Thursday, 04 December 2008 08:30

Microsoft starts Massive in-game advertising push

So you thought you could escape the barrage of advertising on commercial and pay TV by turning to games as a major source of entertainment? Not if Microsoft can help it!
As if we weren't already paying enough for games, big-name titles are increasingly being promoted as advertising conduits. Bizarrely, many gamers seem happy to have their eyeballs assaulted with commercial messages.

Microsoft's Massive subsidiary this week ran an event giving current and potential advertisers a preview of games slated for 2009 along with first dibs on advertising space.

Massive claims to have achieved various in-game 'firsts' during 2008, including the first in-game presidential ad campaign (supporting Barack Obama), and the first in-game text campaign (for Subway) in which players were invited to request cheat codes and hints via text messages.

In-game advertising appears to be scarily effective: that Subway campaign resulted in a 20 percent increase in gamers visiting Subway after seeing the ads.

And a campaign for Ford "generated big lifts (up to 28 percent) across several brand metrics and led to gamers searching for more information about Ford vehicles on the Ford Web site and at dealerships", according to Massive officials.

Strangely, gamers seem to welcome the ads. Although you'd only expect Massive to publicise favourable statistics, 73 percent of gamers said the Subway ads "looked cool in the game" and 86 percent said they "make the game more realistic."

What does that say for the supposedly 'media savvy' generations that make up the bulk of players on these platforms? See page 2.

Not a lot, I'd suggest. If the Subway and Ford outcomes are anything to go by, they can't claim that even though they like the look of the ads they have no effect on their behaviour.

In related news, Massive announced a "long term" deal with Activision to deliver ads within the 18 of the latter's PC and Xbox 360 titles, including Guitar Hero III, Tony Hawk, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, AMAX Racing, and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

The previous two-year agreement between the companies has delivered more than 330 campaigns for more than 225 advertisers.

"The youth demographic is harder and harder to reach through traditional media, so this combination of Massive's network and Activision's enormously popular titles allow us to reach millions of young adults when they are active and engaged," said Stephanie Charlebois of advertising agency Goodby, Silverstein and Partners.

Massive has signed a similar deal with Blizzard Entertainment that will make it the exclusive provider of ads for Blizzard's web sites and online games, including StarCraft, Warcraft, Diablo and their sequels.

There is a ray of hope: according to Blizzard COO Paul Sams, "This partnership does not include in-game advertising, as Massive understands and respects our stance against advertising that might detract from gameplay or offend our players."

Massive already has multi-year in-game advertising deals with THQ and EA.

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Stephen Withers

Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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