MediaMedia PlanningThe People Behind Game Avatars

The People Behind Game Avatars

Why the message and medium must follow a deep understanding of our audience and their motivations. A look at two very different players.

Let’s step back so we can move forward. Let’s step back from the tactics, strategies, and methodologies of our medium to focus on the people our initiatives are meant to engage, entertain, educate, and seduce. Today’s column is about the people we reach in our game advertising initiatives, the people behind the game avatars (define). It serves to remind us that message and medium must always follow a deep understanding of our audience and their motivations.

It’s fascinating how the bandwagon mentality works in interactive advertising. We read the trades, speak with our colleagues, and watch the competition. Generally, we seek effective tactics to employ to our and our clients’ benefit. Too often we blindly follow the leader. We copy and paste in our advertising strategies, despite all the marketing rhetoric. We speak to our friends and family about how creative our field is, when often it simply isn’t.

“Think outside of the box,” our industry’s mandate, is a challenge thrown down from our leaders, bosses, coworkers, and colleagues. It’s a phrase that’s often stated at the onset of planning and is regularly abused. Next time you hear this challenge, watch how quickly the air is sucked out of the room and the occupants wilt. Most of us have been around long enough to see what happens from here.

New hires, possibly fresh out of school or direct from another industry, may attempt to think outside the box, but the old timers know better. We know our ideas will suffer proportionately to their creativity and newness. They will be held accountable to the big three: past campaigns’ numbers, current trends, and our biggest competitors’ strategies. We also know that a thought that doesn’t fit in the big-three box will have little support and will be thrown out of the box of initiatives we’re willing to execute.

Case in point: digital game advertising. Thankfully, it’s beginning to fit in the box, as every day there are more examples we can latch on to and defend our ideas with. Unfortunately, initiatives are deployed with intense concentration on tactics, strategies, measurement, and performance. There’s very little, if any at all, consideration for the audience. The focal point that will generate the best ideas is routinely overlooked.

I remember my early days at Young & Rubicam. There was a healthy fixation on the target audience. Who they were, what they did, how they lived, and why we needed to reach them. We started most pitches and plans with a “Day in the Life,” an analysis of our target audience. From there, we’d define the media to use and the tactics and strategies to employ. There was a lot of thinking outside of the box to identify and define new target audiences and from there the ways and means to engage them.

Although this approach is still in play at many agencies, it seems to have a diminishing role in planning online initiatives. Worse, it can be nonexistent for new avenues, such as digital game advertising.

To drive your thinking back to the people you intend to reach, I’d like to highlight two individuals from different sectors of the game industry and the motivations behind their play. When considered, they open hearts and minds. When considered before planning, they open that age-old box we’re trying to think outside of.

Game Industry

After a diving accident left Robert Florio paralyzed at age 14, he learned to express himself through art, using his mouth to draw and paint. He later combined his talent and his love for video games into a life goal to earn a degree in game art and design and to create accessible video games for people with disabilities. Upon earning the degree, Florio said, “It’s been a long road, but today is part one of a dream come true…I now look forward to continuing my work and ongoing efforts to make video games available and accessible for people like me.”

“Robert is fast becoming one of the few experts on game accessibility — a topic that the industry has only recently addressed,” said Jeannie Novak, the academic program director of the Game Art & Design and Media Arts & Animation programs at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh’s Online Division.

Today, Florio, who’s quadriplegic, is working with David Perry, Acclaim’s chief creative officer and 20-year video game industry veteran, to help create games that individuals with physical impairments can enjoy. Acclaim is a provider of multiplayer online games.


Ken Morse of New Orleans was introduced to gaming by his grandson as a way of enjoying time together. One of a million gamers who participated in the KIPA 2006 Game and Game World Championships, he submitted his scores for OnNet’s Shot-Online golf game and hoped for the best. He was selected and, at age 53, he placed second in the international gaming competition’s regional finals in Los Angeles. Morse, noted as one of the oldest “pro gamers” in the world, went on to compete in the grand finals in Korea.

Through conversations I had with Morse, I came to understand that his motivation for gaming came not only from his grandson but also his friends. He and his friends loved the online game because it allowed them to connect and play a round of golf virtually. They were able to pursue their favorite activity without traveling great distances to see each other or paying greens fees. They enjoyed the same degree of camaraderie, chatting alongside the game while sharing the thrill and excitement of golf minus the physical limitations the real world presents.

Give ample consideration to the people behind the avatars when you press your brand into their virtual worlds. Spend less time with the medium itself and more time with the people using it.

Thanks for your mindshare.


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