The promise of in-game advertising may point to a brave new world of advertising, but the reality remains primitive. Advertising is hard-coded into the game itself and as to how many times a player views a particular in-game ad -- "impressions" in ad-speak -- well, that's anybody's guess.
Several companies are now working on technologies to change that, giving both game publishers and Madison Avenue a better idea as to the effectiveness of in-game ads. The implication of these technologies, however, extends far beyond selling ad space.
Nielsen Entertainment Media announced in April that it was working with Activision, Inc. to develop a tracking technology that would monitor how many in-game advertisements a user encounters and when.
Michael Dowling, general manager at Nielsen, said the technology is far more advanced than the People Meter, the device used by Nielsen Media Research to monitor the nation’s television viewing habits.
The technology may involve a non-audible code inserted into the game that would be picked up by a Nielsen device. Nielsen is currently in negotiation with several game studios to insert the code in their next generation of titles.
According to Dowling, Nielsen’s efforts will track not just impressions, but game play itself.
"Publishers understand retail and they have a pretty good idea of who's buying," said Dowling. "But they really don’t know what level of game [people are] getting to before quitting."
Dowling says that Nielsen's tracking service will help publishers learn more about a player’s experience from how often the player plays a game to how long it takes to finish.
Delivering ads on the fly
New York-based Massive, Inc. is taking a different tack with a technology that both serves and measures in-game ad impressions.
The technology allows game developers to create areas within the game reserved for potential advertisement possibilities. These areas could be billboards, character clothing, even dialogue. Advertisements would not be hard-coded into the game, rather, the technology would allow the ad sales teams to sell a particular area for a given amount of time or number of impressions.
"When a game machine is connected live, we download the ad, and upload the impression data," said Massive, Inc. CEO Mitch Davis.
One of Massive's first games involves a New York-city based game where a major retailer will have the ability to serve up new window advertisements on its digital storefront.
Gamers are tracked. New advertisements are delivered on the fly. It's both a game publisher and ad exec's dream. Atari and Ubisoft are among the game publishers to sign up.
For Davis, the idea of a game space composed of up-to-the-minute advertisements actually adds to the reality.
"It's like when I played 'Grand Theft Auto' for the first time," he said. "I thought to myself how much better it would be if the signs were real."
What? No Mafia tunes on Double Cleff FM? Gamers shudder.
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