Old Grandma Hardcore

This blog is the chronicle of my experiences with Grandma, the video-game playing queen of her age-bracket and weight class. She will beat any PS2, XBox, GameCube, etc., console game put in front of her, just like she always has. These are her stories. She is absolutely real. She lives in Cleveland.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Microsoft's Slip of the Tongue

Sometimes after months of vague promises, distraction and hype, one finds an article that allows just a glimmer of unadulterated PR. "Sure we're reaching out to all demographics," "Sure, our games our enjoyed by all," they might say to us. And then, where there should have been silence and perhaps a sinister twisting of a moustache in a vaudeville attempt to conceal their secrets, all hell breaks loose.

Let's go through this article together; see if you can spot the point in which gaming as you know it ends forever.

"At the Focus on Game Advertising Summit, Microsoft's Kevin Browne laid down five traits of in-game ads that must improve. [...] Browne, who is the general manager of Xbox New Media and Franchise Development, delivered the keynote at the conference, covering plenty of stats and trends of in-game ads. While most industry figures can agree that in-game ad revenue will increase substantially in the coming years, exactly how the segment will reach its full potential isn't completely clear."

Things you should have noticed in the first goddamn paragraph:
1. In-game ads are already in effect enough to display growth charts. Of course, this is known, but it needs to be reiterated. How appropriate that Tony Hawk's money-whore of a billboard filled XBox 360 game was called "American Wasteland."
2. "Most industry figures" agree that revenue from in-game ads will increase substantially. Logic tells us that an increase of revenue from ads requires an saturation of new advertising within games. We'll get to this point later.

"Browne tried to disperse some of the fog surrounding the growth of in-game ads by presenting where the industry stands today compared to the ideal in-game ad environment.

(The Ideal : The Reality)

1. Dynamic and Flexible : Mostly static advertising
2. Broad Reach : Requires unique integration title by title
3. Accountable : Effectiveness is only measured by sell-thru
4. Easy to Integrate : Game teams pushing back, resisting due to it being a lot of work to integrate
5. Agencies Drive Value : Agencies have a very limited role"

Browne's first contention in "Ideal vs. Reality" is that advertising at the moment is static, much like the billboards in a Tony Hawk game, for instance: passing a McDonald's sign or a Jeep Liberty on the road as you skate around on a course. A dynamic model might be instead your character filling up on a delicious McDonald's Extra Value Meal to gain valuable energy points. The idea here being active association with energy and McDonald's food.

No one is suggesting that you will later think to yourself "my god, I am very hungry, I am tired from my hunger; gee, when I play Tony Hawk a good McDonald's meal seems to do the trick, I'll try it too! Yay!" People are smarter than that. Conditioning a consumer to choose a product is done by associations of the product and something the consumer finds attractive and cool, in this case Tony Hawk and the XBox 360. It all comes to fruition the moment the consumer sees a Burger King and a McDonald's next to each other on the road and makes a decision to go to McDonald's. The more times the customer chooses McDonald's, the more effective they declare the advertising campaign.

When the product is nearly identical to its competitor's (think of how many places you can get a burger and fries) it is ad saturation that will guide the consumer's decision.

2. "Broad Reach vs. Requires unique integration by title."

Oh, we'll get to this in a moment. I'm sure you'll have a fairly good idea what Browne thinks is a "broad reach."

3. "Accountable vs. Effectiveness is only measured by sell-thru."

Who wants to sign in to their XBox Live account and get an Amazon.com like message about how much they knew you like Oblivion because of the 90+ hours you put in and that they have a GREAT new RPG coming up just like it they think you'd enjoy and Oh! -they also noticed you bought the Horse-Armor in your last game so maybe you'd like to try the extra special platinum 1-year anniversary edition horse armor as well. Don't forget to update your maps for that XBox classic: Barbie Horse Adventures, you horse loving fiend! It was also noted that 65% of your 640 person strong friends list have over half the available achievement points for the game G.R.A.W., 70% have achieved Veteran Status in Call of Duty 2, and 80% have begun FarCry, and that rank high on most leaderboard for these games so we'd like to reward you with the opportunity to play in our special tournament (sponsored by Moutain Dew.) Invite all of your friends to participate in the tourney or cheer you on, and if they enter the codes on specially marked 20oz bottles of Mountain Dew you could win weapons upgrades for the Grand Championship televised on G4TV (brought to you by Mountain Dew.)

