Massive launches ad server for games

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Aiming to capitalize on the exploding video-game ad market, a privately held company called Massive is launching what it touts as the first ad-serving network for online games.

The company said it has signed game publishers UbiSoft, Atari, Vivendi Universal and Konami as partners in a system that enables marketing messages to be projected into the digital fabric of their online games. By next year, Massive plans to have the network set up across some 30 video-game titles, reaching an estimated 2 million players a week.

Mitch Davis, CEO of Massive, said U.S. marketers spent $12 billion on TV ads last year to reach the elusive 18-to-34 year-old demographic, but only $10 million to place ad messages in video games. "Young guys are not watching 'Desperate Housewives,' they're playing video games," he said. "We think [in-game advertising] could be a billion-dollar ad-spending market in the next several years."

There are 10 million PC gamers who play online, and another 3 million connected to the Internet via their consoles, according to industry estimates. Massive said the number of console players connected to the Internet is doubling every 12 months and likely will grow faster when next-generation Internet-ready gaming hardware is released in 2005 and 2006.

By pulling together a number of video-game publishers, Massive plans to aggregate content from multiple game titles and sell across it. Such a move could help facilitate the fledgling category of video-game advertising, just as Internet ad-serving networks like RealMedia unified the World Wide Web in the 1990s as an advertising venue across which marketers could execute and coordinate broad campaigns on vast numbers of individual Web sites.

The Massive ad-serving system is designed as a central database able to push graphic materials at standardized areas of "texture maps," the grids that make up the three-dimensional landscapes of video games. "Let's say that in the cityscape of a typical game there is a billboard," said a Massive spokeswoman. "We can target the texture map that makes up that billboard and then serve any image we want at it. It could show one real billboard ad today and a totally different one tomorrow."

reports in real time

Massive's technology, because it is included in the game's development phase, allows for such tactics as changing ad creative and targeting times of day or parts of the country. Audit reports come back in real time so marketers can see when and for how long a game player was exposed to their ad.

Massive signed Real Networks as its first advertiser, and Mr. Davis said he's in talks with automakers, Hollywood studios and retailers. "We needed to provide a metric that advertisers understood," said Jay Cohen, VP-publishing at game publisher UbiSoft. "It has to translate into their language. Now that it does, we can move forward."

"It's a company I'm watching because their technology is wholly different," said Rob Sebastian, a talent agent at Endeavor, Los Angeles, who specializes in the video game area. "It's still early, but I think advertisers will be willing to pay for this."

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