Advergaming has been somewhat prevalent for a few years, but the BK/Xbox games really blew things out it seems. Did that inspire the creation of Blitz Arcade?
John Jarvis: No, the Blitz Arcade division was already in the planning stages here at Blitz when the Xbox 360 was launched. We have some big fans of casual games here at Blitz and after seeing the potential of casual game downloads to the 360, and latterly the Wii and PS3, we all agreed that we should be get involved in this new and exciting area. Shortly after we had discussions on the formulation of Blitz Arcade the Burger King project came along and we saw it as an ideal first project for what would become our Arcade division. Advergaming is just one part of that division; the main focus of our Arcade team being fun casual games.
What do you hope to achieve in heading this division?
JJ: My hope is that we will be able to move forward from the success of the Burger King project and continue to deliver high-quality, fun games to the public. If future projects follow the standard we have set then this should prove that Advergames are a viable medium. We want a situation where gamers get good fun and great value games to play as well as really allowing them to engage with the brands involved.
Advergaming and in-game advertising have been basically on upward, parallel paths. Are there any particular advantages of one over the other?
JJ: Well I don't think either one is better than the other. It's all about what message(s) are being communicated and to what extent the public can engage with a brand. Budget comes into the equation too, e.g. a smaller budget is more suited to in-game advertising. Timing is also a factor as is distribution. BK was in an ideal position to be able to sell and distribute the games throughout their network of restaurants.
But with the increasing uptake in downloadable games, digital distribution now offers a vast, inexpensive distribution network which wasn't previously available. In-game advertising has had some bad press, but if the advertising is handled creatively and appropriately then it adds an extra level of realism to games, which is actually welcomed by gamers. Likewise, if an advergame is fun and engages the audience, then they will happily play it. A good game is a good game. The BK project is a good example of this. The games do not have one single Burger King logo in them, they are just fun games to play that are cheap to buy, so it's a clear win-win.
Overall, how will advergaming and its continuing evolution inform/inspire/revamp creative executions?
Good question. With the BK project the client and the agency were very keen that the games maintained the integrity of their brand and The King character which they had spent a lot of time and effort creating. Therefore, they had very precise requirements and a long list of things we could and couldn't do. These restrictions became positive guidelines and forced us to be more creative in our thinking and implementation. And again, digital distribution will allow quick and easy updates that can be tied to campaigns more effectively, including links to online purchases; coupons; special offers and the like.
Also, the quality of the new generation of consoles allows brands to present a more recognizable representation of their brand and characters, showing gaming graphics/audio/animation can stand alongside ad campaigns. PS3 and Xbox 360 titles in hi-def look utterly stunning. This level of detail and quality is likely to entice more brands to use the medium.
Games engage the consumer is a whole different way and there's the whole user generated content area to explore. Games involve the player in ways to engage with brands and share experiences by say, recording and uploading a virtual World Series winning home run in a branded baseball game. Environments like the forthcoming Home on PS3 will allow brands online space to experiment and engage with consumers. Advertising agencies must be looking at smart ways to exploit this.
I believe all of us involved in the BK/Xbox360 games learned a lot from the process. While the agencies were unaware of the technical challenges involved in some of their suggestions this allowed them the freedom to do what they do best—be creative. That in itself was very refreshing for us, and there's no doubt their understanding of consumer marketing was beneficial to the games. The meeting of our creative and technical minds together with the unlimited creativity of advertising agencies is likely to be a major influence on future advergames. Particularly with regard to humor—unlike advertising, videogames are singularly bad at evoking laughter. Agencies bring such a fresh perspective and that's very exciting.