In the keynote at the GDC Focus On Game Advertising Conference in San Francisco today, Microsoft's Kevin Browne commented in detail on the post Massive-acquisition plans for in-game advertising, urging for one standardized industry game ad-serving format.
Browne, the General Manager of Xbox New Media and Franchise Development at Microsoft, noted that the company's wholly owned Massive Inc. subsidiary is "reaching out to Sony and reaching out to Nintendo" to help get a standard for in-game ads, and commented that completely different ad serving technology would simply not work, he believed: "We're going to hold ourselves back."
A complete write-up of the Game Advertising Conference keynote from Browne follows below.
Working Together To Benefit Advertisers?
Browne in particular asked how console platform owners work together, and how the industry makes buying across hardware platforms seamless, and commented directly on Microsoft's recent acquisition of Massive Inc. and its relevance to the independent ad firms (such as IGA, Double Fusion, and AdScape) who are still out there and hoping to serve ads via the Xbox 360, commenting: "We're looking for a role for them to play. I don't believe that Microsoft alone and Sony alone can get us anywhere near [the major expansion predicted]."
But he indicated that the whole industry needs to set standards for signs, video, audio, 3D objects, and so on, suggesting that an industry-wide ad standard may be key to rolling out ads over multiple games, effectively stating that Microsoft wants to help establish these. He also noted that he believes the industry needs a platform for interactive units - people being able to interact with ads to get further messages, like Flash ads can be clicked upon in web browsers.
He particularly commented that there need to be tools to enable agencies, and also integrate in popular engine tools such as Unreal Engine, CryEngine and so on, to "drop [assets] into the game to look right". Browne questioned - will game teams sets aside memory for rich media ads, and trust agencies to drop assets in to games?
Working Together To Benefit Advertisers?
But Browne particularly asked: "Can we standardize on 1 client API?" This was the key point of Browne's speech - he referenced ODBC database standardization over multiple tools such as Excel and Oracle in the late '90s, and the subsequent explosion of database use in corporate America, and Microsoft clearly feels that all hardware platforms must use one ad serving standard.
Browne notes that "for us to compete for game publisher attention" with completely different ad serving technology would simply not work, he believed: "We're going to hold ourselves back." This is obviously relative anathema to other major in-game ad firms such as Double Fusion, Adscape, and IGA Partners, who are building their own technology platforms to some extent.
He then urged "scarcity" in ad serving to a certain extent, and talked about measurement for in-game ads, noting that "measurement must be based on reliably gathering methodologies" not yet in place. He also commented that the industry must enable media buyers to compare game ads to other vehicles.
Why did Microsoft buy Massive? Browne answered that question in noting they comprised a "phenomenal set of people" in ad-serving technology, and a staff with 65 games already on an in-game ad network, with 120 games on network by the end of the year. What it means is that Massive, which will double in size over the next 12 months, is "completely committed to being platform agnostic", and Browne noted the company is "reaching out to Sony and reaching out to Nintendo". Massive will be serving ads in Xbox 360 titles this year, and will integrate in time to be a core Live Service, add targeting, and enable cross-media buys.
On The Changing Consumer
Returning to an overview, and with the TV audience fragmented, a saturation of commercial messaging, and technology advancing, Browne believes that things are changing in a major fashion, but the consumer needs to be in control, wanting things 'their way'. He commented that consumers don't want to be "vomit[ed] all over with messages", but rather, need to be presented things in a different, customized way. He noted that there is endless opportunity to project who you want to be to your community, with customizability, such as in with Xbox Live GamerTags.
Browne then split off 'video games' and 'casual games' into two very specific categories, noting the female and older skewing nature of casual gamers, but commenting that they are "anything but casual" in their gaming habits, in many cases playing for more than 20 hours per week.
Explaining different ways to target gamers, Browne specified five categories - gamer-focused web site ads, tournaments, dynamic in-game advertising, product placement in games, and advergames, gradually increasing in terms of cost and complexity for the advertiser.
The History Of In-Game Ads
Discussing some of the history of in-game ads, Browne singled out Crazy Taxi and its Pizza Hut stores, plus True Crime's Puma deal, and Splinter Cell Pandora Tomorrow's use of Sony Ericsson phones. He then noted dynamic in-game advertising in the Massive Network, and also showcased Pontiac's inclusion in NBA 2K6, and Burger King's relevance to Fight Night Round 3, even down to sponsored achievements for the game, plus Ben Sherman's inclusion in the forthcoming Test Drive Unlimited.
Browne then detailed some of the recent Microsoft events, including the Verizon DSL-sponsored Xbox Live Gold Free Week at E3, as well as the Cadillac Speed Pack for Project Gotham Racing 3, giving free digital Cadillac cars to Xbox 360 game players.
Where We Are Now
Discussing ideals, Browne noted that accountability is important, and also noted that game advertising is a little trickier to integrate - in 2005, $56 million in game advertising was done, and most of it was static, and based around one particular game, but it's nothing like in TV, where it's easier to integrate ads across lots of different products in commercial breaks.
Browne notes that it certainly can't be said that game development teams are happy with in-game ads and want more commercial work to do, suggesting many in game development are saying: "Enough already, I've got a nine month development cycle, you're giving me too much." He commented that the industry needs to make it easier for the game teams to integrate ads into titles.
He then listed the game ads ecosystem, noting that gamers need in-game ads to do no harm, and they're really looking for relevant advertising. Browne commented that advertisers and publishers need to think how the gamer is benefited. Moving on to developers and publishers, he noted that most of all, the industry needs revenue, since "the more creative risks" can be taken that way.
Relevance in advertising is again critical for developers in particular, but as important is ease of implementation and creative control. Advertisers and agencies need relevant reach, compelling creative opportunities, flexibity and control, and accountability.
Where We Are Going?
Browne then noted that the game industry is a $25 billion dollar market, but as a comparison, online ads is a $17 billion market, projected to double in the next two years. As a comparison, in-game ads are $56 million in 2005, and a projected $732 million in 2010. But he noted: "Where should advertising sit in our ecosystem?"
Asking open questions, he noted: "What roles should ads play? How do we reach more customers? Can ads fund the whole business? Could you benefit by pricing to attract a larger audience and drive ad sales? Can we make 'windows' of distribution, as in film?' On the latter point, he notes that there's only one window, for sale of games, for the publisher, and there could be another way.
Talking about expanding reach, Browne cited a U.S. Online Video Game Subscribers survey showing 46% of broadband households online as of 2009, according to PriceWaterHouse, and noting over 1.5 million unique users connected to Xbox Live during E3 week - almost all of the 58% of 3.2 million Xbox Live users who have ever been online, and showing how gamers can be targeted.
He concluded by commenting a little on Microsoft's plans through 2007, referencing at least 20-30 Xbox 360 games running in-game ads, and 100 Windows games, presumably using the Massive Inc. infrastructure, finishing a fascinating but quite provoking speech which shows Microsoft's post-Massive standardization wishes for the in-game ad market.