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.
[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.]