Why Marketers Are Using Machinima (and What It Is)

HP, Microsoft, Others Use Animation Technology to Target Video Gamers

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YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- Machinima is so popular that it has inspired blogs, books, magazines, a YouTube network and even a film fest. But it's still likely to register as "Machini-wha?" with many marketers and consumers.

Eighty percent of users in a recent Machinima.com survey said they bought a new game after watching it in videos on the site.
Eighty percent of users in a recent Machinima.com survey said they bought a new game after watching it in videos on the site.
So what is it? Machinima is a nascent computer-animation technology that is well-known in the video-gaming world. The word comes from a combination of "machine" and "cinema" (with a misspelling that gives a nod to Japanese "anime" as well). Fans recognize the style and tone of the videos, which use video-game characters and content animation from games edited to the tastes of individual "machinimators," as the creators of the video format are called.

As video gaming becomes more and more mainstream, so, too, does machinima. Machinima.com noted a 98% jump in video views in just more than a year -- from about 1 million in October 2007 to more than 40 million in December 2008. And that growing popularity is beginning to gain the attention of some marketers. Machinima.com began creating custom content for brands and now works with advertisers including Hewlett-Packard, Electronic Arts, Microsoft and many of the largest film studios to create machinima-based marketing campaigns.

'All about engagement'
"Gaming used to be thought of as a real niche," said Machinima.com CEO Allen DeBevoise. "But now 600 million to 800 million people worldwide spend significant time in some sort of game. ... We think it's really all about engagement. That engagement is very different for an online-video network."

Along with its own site, Machinima.com created a YouTube channel that has become the third-fastest-growing network on the video site, Mr. DeBevoise said. The draw for marketers is access to an always-hard-to-reach audience of mostly 18- to 34-year-old males, as well as a higher level of interaction than with standard media fare such as TV and print. Eighty percent of users in a recent Machinima.com survey said they bought a new game after watching it in videos on the site.

Machinima.com creates for marketers what Mr. DeBevoise calls a "viral swarm" -- custom content in a variety of formats placed widely online. Mr. DeBevoise compared it to the Super Bowl, where marketers can buy ad units but also participate in media stories, shows around and about the event, events leading up to the game, and online fan sites and videos. Machinima.com's viral swarms can include comic reviews, game montages, game-play tips, news, promotions, traditional ads and original video series. Basic ad rates range from $10 to $40 per thousand viewers, with customization and add-on charges varying by package.

Machinima.com campaigns
A recent campaign for Universal McCann for the launch of Microsoft Xbox's "Gears of War 2" game included 14 original videos along with traditional page skins and banners. The videos got more than 1.5 million page views on Machinima.com in October, claimed a 2% click-through rate on YouTube and topped the site's list of most-watched videos leading up to the game's November launch.

While anyone can, and does, create videos using machinima, Machinima.com campaigns begin with house-created videos, and then, depending upon the campaign, such as last year's "Age of Conan" game, it encourages viewers to join in with their own creations.

Video-game maker Funcom turned to Machinima.com to help launch its "Age of Conan" last fall and also let the site create a cadre of custom content from the game. Terri Perkins, Funcom's media-strategy director, said its campaign had a 2.4% click-through rate, but even better is the longevity of the videos. The video "The Roleplayer," for instance, got more than 11,000 views on Machinima.com and tallied another 800,000 on the YouTube channel. More than 800 other sites have linked to it since December.

"Word-of-mouth goes a long way with gamers, and they like to find and share information," Ms. Perkins said. She added, "I'd rather view a humorous machinima video than a banner ad, so I am assuming my fellow gamers would too. It spurs the community into making their own videos, and we believe they are always our best salesmen."

Marketing movies
Universal Pictures ran a campaign for "Hellboy" last year, is finishing one for "The Unborn" and is gearing up for a co-promotion for "Last House on the Left." The movie tie-ins use overlay ad plays and movie-content snippets.

"We were looking for an opportunity to push video content -- trailers and clips from the film. And this is the right audience for that horror/thriller type of movie," said Doug Neil, VP-digital marketing for Universal Pictures.

While games and movie companies have so far made up the bulk of Machinima.com's advertisers, Mr. DeBevoise said he envisions even broader interest. "It's for anybody trying to reach that audience," he said, listing examples including wireless, soft-drink and tech companies. "Tide may not be the right brand here, but there are definitely more opportunities for others."

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