Relevant to the Game, Not the Gamer

I was asked recently by Paul Hyman of “The Hollywood Reporter” to comment on Canadian firm First Person Plural’s new multiplayer advergame. “Human Limit,” a global driving game now in development, leverages voluntarily provided detailed personal information to provide a uniquely customized game environment for each and every player. Naturally, the game platform supports detailed measurement of exposure backed up with solid real-time reporting. Not bad.

My real interest, though, came as Paul and I discussed the kinds of ad targeting envisioned for a platform such as this one. Wild Tangent and Massive are doing this sort of thing, too: we created the very successful “Coast BMX Full Grind” advergame with Wild Tangent a couple years ago. More recently, in partnership with Paramount, Massive started streaming video movie trailers into such games as Anarchy Online.

“Human Limit” takes ad targeting one step further. “Since we know exactly who is playing, we also know exactly what to serve.” Most advergaming platforms support some variation of this, and it’s this ability to serve ads into a game that I want to focus on today.

Consider online media, where the debate continues over the relative merits of contextual versus behavioral targeting. Whether to serve ads based on a page’s context or the viewer’s current motivation appears to depend as much on the person involved as it does on the product or service in consideration. Not so with advergames. In advergames, and particularly the racing, virtual reality, and action/adventure games that deeply involve a gamer, context rules. If objects in the game environment aren’t relevant to the game, they’re effectively invisible. Who the gamer is has relatively little to do with it beyond the obvious, such as not serving an ad for Geritol to a young woman. After all, relevance to the gamer has already been established — by the game itself!

If this seems a strong pronouncement, consider real life, a place I often turn to when I’m confused about how to market in virtual worlds. I’m a weekend racer. Like all forms of motor sports, everything involved is covered with branding. If I’m watching a race, I see all that branding. Spectators in general see all that branding, too. As a direct result, NASCAR and Formula 1 and events such as the Dakar Rally all enjoy healthy sponsorship budgets.

But when I’m actually driving, I see only what’s in front of me, immediately around me, and my instruments. That’s it. Dale Earnhardt Jr. described it in an interview: “At 200 mph, you have a special ability to focus: coming out of corner once I realized that I was actually seeing a quarter laying in the middle of the track.” It’s that intense focus on the task at hand that makes immersive games what they are, and it’s that same intense focus that makes anything not relevant to the game meaningless.

Against that backdrop, consider the Massive/Paramount partnership in the “Anarchy Online” game; movie trailers are streamed in and appear whenever you (as the central character) get within range of the screen. Sounds like a great marketing play, and in some media it might be, until you realize gamers may be passing within range of one these screens while being fired on. I don’t know about you, but if I’m being shot at I’m not stopping to watch a movie. As a marketer, you can safely assume that particular stream went unnoticed.

Compare that with Toyota’s “4Runner Challenge.” The game highlights Toyota-specific off-road features. During game play, the player experiences these features’ benefits based on activation during the race. When it’s relevant to the game, not only does it get the gamer’s attention, it teaches the gamer the value of this particular item and why it matters. That’s a solid accomplishment in any marketing campaign.

So what’s the takeaway for a marketer interested in advergaming? Rule number one is to make sure anything you place into the game is useful within the game’s context. Instead of interruption, think “utility.” Obviously, this is easier for some products than others. If you’re REI, you can place your products very naturally into an outdoor survival challenge. But what if you’re Pizza Hut?

A lot of games take hours or days to play through a single level. And c’mon, persevering for hours on end takes more than Cheetos and Mountain Dew. What if three hours into a game a coupon for a pizza popped up? Good start, but you can’t eat a coupon. But what if you could order your pizza while you were playing “Human Limit” and have it delivered to your door so you could eat it during a pit stop scheduled by the game itself to coincide with the actual pizza delivery time? It’s definitely within the real-time capability of the first person plural platform. As a marketer, Pizza Hut would have a real “purple cow” on its hands. Not only would it relevant to the game, it would be relevant to the gamer, too. Best of all, Pizza Hut would know absolutely how that particular pie was purchased.

I really like the things we’re seeing in the continued evolution of advergaming: Wild Tangent, Massive, and others, along with First Person Plural, are bringing increased levels of sophistication to both the game and the metrics and measurements that advergaming is uniquely capable of delivering. Be smart about how you use it. You’ll be pleased with the results.

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