The coming age of interactive video game ads

A new marketing study points to ways that advertisers can attract gamers while they're hypnotically pounding at their controllers.

Published July 23, 2007 8:10PM (EDT)

Double Fusion, a company that arranges for ads to appear in video games, has conducted a study that it says proves the effectiveness of marketing to gamers. Using focus groups and laser-eye tracking -- a system that determines what a player is looking at while he's hammering away at a game -- Double Fusion has found that more than 80 percent of players notice ads in games. An ad has to appear on-screen for as little as a half second before a gamer recognizes it, says the company.

But here's the most interesting finding: Ads that function as three-dimensional objects in games -- say there's a certain brand of cell phone your character has to use to communicate with others -- make for extremely effective advertisements. And according to Jonathan Epstein, Double Fusion's CEO, we'll soon be seeing many more such 3D marketing efforts in all the games we play.

Double Fusion's study looked at various kinds of ads -- billboards, sponsored instant-replays in sports games, etc. -- in almost a dozen games of different styles and on all major consoles. The three-dimensional ad elements had the advantage of time -- they were on the screen longer than any other ad objects.

A typical billboard ad in the first-person shooter game "Rainbow Six: Vegas" appears on screen for about 25 seconds, and a gamer only looks at it about 4 percent of that time. But 3D objects -- like Dodge pickups scattered throughout "Rainbow Six" -- are on-screen for almost six minutes, and because gamers must use the elements as part of the action, they look at them for a quarter of the time they're displayed.

There's another marketing benefit to 3D objects: the ads grab hold of gamers' brains during what Epstein calls a "heightened emotional state." That Dodge pickup just saved your life! Now you may see Dodge in a whole new light -- or at least Chrysler hopes so.

Epstein says that Double Fusion and other ad firms are perfecting technology to make these 3D ads "dynamic"; advertisers will be able to change in-game objects after a game has been published. Imagine that game makers originally allowed your character to use a Samsung cell phone, but now Samsung has released a new model. Through an Internet connection, marketers can serve the game details of the new phone.

Were this any other medium, I'd be troubled by technological improvements that help out advertisers. But marketers' encroachment into games don't work me up very much -- and according to Double Fusion's study, most gamers feel the same way.

For one thing, just about every major title features some kind of in-game spots; ads are now a routine part of games, and it's no surprise they'll get more ubiquitous. Advertising also makes games more realistic. It would seem strange to play a racing game whose verhicles weren't plastered with logos. Or imagine going down a city street in a crime-fighting game and not seeing any billboards. The real world's wired up with ads -- so why not virtual worlds, too?

By Farhad Manjoo

Farhad Manjoo is a Salon staff writer and the author of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.

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