The videogame industry has evolved from a focused niche market to a multibillion dollar behemoth. If sales from last year’s smash hit Call of Duty: Black Ops are any indication, the videogame market is booming and shows few signs of slowing down. Traditionally, videogames have made their profits from direct sales to consumers. The game is developed, published, and sold. However, there is also a space for advertising within videogames, and that is the focus of this article.
Perhaps the most obvious of these is something that has been around for ages – product placement inside of videogames. The simplest of these examples are sports and racing games – franchises, individual players, equipment, and cars all receive free advertising simply by virtue of being the subject of the game. Personally, seeing USC dominate in NCAA 2008 encouraged me to renew my support of my favorite franchise. However, sports and racing games have also allowed an influx of other brands into the mix.
Advertisements in virtual stadiums and raceways have shown off a myriad of products and services, even presidential candidates (http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/campaigns/41660-obama-runs-ads-in-madden). Results have been mixed, but one Nielsen study seemed to indicate that a Gatorade campaign focusing on sports games seemed to transfer into increased Gatorade purchases (http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/consumer/video-game-advertising-playing-to-win…-and-sell/) from those who played the games.
One older but relevant example of videogame product placement is a campaign by Red Bull – video below. Worms3D was released on several consoles in late 2003. Inside of the game, instead of simply seeing Red Bull signs placed in the environments that the player went through, Red Bull was actually an item that the player used to complete goals. Drinking Red Bull in the game granted significant benefits and allowed Red Bull to make some virtual claims about its product it would not have been allowed to make otherwise in traditional media.1 The change here might be more heavy handed than a simple banner ad on a game’s virtual cityscape, but that association between a product and an in-game benefit certainly has its virtues.
Dr. Pepper teamed up with Bioware to create a Dr. Pepper campaign for Mass Effect 2′s release. The campaign allowed codes found on Dr. Pepper bottles to be redeemed for downloadable in-game items. Though the in-game items did not feature Dr. Pepper branding (which, admittedly, would seem a little ridiculous), the campaign allowed for Dr. Pepper to get some information from users via a short survey that was completed as part of the redemption process for the downloadable content. While the numbers should tell us how successful the campaign was, the lack of individualized codes allowed for abuse of the system and made the connection between the campaign and sales difficult to track. However, even so, the association between the free in-game content and Dr. Pepper was no doubt seen as some sort of good will between the brand and consumers.
One of my favorite recent campaigns was the inclusion of an interactive trailer for Super 8 inside of the game Portal 2. Included as a bonus level, it allows players to play through the trailer of Super 8 allowing them to experience Super 8 in the first person. While the promotional level was restricted to the PC version of Portal 2, I think it is an interesting technique to garner interest in outside and seemingly unrelated products. Super 8′s theatrical campaign slowly revealed details about the movie and this bonus level did a good job of keeping the mystery while drawing the player into the actual trailer. My personal thoughts are that this should’ve been included in all iterations of the game, and perhaps should’ve been available to play outside of the game as well.
These are the most obvious forms of advertising that use videogames as a platform to deliver an advertising message. In that sense, these are the traditional ways and they mimic other forms of media – product placement in movies, redeemable coupons sponsored by brands. However, just as traditional advertising is changing in response to the Internet’s social shift, so too must advertising within videogames. In a world where the social gaming company Zynga has been valued as more than the traditional gaming giant Electronic Arts, some thought has to be given as to what are the best ways to leverage the platform in light of the developments. I will be looking at some examples and sharing my thoughts about that casual gaming shift in part two of this entry. If you have any examples or any thoughts, feel free to share in the comments.Advertising Interactive Marketing Social Media: advertising casual gaming Dr. Pepper Electronic Arts Facebook interactive advertising Portal 2 social gaming social media Super 8 traditional advertising traditional gaming video games Worms 3D Zynga