With the GDC Focus On: Game Advertising Summit coming to San Francisco, CA on Friday, June 9th (organized by the CMP Game Group, as is this website), Gamasutra is running a series of exclusive Q&As with the heads of the major in-game advertising companies in the run-up to the summit, to get their thoughts on the past, present and future of in-game ads.
The second in the series (following Double Fusion's Jonathan Epstein) is this Q&A with Adscape Media CEO, Chris Gilbert, discussing his company's background, current clients, his view on Microsoft's acquisition of in-game ad firm Massive Inc, and his opinions on future consolidation:
GS: Can you give us a little background on Adscape? How it was started, why in-game advertising, etc.
Adscape Media officially launched in San Francisco earlier this year. While we are the new kid on the block in the in-game advertising space, our executive team has more than 100 years of gaming industry experience. This experience means we speak the same language as the publishers and understand the benefits and challenges of the industry.
Our technology, which has been in development for the past four years, allows Adscape Media to provide publishers the added benefit of more than just today’s static and dynamic in-game advertising. Adscape Media’s technology also provides an interactive element – a “gateway” – that provides publishers a variety of new outlets for additional revenue streams above and beyond those currently being used in games today, while at the same time providing advertisers with a unique, customizable approach to reaching gamers in an engaging way.
GS: What major milestones/deals have you signed in recent months?
CG: We have several titles signed for dynamic advertising in 2006. We will be making announcements for specific titles soon.
GS: What competitive advantages do you leverage over other companies in the in-game advertising marketspace? What sets you apart?
CG: We believe both our technology and our approach set us apart. Our approach is based on gaming industry experience – understanding that creating additional revenue beyond game sales is important, but that the potential for that revenue stream cannot in any way impinge on the game experience or the game development process. Our point of view is that everything we do to help advertisers reach the coveted gamer actually should enhance the gamers’ experience.
Our technology makes our approach a reality. We have developed a technically robust, easy and fast to integrate API that is one part of our patent-protected technical roadmap. We offer deep integration as well as an aggregated network model, depending upon the game and the publishers’ needs.
At the same time that we’re playing in today’s market of static and dynamically-served ads, we have a definite eye to the future. Adscape Media knows that the future of in-game advertising transcends relatively simple billboarding. Our interactive RVG technology brings a new level of interactivity and bi-directional communication opportunities into and out of the game.
GS: How much advertising is too much? How do you draw that line and ensure that consumers are comfortable with the way ads are served to them?
CG: Numerous studies have shown that gamers appreciate and accept in-game advertising when it is relevant and important to the game. Those are the two most important guidelines that we all have to stick to when deploying advertising in-game. Advertisers and publishers alike will suffer if we cross the invisible line of too much or inappropriate, irrelevant content.
We’ve built many checks and balances into our technology, including opt-ins and feedback mechanisms, that will help keep our partners on the positive side of the equation. Our deep background as publishers becomes an invaluable asset in this equation – we know better than any other competitor, what will work and what won’t, what crosses the line and what doesn’t.
GS: What are some of the hurdles that you expect in-game advertising to face in the near future?
CG: Right now, in-game advertising is still an undefined universe. For example, it’s yet to be determined how the console market will play out for in-game advertising. Too many decisions have to be made by too many different companies and individuals for anyone to predict the outcome with a high degree of confidence.
At the same time, in-game adverting is here, so it’s critical to operate in a way that connects advertisers to gamers; enhances the overall experience for gamers; and creates justifiable revenue opportunities for publishers.
I also think the in-game advertising hype is a bit out of line with reality right now. It’s still a young space, and we are all learning how to grow with it and make it profitable. Ultimately, one of the biggest issues for in-game advertising companies will be establishing a sustainable business model.
GS: What do you think are areas of games that are, as yet, untapped by in-game advertising, if any?
CG: At this stage, everything is in play and we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of potential deployment for in-game advertising. Determining the most effective and least disruptive methods of reaching gamers, without repelling them, will be the holy grail of what we do. While we are concentrating today on creating a level of consensus among all the players, we definitely have the next areas of evolution mapped out.
GS: How does Microsoft’s acquisition of Massive Inc. affect you?
CG: Microsoft’s acquisition of Massive Inc. further legitimizes in-game advertising as a viable and valuable distribution channel for advertising dollars. So, in many ways, we expect it to open doors for us. Mostly though, we don’t focus too much on the competition. Instead, we make sure we’re executing at an exceptional level so that in the end, we are the company publishers and advertisers want to work with.
GS: Which titles do you expect to have the largest reach over the next 12 months, in terms of major deals you've signed?
CG: Though we have several deals signed, we can’t discuss them publicly until they are formally announced. Stay tuned.
GS: How do you see in-game advertising shaking out in terms of consolidation or expansion? Will there be more companies in the market? Less? Or the same?
CG: We think it’s too soon to tell. The Microsoft/Massive deal has the rest of the players speculating on Sony’s next move. The timing of Sony’s decision is unclear. In the meantime, it is entirely possible that new companies will enter the market. As we’ve said before, the space is in its infancy.
GS: What's the biggest misconception about in-game ads?
CG: From the gamers’ perspective, there is a lot of apprehension that in-game advertising will detract from or interrupt gameplay. Advertising in games has been around for years, so the concept is nothing new. The difference today is that companies are suddenly waking up to the interactive nature of the games and seeing games in a different light. Today and tomorrow’s in-game advertising campaigns – when done correctly – will take advantage of the interactive nature of the games without detracting from the gamer experience.