Some of you may have heard about a company called Engage Advertising that recently inserted advertisements on behalf of the Subway restaurant chain into the ever-popular Counter-Strike. Engage got quite a bit of (negative) publicity when Valve, the developer of Counter-Strike, announced that it had not approved the advertising campaign, and was treating the situation as a “legal matter“.
I’ve been wondering how something like this could ever happen without Valve’s knowledge, much less permission. Fortunately, ArsTechnica has posted an interesting article that explains who was involved, how the ads made it into the game, etc. Basically, Engage and IGA Partners worked directly with individual Counter-Strike server operators, as opposed to Valve itself.
This does raise an interesting question: will server operators for these types of games always be content to host them, no matter how much dynamic advertising is embedded within? Or will they demand a revenue share? Given that operators are mostly volunteers and fans, you might not expect a backlash, but operators have shown themselves willing to fight developers in the past.
Final thoughts: this marketing campaign was a bad idea in more ways than one. Counter-Strike appears to have been arbitrarily blanketed with Subway ads. They stick out like sore thumbs. A guaranteed mood-killer… offensively conspicuous at best. Doesn’t make me want to run out and buy a sandwich.
Gamasutra just published an article of mine: Enhancing the Effectiveness of In-Game Advertising. The main premise is: creative application of consumer behavior theory (and common sense) can make in-game ads more powerful – and more fun. Check it out! :)
Wired just published a good in-depth article on Neopets, a site that enables kids to enjoy virtual pets. Members play simple games to accumulate virtual currency which can then be spent on pet maintenance and upgrades. Neopets was purchased by Viacom in June ’05 for $160M. Article highlights:
- 25 million users worldwide; 2.2B pageviews per month
- “Second-stickiest site on the Internet” according to Media Metrix
- Now available as stuffed animals, board games, trading cards, console games, and soon a feature film.
- Revenues are primarily ad-driven via deeply-integrated brand/product placement, i.e. McDonald’s: Meal Hunt (you search for lost McNuggets). Members are also exposed to movie previews, market research surveys, etc. In some cases, even the virtual trophies for winning a game are branded (i.e. with the SweeTarts brand).
I dug up another article with some impressive placement examples. Site users, wanting to buy gifts for their pets, actually got worked up over a limited supply of virtual Mattel DivaStarz dolls. Product trials of Heinz EZ Squirt ketchup jumped 18% after inclusion in Neopets.
All of the incentive systems in Neopets can be found in other games that appeal to other market segments. ClubPogo users (the majority of whom are adults) work like mad to win virtual “badges” and currency that have no tangible value. MMORPGs, played primarily by hardcore gamers, also feature much-desired virtual currency and status symbols. At least for now, MMORPG currency is unique in its spontaneous realization of real-world value.
Lastly, there’s some controversy about the scope of the advertising in Neopets.
Volvo has commissioned the development of an Xbox game, “Volvo Drive for Life.” Initial run: 100,000 copies. It includes a tour of the Volvo Safety Center and film from actual crash tests. Dealers are being asked to set up Xbox systems in their showrooms and to distribute copies to customers.
This is not the first Xbox advergaming title, but it is the largest production run by far. PC advergames are more widely distributed; in fact, Jeep has a whole slew of them available online.
Cars are somewhat of a no-brainer for the advergaming industry … other products are harder to embed into gameplay. Unfortunately, many advergames (like this Absolut one) are simply glorified product placements couched in unrelated content. Come on, Absolut: when I take a shot, my virtual opponents should become more attractive. :)
Those curious about the “typical” advergame might want to check out Blackdot’s portfolio; they are the largest dedicated advergaming company that I know of.
Shockwave.com is dynamically pumping advertisements into game content, as opposed to preceeding games with unrelated ads (which they also do.)
Unfortunately, the system appears to be focused on slapping ads into virtual billboards and whatnot. Ads are more effective when thoughtfully integrated into games. For example, Burton gear in a snowboarding game. Or players on the sideline of a sports game, drinking virtual Gatorade.
Perhaps this degree of sophistication isn’t cost effective in a casual game network. Then again, given the dramatic (and demonstrable) benefits of careful product placement, perhaps not.