real-life autopart and accessory suppliers' products are included in the tuning part of the game where players tweak their own vehicles. The game provides the real-life pricing and suppliers' contact information along with performance statistics. This information is also included in the user manual.
    • Russian Media Group, a holding company that owns several popular radio properties, provides content for the games' soundtrack, complete with jingles advertising the real-life radio stations.
    • A Russian rapper collective Kasta wrote an exclusive piece for the game that became its theme song. The video clip based on the song includes game footage and will launch on TV before the game launch.
    • Every copy of the game will include a plastic card offering discounts for products partnering with the game.
    • The publishers are partnering with an arcade maker to create a specially designed Lada Racing simulator that will become an additional channel for the game distrubution and the advertising integrated therein.
    Keywords: interactive brand integration, in-game billboards, vending machines, Lada Racing Club, urban, Moscow, music, radio, arcade Resources:
  • Geleos presentation by Olga Saulenko (transcript, in Russian, accessed online on December 16, 2006)

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    Gamasutra: Industry Professionals Discuss Game Advertising

    The gaming industry publication Gamasutra asked game professionals (free reg. required for access) whether they though that in-game advertising was going to be important to the video game industry and what business models and placement tactics would make the most sense. IMPORTANT REVENUE STREAM: "[...] The brands, and their marketing dollars, will become an integral part of all entertainment mediums." - Brian Robbins, Fuel Industries "There may be a growing space for smaller online game developers who can fund their game exclusively through online advertising, but that's a pretty small (or very largely distributed) game. - Borut Pfeifer, Sony Online Entertainment "Whether as a result of piracy in the retail space, low conversion rates in the try-and-buy sector, or reselling of used titles by the Wal-Marts of the world, a huge number of games are enjoyed by gamers without a dime going to the developers or publishers. In-game advertising is a fantastic way for developers to recoup some of the massive amount of resources that go into the creation of these games." - Coray Seifert, Large Animal Games THE ROLE OF THE TRADITIONAL AGENCIES: "The real question for the future is what role Madison Avenue will play: will traditional ad agencies wake up and get up to speed on the medium before new game-specific marketing ventures such as Massive Incorporated leave them with nothing but table scraps? There's still a lot of low fruit on the game advertising tree, but I wouldn't bet on the big ad agencies noticing it until it's gone." - Clark Stacey, Smart Bomb Interactive FORMATS AND REVENUE MODELS: "Revenue models are varied. Clearly billboard type ads are a shoe-in. But there are many paths to take as well: Professional athletes might charge a additional endorsement fee to allow their digital likeness to be used wearing the advertiser's products; a game might feature subway ads, taxi ads, posters; game studios could charge an additional fee to feature a company's product during a cutscene or FMV, especially if the cutscene uses the voice/likeness of a famous actor or athlete. What I don't want to see are in-game commercials!" - Damon Tabb, ALFY Inc. "I think that in-game advertising makes a lot of sense for Massively Multiplayer Online Games. Pay-to-play MMOGs could be made free-to-play, and thereby attract a larger audience, simply by providing rentable space for in-game advertising." - Anonymous "Basic ads such as billboards and subtle tactics, such as dialogue name-dropping will slowly make way into games in the future." - Michael Rivers, Game Designers in Training "Digital distribution will afford advertising corporations greater insight into buying habits for individual consumers, and will allow for the rearranging of in-game ads on the fly." - Ben Serviss, Creo Ludus Entertainment "With the growing popularity of online games, I'm pretty sure that viral marketing firms will start targeting them with a vengeance. For example, you could have a marketer start a guild in one game and after gathering a bunch of people that would like the game they're hired to market, tell their members they plan to rebuild on the other game." - Christa Morse "Say the player is pursuing the bad guy through an apartment building. Upon breaking into an elderly woman's apartment, she screams in fear, pausing her television viewing for a moment. On the television, the player can see and hear a fraction of that annoying Juicy Fruit commercial, or perhaps even an actual show, like CSI or Matlock. Why not?" - Kim Jolicoeur ATTITUDES: "I personally question any player who explicitly states they detest in-game advertising while simultaneously wearing branded clothing and drinking flavored sugar water beverages because Tiger Williams told him to." - Ryan FitzGerald, Nihilonaut Productions "For example, it wouldn't be in the interests of advertisers to place their ads in a game where the player can go on a shooting rampage in a shopping mall because that is ideologically opposed to consumerism." - Ryan Bailey, Entelepon "For years now, it seemed like games and books were the only media where it didn't seem like some nickel-slick marketer wasn't hiding around a corner trying to sell me this, that, or whatever." - Eric Braxton Resources:

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    Russian Experience in In-Game Brand Integration

    Russian in-game ad agency Enter Media (rus) worked with Nival Interactive, creators of the game "Night Watch" to integrate the Alfa Bank Express (rus) brand. The RPG tactic game, released in August 2005, is based on the namesake sci-fi book trilogy and a blockbuster movie about the struggle between the vampires (the baddies) and the Others (humans with supernatural abilities) and set in the modern-day Moscow. The movie was widely criticized as being a sell-out because of the amount of what the viewing public recognized as blatant product placement, although the author claimed on his blog (rus) that he had received no payment for the brand mentions in the books. Besides billboards, Enter Media created an innovative format they call "office space", a branded functional environment seamlessly interrogated into the general game space. The format seems to be a fairly standard offering, with a price tag of $0.05 per office per game. Enter Media's price list example calculates the cost of $25,000 for creating 20 Alfa Bank offices throughout the game that is expected to sell 50,000 copies. Enter Media's formats are split into three price tiers based on the level of interaction between the ad units and the players. The "surface" tier is the cheapest at $0.02 per contact (ad occurrence/physical game unit). The most expensive, at $0.10 is "integration", which apparently means integrating the brand into a story line or making interaction with the brand a winning condition, although the details are not spelled out. Alfa Bank's office space is categorized as a mid-tier format that the agency calls "immersion". The ATMs located in the bank offices function as automated merchants. The one above offers "health kits" (magic apples and candies), a sword and a power-up. Keywords: Lukianenko, Alfa Bank Express, Enter Media, Nival Interactive, Night Watch, interactive brand integration, in-game billboards, vending machines. Resources:
    • Enter Media presentation (powerpoint slides, in Russian, accessed online on Dec. 16, 2005).
    • Enter Media presentation by Vladimir Vainer (conference transcript, in Russian, accessed online on Dec. 16, 2005).
    • Alfa Bank Express's website, accessed online on Dec. 16, 2005
    • A blog post made on Nov.29, 2005 by Sergey Lukianenko, author of the Night Watch properties, blogging online as Doctor Livsy, accessed online on Dec 16, 2005.
    • Nival Interactive's website for the Night Watch game, accessed online on Dec.16, 2005

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    Games Contribute To Ad Budget Splintering

    Ben Compaine at Corante: Games will contribute to the ongoing splintering of ad budgets. "With ad expenditure as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product growing only at about the same rate as the economy, the ad pie is being split into ever more smaller pieces. Radio took share from newspapers. Television took share from radio and more from newspapers. Cable television is vacuuming dollars from broadcasters. The Internet is sucking share from everyone else. So it cannot be good news for many in the media biz to learn that there is yet another player having some success at grabbing for another few billion dollars from the ad budget. This is the video game industry." At some point, the media planning function at the agencies will have to morph into creative media planning. Number crunching won't be sufficient, because there will be too few numbers to crunch until reliable and consistent metrics emerge.

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