In-Game Ad Networks: Wanna Play?

Since the dawn of online video game advertising (way back in the mid ’90s), game publishers have waited patiently for advertisers to take the industry mainstream.

Integrating products into a highly interactive environment has always been strongly appealing, yet many marketers shied away due to uncertainty about targeting and ad delivery, and limitations in measuring consumer response.

Finally, it seems at least one online gaming company is about to catch a break. On October 16 at the DigitalLife trade show in New York, in-game ad network inGamePartners (IGP) will officially launch the inGameServer platform. The ad-serving system will allow advertisers to better target their prime demographics and measure results.

IGP is only a few months old, but already it boasts such clients as GE and SpikeTV. Its team of founders is equally diverse. Darren Herman is a youth marketing expert, Andrew Sispoidis a gaming industry icon, and Mark Nathanson a seasoned business development consultant. All three see a real future in online video game advertising, and they’re eager to share their vision.

Even prior to the introduction of its ad-serving platform, IGP offered advertisers prime opportunities with which to leverage the consumer appeal of online and PC video games. In addition to opening the door to hip, savvy 15-35-year-old consumers online video games attract, the company can geotarget, cap ad frequency, and provide detailed campaign reports.

It also offers something many companies don’t. To reach gamers, IGP partners with other gaming networks, such as PHXX Network, a public game server that allows PC gamers to play online in a multiplayer environment. Users have the option to play free of charge by opting in to see ads. Consequently, countless opportunities exist for more precise demographic targeting, customized ad messages, even loyalty programs. Through some partnerships, the company can even facilitate creation of private-label games.

“There have been three stages of video game advertising to date,” says Nathanson, IGP’s CMO. “In-game sponsorship, in-game product placement, and dynamic in-game advertising. The first two don’t allow the advertiser to target or refresh ads, and the timeline [required to incorporate placements] is much longer. The benefits of dynamic in-game advertising, however, are huge.”

The dynamic advertising Nathanson refers to ensures media buyers can launch online gaming campaigns as quickly and easily as any other ad network promotion. Unlike many online placements, though, most online game campaigns are created for branding.

“There are plenty of direct response tools right now,” Nathanson says. “Video gaming is an entertainment medium, as opposed to an information medium like the Internet. It’s a branding medium, not a transactional medium. It’s being used to replace television and print.”

Because of its branding focus, online game campaign results aren’t necessarily measured in clicks. Though the company’s ad server will offer real-time tracking and reporting capabilities, IGP also gauges campaign success by surveying samples of gamers pre- and post-campaign to gauge consumer response.

If advertisers aren’t persuaded to try the company on the strength of its argument and ad-serving platform alone, IGP encourages media buyers to run test campaigns before committing budget. Nathanson suggests marketers “test, learn how it works, then scale up.”

As is common with modish Internet media, the online video game advertising industry isn’t limited to IGP. Rivals include Massive, which just launched its own ad-delivery platform. Nathanson says his company differs from Massive by the way it prioritizes different industry aspects. Massive focuses on top-tier console game advertising, he says, while IGP’s main concern is the online/PC hybrid game.

IGP, which currently has access to about 5 million unique users per month, will later expand to console, handheld, and pure online games. There are even plans to offer consulting and marketing services. At present, IGP is all about the success of its ad-serving platform and online campaigns.

“Buyers who have brand-oriented communication goals and those looking to reach the 15-35 audience should look at this as a top priority,” says Nathanson of his industry. “Early opportunities like this one are going to provide big returns, just like the Internet did. Maybe even better.”

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