Questions for Massive CEO Cory Van Arsdale

When Microsoft acquired Massive last spring, some thought would be absorbed into the parent corporation and serve a greater purpose within its nascent ad serving platform.

Instead, Massive has remained independent, leverging Microsoft’s resources while sticking to its existing line of business: serving ads in games. It’s network currently reaches PC and Xbox 360 titles, with plans to sign games published on competing platforms Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii.

Earlier this year, Massive’s leadership changed hands. Founding CEO Mitch Davis departed and was replaced12-year Microsoft veteran Cory Van Arsdale. The transition was not as sudden as one might think; Van Arsdale added Massive’s operations to his business development responsibilities beginning in November of last year. He officially took over the unit around the time of Davis’ exit, in January, at which time he shed most of his other duties.

Q. Is this a big change of pace for you?

A. I’m fairly completely entrenched in Massive. I ran relationship development for six and a half years. I took on Massive as my remit, which is what I’ve been doing since January 1.

I had the business development, syndication team and Massive reporting through me starting in November. The only thing I retain is spending five to 10 percent of my time looking at potential acquisitions for the company. My job is to help pull companies into the funnel.

Q. What has Massive been up to since the acquisition?

A. Massive’s done a great job increasing the size of the network. We’re on target to have 100 titles by the end of the calendar year. Our operations infrastructure is improving every day, continuing to enhance technology to advertisers and marketers as well as delivering technology in games. Massive is really only on its second, or more likely third, generation [of technology]. Being a part of Microsoft, they get to cherry-pick the technology to enhance the business we have.

Q. What gaming platforms are on your radar?

A. We are on Xbox, Xbox 360 and PC, and want to be on all platforms. We would love to be out on all the next generation platforms. It is of course up to the manufacturer of each platform. And we’re in the process in those types of negotiations.

The value for Massive is reaching the audience, and Microsoft’s in the audience business, if you look at all their applications: mail, Messenger, Windows Live… The in-game sector is a very valuable way of reaching audience. We’re in the nascent part of the industry in terms of advertisers learning the value. As we build this industry, I think it’s a very valuable sector.

Q. What does the network look like for the Xbox 360?

A. There are several of our game titles on Xbox 360, a total of 22 committed to Xbox and Xbox 360. As game developers, studios and publishers become more familiar with in-game advertising and Massive, getting into the game is getting easier. There is a little bit of a chicken and egg problem; in the last year people weren’t thinking about in-game advertising.

Q. What type of placements is Massive concentrating on?

A. We focus on dynamic. We’ll work with all types of ad units, but the value of the Massive technology is delivering a solution that’s measurable, verifiable, and sets the standard in what constitutes an impression. All those factors are built into our technology, [along with] tracking and analytics… [We’re] etting an industry bar that 10 uninterrupted seconds constitutes an impression. You can’t see an ad if you’re back is to it.

Q. Is there life outside of gaming for Massive?

A. From a standpoint of sales, we are working with the Microsoft digital advertising solutions sales team, a worldwide sales team for display on MSN and properties. We have our own sales team and we work with them; we’ll go to Nissan or other advertisers. They may want to buy sponsorship on Xbox and MSN Auto. On the technology side, Massive is taking advantage of Microsoft’s technologies. We work with the company in order to coordinate, but we are running Massive as a separate business. We think it’s important.

In-game advertising as a business is not very material compared to online. My job, as a team, is to [make it] material. Once it’s material, everybody will want to coordinate with us.

Q. Can you share any lessons Massive has learned about in-game ads, and what works best?

A. The most important lesson of the last year is figuring out a timing process. As studios become more aware of in-game advertising, studios will work with us.

There is an appropriateness bar… We are very cognizant not just at what the advertiser needs, but what the game needs. We want to make sure the developer isn’t just shoving it in because they’ve been told to do it.

Imagine if a basketball game has ads stuck on the floor, the backboard, and other spaces, versus a basketball game with ads on the sidelines that are similar to what you’d see at a real basketball game, served dynamically; it’s a creative game experience. It enhances the game experience in a sense that it doesn’t date the game.

Q. What are your thoughts about Google possibly getting into in-game advertising?

A. It makes perfect sense to me, because Google has made investments to try to expand from Web-based advertising in terms of user experiences. It’s well known that they’re looking at radio and television offline. In-game advertising makes complete sense to me; it’s another medium where they can deliver ads. It’s a difficult space to get into. [It takes] understanding of the space, understanding of what you need for advertisers and publishers, understanding that all in-game advertising is much more geared toward display than toward performance.

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