In the weeks running up to the movie's release tomorrow, story lines from the action-fantasy flick, based on a Newberry Award-winning book series, were written into the online role-playing game "Adventure Quest," where the goal is to kill monsters by casting spells and having them drink potions. It can be difficult to work advertising and sponsorships into online role-playing games since they're often not based on real-world characters, but the fantasy-thriller film fit perfectly within "Adventure Quest's" sci-fi-based world.
Watch a trailer, earn some gold
"Adventure Quest's" developer, Artix, wrote in a character named Ballyhoo, who informs players they can open a treasure chest to watch the movie's trailer. Doing so earns them gold or other prizes from the sponsor. The gold can then be used to acquire in-game items and content based on the movie. Gamers must use the gold to collect six signs to stop the "coming of the Dark," part of the movie's storyline.
"We really wanted to get into the online lifestyle of our target audience ... not just the websites they visit but what they're doing, and seeing how much kids and boys in particular are playing online games. We came to [online-games network WildTangent] looking to do something above and beyond banner ads," said Joe Hadari, associate media director at Moxie Interactive, Los Angeles, which handles online media for the film.
WildTangent operates a casual-gaming advertising network, but most of its deals are sponsored sessions of game play underwritten by an advertiser. This is its first major integration into an online role-playing game, and the company is viewing this as a testing ground for similar deals.
The campaign has been running for three weeks and has generated 1 million streams of the movie trailer. The rate of users clicking through from the trailer to the movie website is just shy of 10%. "Adventure Quest" has about 6.5 million mostly middle-school-age players each month.
'Accelerate these deals'
"There are lots of fantasy-based movies coming out that work well for these fantasy-based role-playing games on the internet," said Dave Madden, exec VP at WildTangent, who is in charge of ad sales and marketing. "We're absolutely going to continue to script advertisers in where it's a benefit to the gamer. We'll continue to accelerate these kinds of deals."
WildTangent also represents "Runescape," an online role-playing game with 11 million monthly players. A typical ad buy on WildTangent's network runs anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000.
"Adventure Quest" is considered a role-playing game akin to Zelda. Some of the most common online role-playing games fall into the category of massively multiplayer online games, or MMOGs. Indeed, even though 87% of MMOG revenue still comes from subscriptions, advertising is starting to contribute a larger share of that revenue, according to eMarketer analysis. The most popular video game, "World of Warcraft," is supported by its millions of players who shell out between $10 and $14 a month for subscriptions. However, most online role-playing games and MMOGs offer free versions and require subscriptions only for enhanced or advanced versions of the game. Game publishers also make money by selling accoutrements to gamers.
Mr. Madden stressed what he calls a value exchange with gamers, "where an advertiser is giving something to a gamer they'd otherwise have to pay money for." He said with gaming, the exchange of advertising for content is clearer than with video or other forms of ad-supported media. He recalled coming to "Adventure Quest" with the concept when Artix tapped WildTangent to sell advertising in and around the games.
"We suggested they contemplate the notion of being able to reward consumers within the game play for interacting with advertising," he said. They came up with the character Ballyhoo, who explains to gamers that they can interact with a sponsor message in exchange for gold.
While traditional video-game publishers have lead times of several years in some cases, this campaign was pulled together in a matter of weeks. It was in late July or early August that the parties started talking about what was possible, according to Moxie Interactive.