|An older edition of Ubisoft's 'Prince of Persia: Sands of Time' is one of the titles to use Double Fusion's new ad-serving technology. |
Double Fusion, a company that places ads in video games, has come up with technology that allows ads to be programmed into a title long after it has been developed. Currently, the primary way to place dynamic ads in games is to reserve specific areas or spaces with code that is hardwired into the game during its development. With the new service, Fusion Runtime, ads can be placed anywhere post-production, opening up an entire catalog of back titles in which marketers can put ads.
McDonald's makes first buy
McDonald's is the first marketer to use the technology, putting ads in four popular, but older, Ubisoft games: "Far Cry," "Prince of Persia: Sands of Time," "Ghost Recon" and "Rayman Raving Rabbids."
Now, can we get that collective groan from the gamer community?
But wait a minute -- did we mention the games are free?
The one thing gamers like even more than complaining in online forums about ads in video games is free stuff. And because the model is similar to TV -- free content subsidized by ads -- gamers understand it and are, in general, cheering instead jeering this time.
"I hate being subjected to ads in any form, but I'm okay with ads subsidizing free content. Realistically, I'm not going to be eating at McDonald's either way, but I'm down for some 'Prince of Persia' fun," wrote one commenter on GamerNode.com, although he added he does have limits. "Now what would REALLY bother me would be if right after landing an awesome combination of acrobatic maneuvers, the prince chomped down on a Big Mac."
And this from two gamers chatting on JoyStiq.com:
"That's actually quite cool :D."
"I agree! This is really nice of Ubisoft to do."
Gamers give ads some love
Maybe gamers don't really hate ads as much as they type they do. A recent study by the Internet Advertising Bureau and CNET in the U.K. revealed that 86% of players would welcome more advertising if it meant a price break on the cost of the game. And 73% said they don't mind ads in games as long as they're relevant and contextual. U.K. gamers, at least, even seem to be responsive to the ads. Of those surveyed who had seen ads in games, 40% said it added realism to the action, while 33% said they would be more likely to buy a product they had seen advertised in a game.
Julie Shumaker, senior VP-sales and marketing, Double Fusion, likens the impact of post-production ad placement in games to what has happened in the movie business. Movies used to make money only at the box office, but then moved to VHS and DVD home sales as a secondary revenue stream. And then with the advent of cable TV, movies added a third way to make money by selling ads into older free-to-view content.
"This is, potentially to our industry, that same transition," said Ms. Shumaker, a former Electronic Arts executive. "We're introducing to advertisers the ability to gift premium content to consumers."
Michael Goodman, Yankee Group analyst, pointed out that a video game's realistic shelf life at a premium price of $50 is only several months, with maybe a few more sales garnered after the price is cut to $20.
"Now you can offer it to gamers for free with ads in it and you've created a new revenue stream. It's almost found money," he said. This kind of technology in time can also save money by no longer having to plan for specific ad placement in games, he added. "Essentially any game out there can be used. A big part of in-game advertising is being able to aggregate a sufficient audience. So the more games you can access, the bigger your reach."
By the end of the year, Double Fusion plans to add three more publishers and "many more advertisers," Ms. Shumaker said. Oberon Games is also using the technology to place ads inside its online casual games.
The added appeal for game publishers goes beyond receiving props for giving out free games; they can keep a game brand in front of consumers longer and maybe even expand its fan base. In the case of "Far Cry," which has sold more than 1 million copies since its release in 2004, the Ubisoft and McDonald's giveaway comes just before the release of "Far Cry 2" this spring.
Bonus for marketers
And there's a bonus for marketers too. Not only do they get a wide inventory of titles to choose from, but also the pre-planning for ads, as well as the perceived connection with a game, is loosened. That is, instead of a McDonald's hamburger in the hand of shooter hero Jack Carver, a move that could tick off gamers, fast-food fanatics and anti-gun lobbyists, the association follows a broader sponsorship model—McDonald's can tout that it's simply offering a free game.
"The gifting of content doesn't seem to carry the same responsibility as being an advertiser in a game, say like 'Saint's Row,'" Ms. Shumaker said, referring to the M-rated game often likened to "Grand Theft Auto."