Gamer's Paradise?

Think about computer games for a minute. (With all the snow we’ve been having in Baltimore, I’ve been thinking about them a lot… maybe too much.) They occupy inordinate amounts of time, capturing a player’s attention for hours on end.

Kids and adults love ’em and are willing to spend ungodly amounts of money to have the latest and greatest. They attract cult followings, with web sites springing up around new hit games like mold in a college student’s bathroom.

Some industry pundits have even asserted that it’s games that really drive new advances in computer technology — you don’t need a 750 MHz Pentium III with a 3-D accelerator card to get the most out of Microsoft Word, but it’s vital if you want to play the latest frag-fest from id Software.

Games are entertainment, and entertainment sells. Heck, Cyber Dialogue even estimates that two-thirds of Internet users are seeking out entertainment content, not an insignificant number by any measure.

But so far, the web hasn’t done so well as an entertainment medium (mainly because of bandwidth limitations), while the gaming industry’s been cranking out titles with budgets that are beginning to rival movies’. And as any gamer knows, the Internet and games are starting to become inseparable: Witness the explosion in multi-player gaming services and titles hitting the market.

Games, unlike the web, are immersive experiences that capture the user completely during the experience. Much like movies and television, games grab hold of your attention and don’t let go until the experience is over. Game companies and top designers are the rock stars of the interactive world, often able to rocket to fame and riches overnight with a hit title.

Unlike more prosaic business developers, a game company with a couple of hits under its belt gathers rabid fans fast; it’s not uncommon for fans to spend big money to put up their own sites with news, tips, rumors, and an active community that contributes content. Think you’ll ever see an IBM e-Business fan site? Not bloody likely.

Basically, games represent everything that advertisers love about TV and movies — full attention, immersion, and great word of mouth. But unlike TV and movies, games are now fully capable of interacting with the Net on a global scale, bringing people together, updating automatically, and merging with dynamic content.

So why aren’t more advertisers taking advantage of this medium?

Think about it: Advertising in games is there all the time during the period that users are immersed in the experience. Sure, the ads aren’t necessarily interactive and don’t lead users to click out of the game, but from a branding perspective, they provide numerous opportunities to build frequency. Your customers are zooming around a virtual track in their virtual cars seeing your virtual billboards around every turn. Each lap, there it is, repeated over and over and…

OK. It could get repetitive in that situation. But throw the Net into the mix, and the ability to gather information from users, and you’ve got a situation where ads could be targeted exactly to the audiences they need to reach, and rotated on a regular basis. If the user isn’t connected to the Internet, then they’d see static ads. If they’re on the Net, then new banners/billboards/product models could be downloaded and placed in the setting. Pretty cool, huh?

As a gamer, you might be sitting there trying to figure out a way to kill me silently in the middle of the night. After all, here I am suggesting that crass advertisers cash in on your sacred ground. And you have a point; ads that seem out of place could destroy the setting and plot of the game you’re playing. On the other hand, ad-supported games means free games.

Free? Why not? Ad-supported software is starting to grow in popularity, especially among the shareware set. It’s not unusual these days to download a new app for free that makes you stare at ads as you use its taskbar components or search functions on your desktop. Ads have enabled companies to offer lots of cool services such as unified messaging and fax services for free. Wouldn’t you put up with a few ads for free games or access to a multi-player server? Sure you would!

That’s what Pittsburgh start-up Adaboy is counting on. They’ve come up with a patented technology that places billboard-like ads in online games. The implementation’s pretty great… the ads show up mapped to the surface of the games, heightening the 3-D effect. Heck, it’s positively “Blade Runner” and very cool.

Right now, they’re working on some interesting projects with Gillette and some other advertisers, and I imagine they’re gonna have a lot more as people begin to see the light. We’ll just have to sit back and see. My trigger finger’s itchin’ to find out.

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