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New research shows the power of in-game advertising

Submitted by on Wednesday, 15 September 20103 Comments

Those of you who hate the idea of having advertising in your games should probably look away now.

As groundbreaking new research by The Nielsen Company and EA (who else?) shows that in-game advertising really does work, we here at Attitude Towers share our thoughts on adverts within games.

So first of all let’s take a brief look at this particular piece of research, commissioned by EA on behalf of Gatorade.

It marks the first time that this type of  analysis has been done for advertising within video games and it seems pretty conclusive to us: The study found that in-game advertising increased household dollars spent on Gatorade by an impressive 24%.

The games included within the research were 6 EA Sports titles, namely NHL 09, NHL 10, NBA LIVE 07, NBA LIVE 08, NBA LIVE 09 and NBA Street Homecourt. Each of these games contains multiple forms of advertising for Gatorade, including arena signs, players’ water bottles, score updates and other call outs.

For the mathematically minded among you more information on the exact workings of sales lift analysis can be found here.

In simple terms for the rest of us mere mortals, the study compared the amount of Gatorade bought by consumers before and after playing the one of the games in question, and then compared those results to a control group who hadn’t been exposed to the games.

The results as we’ve seen were overwhelmingly positive and according to Elizabeth Harz, Senior Vice President of Global Media Sales at EA, that means that:

“For the first time, advertisers are able to link the value of their in-game marketing or sponsorship to actual sales. Now brands can feel confident adding gaming as a core media channel for their advertising.”

So it’s probably safe to assume that more in-game advertising could be coming our way. But is that such a bad thing?

We'll never pay attention to in-game advertising again. Not after playing Bionic Commando once convinced us to invest in Tricell...

Well really it is all very dependent on context.

Obviously no-one wants jarring or out of place adverts that break our suspension of disbelief.

Having an advert loom up onto the screen when you’re right in the middle of a (BUY A T-SHIRT!) story-driven cut-scene or when you’re trying to focus on something else, for instance, would certainly be massively irritating and distracting.

Additionally certain games such as those set in another time period or in another world altogether, such as Final Fantasy XIII, would clearly not be suitable for adverting real-world products. Nor would it be a good idea to advertise certain products (Tickle Me Elmo) in games of a certain genre (Psychological-Horror).

But equally certain in-game advertising can have the opposite effect, and can actually lend legitimacy to an in-game environment.

For example having advertising on the stadium hoardings in sports games such as FIFA or NBA LIVE actually adds to the realism. Try to picture what a football or basketball stadium would look like if there were no adverts around the pitch.

It’s just weird. There’s too much white space and it looks manufactured and, well, game-like.

So in the right context adverts can be positive in a game, but of course it isn’t as simple as that as Bionic Commando found out.

As you can see in the image above having large billboards advertising well know products doesn’t look out of place in this city environment. In fact the legitimate advert is surrounded by adverts for imaginary in-game events and companies, which make it look even more believable.

No the problem Bionic Commando had was a lack of variety in its adverts. Pepsi billboards and vending machines don’t look out of place in a city, but they do look out of place when they’re the only objects in that city. It was like the destruction of the city had been caused by an invasion of Pepsi vending machines. It was ridiculous.

So what is our conclusion on the matter?

Well we think that adverts in games are fine, as long as you don’t conciously notice them. If they are unobtrusive, well chosen, and blend into the game world that is being created then they can be as much a part of the experience as any other piece of artwork.

As yet we haven’t seen many examples of in-game advertising done well like this, but with this new research meaning more companies turning to advertising in games that could all be set to change.

And of course at the end of the day more in-game advertising will be a lucrative revenue stream for developers, which can only be good for us gamers.

So there are our thoughts on the matter. If you agree, disagree, or have a sudden overwhelming urge to buy a PS3 Attitude shirt, we’d love to hear from you in the comments!