|Nielsen's new system will be auditing data across Massive's network, which serves ads into games.
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The new system, slated to go live in the second quarter of 2005, is a collaborative effort of Nielsen and Massive, which announced the launch of the first cross-platform ad-serving network in October. Currently, the New York-headquartered Massive has six game company partners, including Vivendi Universal Games and UbiSoft.
Nielsen is launching its new service to audit Massive's network, which serves changeable commercial messages into specially coded portions of a digital game's landscape.
"That a viable, respected measuring service is going to start qualifying games data and make it comparable to other media is very exciting," said Dave Madden, executive vice president for sales and marketing at WildTangent, a game publisher not connected with Massive.
The sales, pricing, monitoring and evaluation of in-game ads is based on a variety of systems used by individual game makers for their own games. What has been missing is a central standard that lends itself to traditional media auditing disciplines. Once established and adopted by a significant part of the industry, such a system could allow media ad buyers to directly compare the effectiveness of in-game ad campaigns to those on the Internet, TV and in print campaigns.
TV's missing males
The new Nielsen project is particularly interesting because it has the potential to corral the most avid game players -- the 18- to 34-year-old male demographic that continues to drift away from watching TV.
The most recent report indicates there are 20 million of these male gamers in the U.S. and that they spend roughly the same amount of time playing games as they do watching TV.
Advertisers spend approximately $12 billion annually to reach this demographic through TV commercials, and $10 billion through in-game ad messages.
Studies have found that in-game advertising can be effective if designed to be a non-instrusive part of the game play. A Nielsen study looking at brand recall and awareness in video game ads compared to TV found that "even with a low level of product integration where the gamer is not interacting with the ad showed comparable levels of awareness to TV," said Michael Dowling, GM Nielsen Interactive Entertainment.
Reach and frequency
With its new service, Nielsen will track the standard media metrics of reach and frequency as well as special game metrics documenting such things as how long the gamer viewed the ad and what time of day the ad was seen. Gamers will also be interviewed through a brief form before the game begins, in which they'll be asked about product awareness and recall. Reports will be sent daily, weekly or monthly, depending what the marketer wants.
In testing the service with Nielsen, Massive is also experimenting with the first tracking possible for PC and console games. Until now, only game publishers that offered online games the way WildTangent does could track effectively. But Massive's measurement technology will be inserted in games as they are first built and can be updated whenever the gamer logs onto the Internet.
But Massive isn't likely to corner the market for very long. Large game makers like Electronic Arts and Activision, along with others such as WildTangent, produce their own tracking technology. Plus, they tend to insert messages into games in a more integrated manner than the changeable billboard units now used by Massive, Mr. Madden said.