While you wrap that around your head for awhile, ask yourself this: just how much information do they already collect on you as you play the XBox 360?

When you register for an XBox Live Gold Account, all of your primary demographic info is there, so it negates their need to collect surveys of your playing habits. They KNOW your playing habits. The only reason they have to solicit surveys anymore is to collect data on how often people lie on surveys.

4. Easy to Integrate vs. Game teams pushing back, resisting due to it being a lot of work to integrate

There are a few possibilities here, first being that game teams "pushing back" are actually responsible folks in the industry finding creative ways to prevent the onslaught of in-game advertising. Perhaps they have used the only effective weapon they have: complaining about efficiency.

Otherwise, easy integration of advertising in games may lead to standardized system perpetuating a whole slew of lookalike clones. You don't need me to tell you how boring that shit can get. It gets old FAST.

5. Agencies Drive Value vs. Agencies have a very limited role.


Did you catch it? If you haven't yet, let this jem of a quote from Mr. Browne hammer it home for you:

"Whenever we talk to our in-house teams about in-game advertising, we always push the issue of relevance. Inevitably, the discussion starts with them telling us that they don’t want Tampax ads in their game. We're pretty sure Tampax wouldn't be interested in 18-34 year old males."

What we are witnessing is the bastardization of gaming. When the money begins to flow (which it already has according to the same article, $56 million for 2005 by Microsoft's estimates) the control and design will be in the hands of the advertising agencies, rather than the Wil Wrights and David Jaffes of the world. Games will be even more filtered to fit a specific demographic to make it more attractive to potential ad money, and the dream of different ages and genders playing together like Hippies and Suits tossing a frisbee on a warm, summer afternoon will be lost to marketing jargon and Madison Avenue.

So what can we do? Unfortunately, the answer is painful. Our apathy is the greatest impetus that pushes this system of in-game advertising forward.

Microsoft has proven itself to be a great addition to the gaming industry. We dug the XBox, we love the XBox 360, thus: their words mean something to the industry as a whole. Yet they must ask itself if today's shining games in a sea of mediocrity is really what they want us gamers to remember as "The Last Golden Age."

Until then, Do The Dew, you zombie killing bad-ass motherfucker, you.

Game on.

[Article cited: How to Get The Most from In-Game Ads BusinessWeek Online, Next-gen.biz. For more reading, try this article: "Rated M for Mad Ave" BuisnessWeek Online.]


  • At 7:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    love the the last pic...makes her look like a "bad-ass"...GAME ON~!


  • At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    A good post. 'Dynamic' could also be a reference to live advertizing in which ads can change rather than remain staticly baked in the level.

    Anyway, have you played Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory? The advertizing within the game is almost perfectly intergrated. Like you've brought up, the creative cover up actually adds to the game. but at the same time it's not saturated throught the game. In a way, you don't notice it but unconsciously remember that brand.

    ie: Npc conversations, graffiti, radio and the clever displace level easter egg (the projector when activated displays an advertizement for electrochromic windows. The level is unique in that these windows play a major role gameplay wise.)

  • At 10:09 AM, Blogger Collin said…

    If the gameplay is good and it isn't overwhelmed with advertising I can probably tolerate it. However if they get the idea to toss in commercial cut-scenes that you can't skip every half hour or so – or something equally obscene – I will either look elsewhere for a game provider who cares about the games first and foremost, or I'll resume building my library of older "classic" games. I'm not sure, but are Nintendo exclusive games experiencing this increase in ad placement?

  • At 3:55 PM, Blogger Zodiak said…

    Yes, all we need now is...

    Mountain Dew Presents: Tony Hawk's American Wasteland 2, the Downhill Race!

    I can stand ads in games, just as long as its in a sports game. In an RPG....I think it won't transition very well.

  • At 9:12 PM, Blogger Patrick Dugan said…

    Good to see you post on a strong social topic, Tim.

    I'm of the opinion that the only situation where in-game advertising is appropriate is when its integrated from first principles, which would indicate a game oriented to social dynamics in which advertising is part of the social fabric, and lends realism, satire, relfection, or sheer convenience to that social environment. In this sense, ad dollars can fund really innovative games that make sublte indictments against the american dream, or whatever. Think about how in-game advertising could have sharpened Super Columbine Massacre RPG.

