[Game biz production company Gamehotel recently held an event in Zurich that featured a "grand game battle" including notables such as Doug Church (LMNO / The Steven Spielberg project), and Alex Rigopulos (Rock Band).
Alongside it was a two-day game conference featuring the duo, ARG expert Adrian Hon and other notables. Swiss journalist Guido Berger attended the event, and here writes up his impressions of the conference, particularly in relation to game marketing and in-game advertising.]
Advertising is about emotion and involvement. If you can create that, and connect this experience with your product, you'll have your customer hooked. Traditional advertising has become very good at creating this experience. Essentially, it is storytelling, either through a static ad, or in a short film. You could compare it to cinema, or books. It is linear storytelling - the only difference being the stories are very short.
Marketers today are good at linear storytelling. This happens to fit very well the types of media that traditional advertising appears in: print, television, and cinema. After all, they are telling linear stories as well.
Now, these types of media are losing time share. Games and interactive entertainment are eating away more and more spare time. Potential advertisers and ad agencies alike realize this. If they want to make sure they reach their target audience, they have to reach them where they are - and that could be gaming. If they continue to ignore the medium, they are in danger of being ignored themselves.
This became very clear at this year's Gamehotel Conference, especially compared to last year. Then, there had been just one talk about the importance of in-game advertising, and, judging by some rather puzzled looks in the audience, maybe not a convincing one. This year: a very different picture. The whole conference dedicated solely to the topic. Everyone in the room agreeing that they had to get into the game somehow, literally.
But, and that was really surprising to me: a lot of confusion as to how one would accomplish that. And that brings me back to linear storytelling. Since that is not what games are about. Games are about putting the gamers in control, empowering them, letting them explore and create their own stories. Or as Doug Church, executive producer at EA, put it: "The medium gets off the stage and brings the player on. Get out of the way, let the player be the star."
This confuses marketers immensely. They are used to being in control, not letting go. They know how to trigger the emotions they are after, by telling linear short stories. Now they are faced with a medium that does not work that way. And suddenly, all the proven strategies do not apply anymore.
Achim Jenner, head of digital media at the ad agency Jung von Matt, stated that there still is almost no dialogue between ad agencies and game designers on a creative level. Usually, the ad agency comes in very late, and cannot influence game design. This makes it very difficult for ad agencies to deliver their own creative input in a way that is integrated with the game and not just tacked on.
Jenner warned not to repeat the same mistakes that were made with internet banner ads. This failure (banner ads in general have appalling click-through rates) stems from focusing on short-term benefits and not using the strengths of the medium. The equivalent of banner ads in games are banners in racing or sports games. They add realism, yes, but chances are that they are largely ignored by gamers. Marketers must not reduce in-game advertising to this kind of in-game banners.
So, ideas anyone? Poster boy Alex Rigopulos of Harmonix talked about Guitar Hero and Rock Band, and how music could be marketed in the future. He likes to think of these titles not as "a game with music", but as "music with additional entertainment". It's about getting people involved with the music they love. Or maybe showing them new music that they might like, and showing them how much fun it is. This "getting people involved" part goes down very smoothly with the advertising crowd.
But let's be honest, not everyone is in the fortunate position to market music. More broadly applicable ideas came from Adrian Hon, from London based Six To Start, who designs Alternate Reality Games. He talked about an ARG they did for BBC Radio One, "Frozen Indigo Angel", ultimately a promotion for a music festival. Fascinating stuff, lots of cross media uses (phone messages, internet, emails, broadcasts on Radio One, and the festival itself). ARGs can involve players very deeply. And, although the actual players may be not that many, a good ARG generates buzz, gets media coverage, which means free advertising. Again, something the marketers in the audience liked very much.
But this comes at a price. Adrian Hon estimated that the smallest possible team would need to be 10 people working for 3 to 5 months to make an ARG really compelling. And the writers "are incredibly important". A bad story line means players will not get involved - game over.
This means that the entry price for good game advertising is still quite high. This in turn reduces potential advertisers to big global brands. But advertising should also be affordable for smaller, local brands. This will be crucial to really build this market in the future. At the conference, no solutions to this problem were presented.
So, the good news for gamers is this: marketers start to realize that they cannot simply put banners into games and be done with that. They have learned that the medium has its own set of rules. They cannot break the flow of the game, since they would ruin the experience for the player. If your product is associated with ruining an experience, you're out.
And the good news for game designers is everyone wants in. Alex Rigopulos talked about having to go to meetings a couple of years ago and trying to convince musicians that games aren't just a silly gimmick. This has completely changed: now he is called by them, and they are begging to be in the game. So, advertising can generate revenue and alleviate the risks of those big production budgets.
The bad news: everyone wants to get in, but only very few who have an idea, how, in practical terms. It's a delicious apple that hangs just out of reach. Marketers see these highly engaged players, empowered by their own actions. These are highly positive emotions just waiting to be associated with a product. But they haven't yet figured out a way to accomplish just that."