Gaming 101

This September, kids aren’t the only ones back in school. Media buyers and planners, strategists, brand managers, CMOs, media supervisors, and creative directors are hitting the books to learn more about an increasingly effective method of interactive promotion: in-game advertising.

Agencies around the world are enrolling their teams in Gaming 101, a series of informative sessions offered by full-service in-game advertising media group IGA Partners. The goal, the company says, is to “educate the marketplace on the current and near future videogaming landscape, the changing demographics of gamers, how the hardware platforms differ from each other, and most importantly, how to run in-game advertising campaigns that get the right results.”

Participants include Avenue A|Razorfish, Bartle Bogle Hegarty, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, SS+K, and England’s Manning Gottlieb OMD. Each sends an average of 25 people to take part in the course.

“The agencies and brands are really excited about this new medium,” says Darren Herman, founder and chief commercial officer of IGA Partners. “But for most, the excitement runs a bit faster and farther than their knowledge. Our Gaming 101 lectures help the education process along.”

According to Herman, the lectures offer an unbiased view of the marketplace and touch on virtually all gaming formats and in-game advertising methods, including advergaming, product placement, plot integration, dynamic in-game advertising, and casual gaming. The classes, which are free, are held at the agencies’ and brands’ offices. They usually last about an hour.

From a marketer’s perspective, Gaming 101 is a great idea and well overdue. We’ve had our eye on this advertising opportunity for a while; market factors indicate we’re just now on the verge of a major explosion.

According to Yankee Group, the video game industry will swell to over $8.3 billion by 2008 and boast over 126 million gamers, many of whom will be over the age of 35. It also projects the advergaming market will reach $260 million by 2008, compared with a mere $79 million in 2003. Forrester Research predicts a quarter of North American households will be playing video games online by 2007.

Still, many interactive marketers don’t know as much about this medium as they could, including how to execute a campaign that gamers will actually embrace. Activision and Nielsen Entertainment have reported 67 percent of gamers believe in-game advertising makes games more realistic and 40 percent of male gamers say in-game ads influence their purchasing decisions. Advertisers must remember, however, many games must be purchased.

Online, consumers willing to pay for content usually receive ad-free material. For in-game advertising to be accepted in retail games, it must be contextually relevant and integrated so it doesn’t interfere with the gaming experience.

Surprisingly, IGA’s course isn’t just an opportunity to uncover the secrets to successful in-game promotions. It’s also a chance for fresh-faced media buyers to secure their positions in their agencies. Herman stresses the degree to which junior buyers and planners are able to shine in front of their superiors during the courses. “They understand gaming a lot better and are really able to take charge of this new medium,” he says.

If in-game advertising is a runaway train, with plenty of momentum but no direction, IGA Partners’ efforts could be just what we need to keep it on track. In-game advertising is still a nascent industry. With the help of agencies and those marketers who already get gaming, we can shape its future and ensure its success.

“Without these sessions, the industry won’t happen for a while. So it’s in IGA’s best interest to get out there and educate the market,” says Herman.

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