    That said, most of it will be adding another layer of crap to a sea of crap. And come on dude, Microsoft really hasn't done much for the industry that Sony wouldn't have done.

  • At 12:49 PM, Blogger Chrissylas said…

    In game advertising is a sneaky insidious advertising tool. Just as someone else mentioned, in sports games it is fine and actually welcome because sporting events are often sponsored by products. It's simply a fact of life and by putting that in the game it makes it feel a little more like reality. Ditto on racers, driving past a billboard sometimes makes it feel more real. Any other genres are definitely excluded and need no advertising. It will take away from the game and it's form of escapism.

    Sort of offtopic but not really. I just saw Stay Alive last night (so horrible it was good in a very B movie way). THAT movie was a big giant name dropper. If in game advertising is as blatant as that movie was then I weep for society.

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  • At 8:30 AM, Anonymous Amy B. said…

    "In game advertising is a sneaky insidious advertising tool....in sports games it is fine and actually welcome because sporting events are often sponsored by products....it makes it feel a little more like reality. Ditto on racers...Any other genres are definitely excluded and need no advertising. It will take away from the game and it's form of escapism."

    SO totally agree--hell, it's bad enough there's product placement in TV shows, I don't need this crap in my games. Someone above mentioned advertising for electrochromic windows in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory; never having played the game, I can't speak with real authority or experience on the matter, but I was disheartened to read this. All I could think was that I don't want to be playing some game, immersing myself in a fantasy world, only to be jarred back to reality because I'm left wondering if some commercial or piece of advertising I saw was for a product in the real world. That completely defeats the reason why you're playing the game in the first place. My god but I fear society will be a real shithole some day at this rate...another example of how we are becoming way too greedy, selfish, and lazy.

  • At 4:20 PM, Blogger EazyCheeze said…

    And in-blog-comments advertising is ALMOST AS BAD. Please re-activate barring of anonymous commenters here, Tim (G)

    Oh, and video game advertising -- meh. I thought the adverts in Chaos Theory were done somewhat well, though I saw several ads for the Longest Yard movie with Adam Sandler in places where they shouldn'tve been: on a submarine, in a Japanese house occupied by mercs... weird.

    The ads in THAW were damn intrusive though. Not for their appearance, which was fine, but the implementation sucked. The game slows WAY down under the burden of having to connect to the ad server. Just like it did in True Crime: New York City. Both games by Aspyr!

    And something that Aspyr does that I hate: with both those games (not Dreamfall, thank God, and no advertising there except for firmly in-world products: BINGO! Cola! and others) the assets are all spilled out, with no compressed resource file! True Crime: New York City (and most likely THAW) spewed out 15,000+ files on me! FIFTEEN THOUSAND! That's more than my very first hard drive had on it when it was full! (40 megabytes, but still!) This is a cry to all game developers who read this blog: USE COMPRESSED RESOURCE FILES! We don't want hundreds of megs of slack space taken up by thousands of <5KB files.

    That is all. Like your E3 series, Tim and Grandma; haven't read part 4 yet but I will soon.

    GAME ON! (hopefully ad-free)


  • At 2:12 PM, Anonymous CmdrSlack said…

    If you think this is new, Tim, you're deluded. Like it or not, the games industry will be going towards two revenue models, especially for console and web-based offerings -- in-game ads/advergaming and micropayments. First and foremost, it is an industry that has to be profitable just like other industries. Until you see NEA grants for game studios, you'll be seeing new ways to make cash.

    Raging against the machine is all well and good, but take a look at things you and Grandma support via your involvement. E3 -- massive media whoring advertising event. MTV -- massive media whoring advertising outlet that used to have videos but now just has shows. What's the difference between ads in your games (or product placements) and being on a show that runs a fuckton of ads?

    It's good to be bothered by ad distribution that may ruin gameplay or immersion. I'd agree that ads for Coke or Pepsi products in Oblivion would be bogus. I highly doubt that you'll see Madison Ave. designing games. Those games already exist -- they're called advergames. Go take a look at the websites of most major products marketed to the 18-34 age demographic. You will find games based around the products. These are advergames.

    I highly doubt that product placement will lead to "let's make this game for people who might buy Skittles!" Skittles already HAS that game...at the Skittles.com website.

  • At 3:03 PM, Anonymous cutepiku said…

    That last picture makes me suddenly crave mountain dew... XD (end consumer whore moment)

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